The way I deal with stress is to look ahead five years into the future.
This was challenging when I was sick with COVID-19, because I wasn’t even sure I had five days in my personal future. Even at the time, though, I was positive that the pandemic would be over by then. Maybe things would end badly for me, but it was likely that my friends and family would be doing okay in five years.
A lot can happen in five years. It seems like a long time to a kid, but the older you get, the more you start to realize that what adults have always told you is true. Time passes more and more quickly, or at least our subjective, experiential sense of it.
I just had a conversation with my boss in which I mentioned possibly going back to school in academic year 2022. That seems like a minute from now, because I know from past experience that the application deadline for that year will come up so quickly that I’ll barely have a year to study for the GRE. It seems entirely likely that it will take five years or more to get my PhD, and that doesn’t even feel like a big deal. At 45, I know that I’ll either be five years older anyway... or I won’t. Might as well plan for what is the most likely future.
A lot can happen in five years. I started running as a complete amateur and non-athlete, unable to run around one block in my neighborhood without stopping to walk. Four years later I was chugging along in my first marathon. It never even occurred to me to aim for such a thing when I started. All I wanted to do was to run a two-mile loop, and I thought it would take me all year to train for it.
Five years is a long enough span of time that conditions can completely change. I met my ex-husband, moved in with him, married him, and signed the divorce papers in less time than that. I haven’t laid eyes on him in twenty years now. What was once the epic drama of my life is something that I now rarely think about at all.
What else has happened within five years? In a five-year span, I dropped five clothing sizes. Within five years, I paid off two credit cards and my Pell grant.
In five years, a new baby could be conceived, born, and grown enough to ride a bike with training wheels and write her own name.
It took our dog four years to learn to roll over. But by then, he could also do a bunny hop in a circle and play Red Light, Green Light.
I keep reminding myself of these things because sometimes, looking backward is soothing. In retrospect it’s often easier to recognize good times of relative peace and tranquility. In the moment, any kind of stress or drama feels major. Looking back makes it clear which were high mountain peaks and which were merely mild rolling hills.
Looking forward involves more guesswork. We aren’t always very good at that.
The thing about predicting the future is that some things will remain precisely the same - like my parents’ dining room table; I’m pretty sure that will be the same in another five years, just like it was five years ago. Other things will change in a radical way that we never could see coming.
Some of these changes from my own lifetime include voicemail, racecar-shaped VHS tape rewinders, refrigerators with ice makers, Wikipedia, Twitter, streaming Netflix, Crocs, the Instant Pot, and a commercial space industry.
We won’t be able to predict everything about daily life five years from now, in 2025. We can, though, do a lot to predict our own daily lives, by making decisions about how we will live them. This is why I like the five-year span, because it’s long enough to be ambitious but near enough that Future Me +5 is somewhat recognizable.
I can ask myself, what is Future Me 50 going to be like if I do this, that, or this?
If I choose to go to bed now or two hours from now, night after night? If I choose to eat more greens or more sweets? If I schedule that dentist appointment, or not? If I save this amount or if I spend it all on random stuff from Amazon?
Is Future Me +5 going to fit in these clothes I’ve been saving, or not? Is she going to want to wear them at all? Is that version of me ever going to [clear out the storage unit or keep paying for it] or [pay off that credit card or not] or [finish my degree or not] or reach Inbox Zero or go on the vacation I dreamed about in high school?
Most things happen to us when we live in default mode. I recognize this tendency in myself, to hold my phone in my hand and scroll, scroll, scroll. Fortunately, I set my algorithms to include a lot of reptile news, so I probably read more about gator-related events than a lot of people. How many hours of my life, though, am I going to fritter away getting three-minute updates?
When we’re distracted in this way, we forget to reset our strategies for all the major things in life. Are we going to keep working at the same job, train for something else, change careers? Are we going to stay at the same address or pack and move? When are we going to retire? Do we have backup plans for when our parents or kids reach a certain age? Are we ever going to finish our passion projects - or start them?
It’s a mistake to get sucked too much into current events, passive entertainment, and shopping. What I mean by that is that research shows that it doesn’t make people any happier. It also doesn’t change a single darn thing. It’s up to each of us to find interesting and constructive ways to spend our time.
My recommendation is always to look ahead five years and ask, if things keep going along like this, what is likely to happen? Is that what we want for ourselves? Or is it not? And if not, what are we prepared to do about it?
Have you ever learned about something that suddenly snapped a huge part of your life into a new perspective? That happened to me the other day when I read about future faking for the first time. If I had known what it was twenty-five years ago, it would have changed the entire course of my life, and I am not kidding.
Future faking is a trick that manipulative people use to make us think they are invested in a relationship. They pretend they want to do something with you in the future in order to win your affection, attention, or whatever the heck it is that they want.
This kind of thing actually happens all the time to varying degrees. Most people do not regard casual statements as a firm contract. When we say, “we have to get together soon” or “I’ll send you that link” or “I’ll call you,” we’re expressing a sentiment that feels true in the moment. Today Me thinks Future Me is totally going to want to hang out!
Just like Past Me has committed Today Me to do all kinds of things, from donating blood to reorganizing the cabinet under the sink, Today Me never feels any more like doing those things than Past Me ever did. Ah, but Future Me, Future Me is the one with the motivation.
Future faking goes beyond ordinary over-promising and under-delivering. Future faking can be a conscious strategy of the unscrupulous.
Multi-level marketing is a classic example of this. There’s a huge amount of inspiration, motivation, visioning, and pumping up of aspirations. It’s going to be so great, business is booming, you’re going to get so rich! …in unsold and unsellable inventory and bitter experience. Even though 99% of people who sign up for MLMs lose money, they’re still allowed to operate. Sadly, getting duped by one MLM is not enough to convince everyone to swear off all of them, and the same individual may get swept up in the same type of scheme several times.
One of the hints here is to do a status meeting with yourself and ask: “Is this working for me, right now?” “Do I constantly feel uneasy about this situation… until Person X talks me out of it yet again?”
This works in romance, too.
I can give my ex-husband credit for a few things. One, he did a great job of erasing himself from my life after we split up, which is more than most people can say. Two, he always did his share of the housework. Three, he told me the brutal truth (meticulously, over several weeks) about why he wanted a divorce. At least I would never have to wonder!
Among other things, he told me that he had tricked me from the very beginning of our relationship. He pretended to be into the same things I was, because he wanted to go out with me. In fact, he said he was still attracted to me and would still date me, he just didn’t want to be married anymore. Strange but true.
He had the basic concept of marriage down. Marriage isn’t about two people who find each other attractive and want to save money by sharing rent. That was sort of what was on offer with my ex.
Marriage is about wanting to live the same basic lifestyle, on the same basic schedule, with compatible values and ultimate goals. My ex knew we didn’t have any of that, and furthermore, he knew it almost instantly from the moment we met.
He formed a deliberate plan to use his strategic advantage and manipulate his way into my good graces. He read me well, and quickly understood that I was oblivious to his position.
On the alignment chart, I’m a lawful good character. My ex was… hmm, I never really thought about it… ugh. Neutral evil? Honestly I don’t think he would be offended by that characterization; he might find it flattering. Why wouldn’t an intelligent person look out for his own interests?
I fault myself, although the mistakes I made were a young person’s mistakes of trust, optimism, and simple naivety. Poor little fool.
It goes basically like this:
I like walking on the beach. Oh my gosh, you do too?? Oh, look, we both have a scar on our chin! We’re meant to be together, forever!!! *harps and butterflies*
We give our hearts away, spilling a dozen details about ourselves, which any carnival employee could quickly note. It’s a straightforward matter of conjuring up a persona that shares those interests. We fall for it because we want to believe, because we believe in a vision of love, romance, and dating that is missing all the important steps of a long-term marriage contract.
Absolutely none of that can be determined at a faster rate than that at which a lovesick young fool’s heart falls for a certain sort of image.
Young Me had dreams of middle-class stability and home ownership. Young Me came up with a plan in which one of us would go to college while the other worked, and then we would switch. That’s what my parents did, after all, and my new husband said I could go first because he had no particular desire to go to school right then. It was easy for him. I made all the plans and dreams, and he nodded along. All he had to say was a formula along the lines of, “Yeah, I always wanted that too” - and I fell for it every time.
The truth was, I had no independent vision of what he wanted for himself, because he never offered one, I never asked, and I never got curious. I simply swallowed the bonkers notion that we coincidentally wanted all the same things. Didn’t everyone want to go to college and buy a house, after all? (No, actually).
Further, nothing in my ex’s past indicated that he had ever been on track for any of these plans. Just like me at the time, he was on the rebound and probably “between plans.” Most people don’t necessarily have any plans beyond avoiding eviction or job loss.
Future faking is no big deal when it involves tentative plans for lunch or dinner with someone. It may happen, after all, sometime within the next year. Future faking is definitely a big deal when it leads us to believe that someone is a completely different person than he actually is, a person with a different ideal life and different visions for what happiness looks like.
While I didn’t know what future faking was as a clueless twenty-two year old, and I didn’t have a name for it, I did figure out how to get around it. I started asking a lot more questions when I met prospective suitors. I also married my current husband only after we had dated for three years, when I pretty much had him figured out. Our future would turn out to be a lot more interesting than I would have guessed, and that’s because I chose a man, not a carefully plotted future fantasy.
This is the first time I have posted decade-level goals and resolutions on my blog, so I put extra work into it. Over the past few years, I’ve realized that the projects that I find the most engrossing and challenging are multi-year projects. The day I started each of these, I had no idea that I’d still be grinding away three years later. One of the benefits of midlife is that we have the patience, attention span, experience, and (frankly) the resources to attain long-term goals. Might as well harness that, right?
Over the past month, I’ve asked my elders how they felt at the start of each decade, particularly how they felt about technological innovations and major cultural changes. SO INTERESTING! My parents were barely old enough to be aware of current events in 1960, but they certainly noticed the Moon landing at the end of that decade. Talking about decade-level achievements with people who are satisfied in their careers and proud of their kids and grandkids can be really inspiring. That’s my hope, that when we are in our sixties and older my hubby and I will look back and feel like we’ve participated in life, in our culture, in our family legacy. We want to feel like we’ve enjoyed, learned, and experienced as much as we can.
That’s what all this goal-setting is about.
I already have so many regrets: that I never interviewed my grandparents about their lives when they were still here to ask. That I missed so much of the childhoods of my niece and nephews. That I missed graduations and weddings when I felt too poor to make the trip. What I regret most is not showing up, not connecting, not engaging and not reaching out. I could have called, I could have written, but I put it off and put it off without realizing how quickly time was passing.
At the same time, I’ve never wanted an ordinary life. If the only thing I ever did was to make the calls, come to the parties, and send the letters, well, heck. That’s a fine life but not big enough for me. I want to see the world and make at least one project that is bigger than me, something that outlasts my tenure on this blasted rock we call Earth.
In ten years I’ll be 55. If I’m ever going to do anything at all then I’d better get going.
What I’m posting here are yearly goals and resolutions, and also ten-year goals. Some of these were really tricky because I’ve never thought of them in that context before. It definitely puts some perspective on habits when you think, Will I still be annoying myself in just this same way ten years from now? (*facepalm*)
Personal: This category is what I think most people would refer to as their “resolution.” For me it’s my major area of focus. In past years it’s been running, public speaking, or martial arts. I try to choose something where I feel intense resistance and instinctive dislike. That’s where the greatest transformation is possible!
In 2020 this is going to be body transformation. Right now I feel like an angry puddle of goo. I had a very rough 2019 and there is no way I can tolerate the idea of being the same or worse ten years from now. I’m forty-four and my body belongs to me, not to society’s female-vessel regulations. I’m going to lose weight, I’m going to talk about it at great length on a regular basis, I’m going to do it my way, I’m going to get covered in mud and punch things, and that’s just how it’s going to be. I can’t force myself to pretend to pander to “body positivity” “I’m just fluffy” clouds and rainbows, riding in on a panda and licking an ice cream cone. I gotta wake up in this crusty old carcass every day and I intend to fully inhabit it like a warrior queen with the flaming sword of truth.
Career: My career goal for 2020 is to learn how to do webinars. I am not a digital native and I have to push hard to understand technology that is new to me. Eventually, whatever I learn becomes something that I do on a daily basis, without thinking about it, like syncing Bluetooth or downloading new apps, but that first onboarding process is something that I always find deeply confusing and frustrating.
For 2030, I want to be a published author, of course!
Physical: My physical goal for 2020 is to get my weight back to 125. I was able to maintain this for about five years, until I made the benighted decision to “put on ten pounds of muscle” and started eating like an NFL linebacker. (For reference, I am 5’4” and small-framed).
While I was training for my marathon lo these many moons ago, I became enchanted with the idea of the ultramarathon. I started telling everyone my goal was “50 for 50,” a fifty-mile ultramarathon for my fiftieth birthday. Suddenly that goal is only five years off and I either need to abandon it or start training. I hate abdicating, this is my one and only lifetime (or if not, it’s a moot point), and I want to see Silver Fox Future Self crossing that finish line.
Home: We’ve decided to start formally saving for a house, really a far-fetched, Moonshot sort of a goal where we live, but we like it here. That’s the 2030 goal.
For 2020, I’m working on automating more household chores as part of my book project.
Couples: Our couples goal is to build an app together. Fortunately the software coding part (the hard work) is my husband’s bailiwick; he’s learning Python and this project is as good as any.
Over the next decade, we have a shared goal to do more camping, hiking, backpacking, and bicycling adventures together. We only really see each other on weekends anymore and we like the idea of planning expeditions and picnics when the weather is fine.
Stop goal: My “stop goal” for 2020 is to stop procrastinating about text messages and voicemail. Honestly there are few things I despise more than listening to voicemail, but letting them sit there with blinking notifications isn’t helping. Text messages can be a serious problem for anyone who needs to focus and do long stretches of deep work - you broke my concentration to send a meme to a group thread?? But again, it seems that society has moved to this rather than email. My plan is to blast through the day’s detritus during my workout.
My ten-year goal is to stop procrastinating in general. I’m one of the 20% who fights this constantly. I think the solution is to reframe anything that feels aversive and try to think of better messages to send myself. Like instead of “I’d rather be scrubbing a toilet than doing this” I can think, “This will probably take less time than scrubbing a toilet.”
Lifestyle upgrades: Our ten-year lifestyle upgrade goal is to have a garden again.
For 2020, it’s a bummer to think about but my big lifestyle upgrade will probably be to have gum surgery. Over the past year I have had increasing reason to take my dentist’s advice seriously and I really want Future Me to think I had good judgment. Young people take note: you never think of your teeth as a part of your lifestyle until your first root canal.
Do the Obvious: The most obvious thing to do in my life right now is to plan around constant travel. At least during the active career portion of our shared life, my hubby and I have had to be constantly poised to pack a suitcase. He sometimes calls me to say that he’s flying out that very night; I’ve even had to head out to his building and bring him his passport. This is exciting and fascinating for us, but it also requires mental agility.
This will most likely still be true in 2030, so there ya go. No normal weeks.
Ultralearning: This is the first time I’m setting up an ultralearning project. I have total confidence in my ability to become absorbed in an educational mission; really the problem is more that I don’t know when to quit! In past years I feel like I’ve neglected the perpetual-student part of myself, and particularly my special gift of language acquisition. A quarter-century ago my Japanese teacher pulled me aside and said I had talent and that I should go forward in languages. I nodded (like, duh, totally), waited several years to go to college, dithered around in Greek and Latin, and then became a suburban housewife. That part of me only awakens when we see an action film with supervillain subtitles, and I can pick out the occasional word in Russian, German, or Japanese. SO, uh... *drumroll* in 2020, I’m going to do an ultralearning project and study Dutch.
DUTCH! Why the heck not. *tada*
For 2030 I plan to learn to write screenplays.
Quest: In my terminology, a quest is a grand adventure that I don’t necessarily know how to do. Part of the quest is figuring out the guidelines. My quest for 2020-2025 is to train for that “50 for 50” ultramarathon. This means I need to start running again. I also need to figure out how to add mileage without borking my ankle like last time, or causing myself any other overuse injuries.
My decade quest is to visit Antarctica.
Wish: My wish for 2020 is to get a publishing deal. Our wish for the next decade is to become millionaires!
Personal: Body transformation
Career: Learn how to do webinars
Physical: Weight at 125 lbs.
Home: Automation project
Couples: Build an app together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail
Lifestyle upgrades: Probably gum surgery
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Dutch language
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon! (2025)
Wish: Publishing deal!
2030 - Ten-Year Goals and Resolutions
Personal: Silver Fox project
Career: Published author
Physical: 50 for 50 ultramarathon!
Home: Buy a house to live in
Couples: Camping, hiking, backpacking, and bicycling together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating in general
Lifestyle upgrades: A garden
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Write screenplays
Quest: Visit Antarctica
Obviously a check-in can be done any time, and the Gregorian calendar is a weird artifact of history that has no absolute meaning, but there are undeniable advantages to doing an annual review at the New Year. It’s up to you what you want to put in it, as well.
Lists of grievances and personal vendettas with matching caricatures
Inventions to patent
Obscure parts of the home to decorate and post on Instagram
Hopelessness seems to be a common response to the concept of a yearly review. I don’t get this at all. I can’t imagine why, other than social comparison, it would bother someone to think that you have the power to add more of what you like to your life.
If you want to be sad every day, can you sad more sadly? Nobody is going to stop you.
It doesn’t have to be perky, cute, cheerful, socially acceptable, or photogenic. It doesn’t need illustrations or a soundtrack. It just has to be yours.
It doesn’t have to be relatable, either. I believe this to my very depths, and that’s why I pursue my New Year’s perimeter check even though resolutions have been so unfashionable for so long. More than half of people refuse to set a resolution and of those who do, over 80% have quit by February.
Either it doesn’t work, nobody likes it, everyone is doing it wrong, or I am a freak. I’ve never let any of those things stop me before...
Here is a basic sense of what I mean by a ‘perimeter check.’
Who is in my life? What does my typical day look like? Where am I spending most of my time? What is that space like? What am I doing, and is it working?
How is my energy level?
What am I liking and not liking? What do I want more of, what do I want less of?
The people. Who are the five most important people in my life? Am I showing up for them? Am I letting the time I have for them be eaten up by people who are less vital to my life? (Example: arguing with an anonymous griefer or troll rather than talking to someone I know and love)
The routine. Can I quantify where my time goes, or am I losing track? Can I cut anything out of my schedule? Is it time to let go of a commitment to make time for something else?
The space. Space clearing! Is there enough room for me to live my life? Do I have somewhere to do the things I want to do?
The energy level. Am I tired all the time? Is there anything obvious in my routine, my space, or my social life that is affecting my energy level? How do I want to feel most days, and what am I willing to do or change to spark that feeling?
Like, dislike. Is someone else setting those preferences? Do I even know what I want, in major and minor ways?
More and less. More sleep, less scrolling. More face-to-face conversation, less reading the comments. Or whatever.
For the visuals, I like to draw a life wheel. Typically there are eight slices of the pie, but that can be adjusted to suit. Categories are up to you; for instance, one could be “tacos” and you could rate your year on quality and quantity of tacos. My categories are:
Friends & family
This is where I think the trouble starts, why this exercise can feel so depressing. What if you feel like you get a zero for everything?
I can say from experience that this is how it gets better.
It’s my perception that a lot of guesswork goes into a diagnosis of depression. We’re *told* that it’s neurochemical, without any literal, objective, actual bloodwork or brain scans going on. (Even though they are technologically possible). Prescriptions are written after fifteen-minute consults (if that, ha) and it can take several years to get confirmation when those initial diagnoses prove incorrect.
I think it’s helpful to point out that there are differences between depression, other neurochemical or physiological states that feel pretty depressing, grief, sorrow, and depressing situations and circumstances. Life review is a piece that can serve to figure this out, to get a better sense of what is going on.
If you have depression and you also live in depressing circumstances, then it may be possible to get faster results by working on the circumstances first.
If you actually do not have depression (maybe it’s medical, like low thyroid, did they check that?), then working on improving depressing circumstances may be all you needed after all. That, and a more competent doctor...
I used this same sort of rating system to track, analyze, and overcome chronic pain and fatigue, migraine, night terrors, and insomnia, among other things. Those problems were real to me - just as your pain and sorrow are real - but I didn’t lose my identity when they went away. It’s mighty interesting to get to know yourself, the you that exists under the shadow of your worst problems.
The emotions that I want to feel around my annual review may include elation, joy, and delight, but those are not the feeling states that drive me most of the time. I do aim for domestic contentment most of all, because I feel like it’s the most impact for the effort and it also benefits others around me. Happiness, though, isn’t always on my dial. What I prefer is to follow my curiosity. Intense interest is my preferred setting. Satisfaction is only possible for me, personally, through challenge. Serious challenge.
This is what happens when I do my annual review. I spend a few days sorting and getting rid of stuff, cleaning, emptying out the fridge, and maybe rearranging furniture. I evaluate the past year and make plans for the upcoming year, including travel and family visits. I make sure I’m starting the year without loose ends, like library fines. I do a broad overview of my finances and my fitness level. I try to be as accurate about the reality of my daily life as I can, because I’m the one who has to live it. I wake up with myself every day. Whatever else is going on, whatever external slings and arrows affect my circumstances, at least I can be clear about my own values and whether I’m living up to them. I can stand up for myself and be my own ally, even in the hardest years when I need myself the most. Even more, I can consider whether I am showing up for the people who make me want to show up for them.
It literally just hit me, with one month to go. We’re not coming up on a new year, we’re coming up on a new decade!
A bit poleaxed by this.
How did this happen? Where did the time go? Am I going to be feeling this same way ten years from now, when I am... *gulp*... 54?
Here I had just been worrying whether I would finish all my resolutions for 2019, and suddenly I’m snapped into a whole next-level perspective.
I spent my twenties being broke, big-time broke, but I somehow managed to finish out that decade of my life with a college degree and a driver’s license. (And a divorce but who’s counting)
Then I spent most of my thirties with my husband. That was an extremely dramatic change from the previous decade of my life. In fact it is helping with this time-shock that I am feeling right now, to think of when he entered my life and the fantastic contrast between His Time and any Time Before. We often say, “I can barely remember what it was like before you came along,” (to our phones) and it feels very true.
Now let’s compare 2009 to 2019.
Um... what else?
2009 was the year I got married again. There probably won’t be as dramatic a change in my life again, unless we get a grandkid (?) or until we retire. That part of things feels solved. For someone who is single, I would say, don’t worry. I hope you always feel that being single is better than being with the wrong person, or being with someone for the wrong reasons. Marriage is either the best thing to ever happen to you, or the worst...
I continue to not own a home. I’ve never bought a house or owned property, and I wonder if I ever will. We’ve moved [counting] eight times since 2009! We’ve also traveled to nine countries together. That part is starting to feel pretty standard. For those who have lived in only one home in the past decade, take a moment to consider that in the context of someone who moves a lot.
Not only do we not own a home, we also don’t own a vehicle. I sold my car shortly after we started dating, and my husband’s pickup died somewhere past 200,000 miles. Then we had a compact car for a while, but it was recalled and we elected not to replace it. That’s something to consider in a ten-year context as well: your main form of transportation.
Ten years ago, I still had a student loan, we were paying for our wedding, and my husband was still paying both alimony and child support. Fast forward to today and we’re debt-free, living in a completely different financial world. (Saving half your income will do that). Ten years is an ideal block of time to consider your finances. Are you on track to be free of any financial burdens that you have today?
Or, realistically, are you going to continue to spend beyond your means, like most people, and find any thoughts of money and debt scary or depressing?
(There’s still time)
Ten years ago, we lived in a suburban house that was roughly 1800 square feet. We had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a yard, and a two-car garage with loft storage. We had two couches and two dining tables. Now we live in a 650-square-foot apartment. We’ve been sub-900-square-feet for the past five years, tiny house territory. We got rid of easily 80% of everything we owned, possibly more like 90%. While it seems weird to imagine having all that stuff again, and I strongly doubt we ever will, we will probably expand into a bit bigger home again within the next decade, more for the yard and a possible guest room than anything else. Also because tiny homes are harder to find!
Ten years ago, my husband was at the same job he’d held for the previous ten years and he thought he would be there at least until his kid finished high school. We had no inkling whatsoever of the direction his career would go only two years later. He’s been sent around the world and he’s working on his fourth patent. He went from a shared cubicle quad to a private office with a door. Me? I went from a basic secretarial role to whatever the heck you call what I do these days. International woman of mystery. Ten years can be a very, very long time on a career trajectory.
Ten years ago, I was unfit, a lifelong non-athlete, homebody, and shy person. Somehow in the past decade I’ve run a marathon, become a Distinguished Toastmaster, self-published a book, visited four continents, climbed a rope, done standup comedy, jumped over open flames, and otherwise completely shocked myself.
I’ve also been bit by a fire ant and gotten into the stinging nettles, sing Hey for a life of adventure...
In 1999, I wore a size 14. In 2009 I wore a size six. In 2019 I wear a size two. Twenty years ago I was a chronically ill, overweight young woman with a brunette pixie cut. Now, weirdly, I am a thin middle-aged lady with long blonde hair, boxing gloves, and a collection of adventure race medals. I look like a completely different person, I have a different name, I live 1000 miles away from where I started, and the only thing I really have in common with myself is my reading habit. Who am I??
Ten years ago, we had our pets, Spike and Noelle, and we were afraid to leave them alone in a room together for even ten seconds. Today, not only is it amazing and a little tearjerking to think they are both still here, but their decade of friendship is something beautiful to behold. He finally let her snuggle him for a couple of minutes the other day, fluffy breast puffed up against his side. We never had anything to be afraid of, other than the day they say goodbye. Whatever else ever happens in our lives together, we’ve had eleven years of the Spike and Noelie Show; we’ve loved them always. Heaven will be the two of them napping side by side forevermore.
Ten years ago, and certainly twenty years ago, I could not have imagined anything about my life today. Not where I lived how I look or my social life or how I spend my time, certainly not the technical innovations that are an ordinary part of my day. Only the love in my heart for my man, my little animals, and my family, that’s all I seem to carry.
What will happen in the next ten years? Where will we be and what will we be doing? Who will still be here and who will not? Will we have said everything we should have said to them? Will we do everything we’ve intended to do, or will we do more, or will we squander the days and years? We’ll burn through them one way or another, so let us burn through them lovingly and with all our hearts.
That restless feeling is upon me, the feeling that the winds are changing and it’s time to do something new. What will it be?
A lot of people channel this feeling into something pretty specific, like shopping, changing their hair, breaking up with someone, or changing jobs. I suspect others feel compelled to have a baby or adopt a new pet. For me, it’s usually moving, rearranging the furniture, and/or getting rid of a bunch of stuff.
We just moved two months ago, though, so it’s probably going to have to be a new workout.
It’s important to recognize restlessness for what it is. It can be used wisely or poorly. It can turn into a short run of sleepless nights, a quarrel, or any of the not-cute types of impulsive behavior.
Things I’ve seen people do impulsively:
Bring home a puppy, a 15-year commitment after a 15-second decision
Quit jobs without having anything lined up
Join the Army
Run a half-marathon with zero training
Go off their meds
Relocate and cut off communication with their entire extended family
Get married “in France, so it doesn’t count”
Eat at Chipotle
Of course, plenty of people have done all these things after a great deal of deliberation. There’s probably a married, tattooed, dog-owning French Army veteran somewhere out there eating at Chipotle right this minute. Well, maybe not that last part; that’s not so very French. Still. It’s not so much what you do as when and why you do it.
Does it make sense for your life?
One thing I’ve learned from coaching is that people always feel like they have an issue (probably), and they can’t deal with it alone (doubtful), but the real issue that they describe has nothing to do with the approach they want to take. It’s not that they need “accountability,” whatever that is, it’s that they need help getting perspective on their situation.
The one who wants a tougher workout, but really needs about 30% more sleep
The one clearing clutter whose household has zero income
The one who is manufacturing projects in order to delay a divorce
Everyone has a blind spot. Everyone who knows how to drive also knows that something as massive as a sixteen-wheel semi truck or a cement mixer can easily fit into said blind spot. In this sense, we’re our own worst enemies, toodling along without realizing how we are setting ourselves up for trouble.
This is why the desire for a fresh start can end poorly. We have all the emotional energy we need to make amazing changes, and we squander it on the wrong things entirely.
A serious life review can help here, if we are able to do the hard work and if we can assess ourselves honestly. It can help even more if we’re willing to seek outside perspectives, but here again we often tend to listen to the wrong people.
Just the other night, I was talking to a sweet young bunny about her college major and what she wanted to do after she graduated. She said she was a theater major so she didn’t know, because “there weren’t that many jobs in theater.” “I don’t know about that,” I replied, “think about where we live. Some of the highest paid people in our region work in theater.” (Film, comedy, music, other sorts of performance art and the tens of thousands of support positions in sound, lighting etc). “That’s not what they’re going to tell me at Thanksgiving,” she said. I told her to ask herself how well “they” were doing in life before she took their advice.
Seriously, what does my friend’s wife’s grandfather’s next-door neighbor know about me and my career path? (Wishing that were hypothetical).
If I ever say one thing that anyone ever remembers, let it be this:
BEWARE OF NAYSAYERS
(Especially at Thanksgiving)
It continues to astound me how many grown adults out there are still running their decisions past their parents, or their family as an assembled council. I hear it all. The mom trying to convince her daughter to get back together with an alcoholic who cheats. The son who is over thirty who lets his mom pick out his furniture. The brother and sister who live together in their forties because the family pitches a fit whenever they talk about moving on.
I worry when I hear about families with adult kids who are compelled to eat together every week, or more often, because this is what always comes of it. “Kids” in their thirties, forties, or beyond who genuinely feel that they can’t make a decision if they know their extended family will disagree. These are almost never smart decisions!
Whether to buy a house or vehicle, change jobs, go back to school or drop out, have kids or not, get married or divorced - why does the family council always steer people wrong? Why do people keep trusting that tribal advice when it ends badly so much of the time?
The family council is always going to push everyone to get married, have a baby, stay local, buy a house, and choose only the tiniest possible sliver of career that they understand and approve.
I feel fortunate to be solid in my contrarian convictions, because none of those choices
(except marriage) would have worked for me. When I picture my alternate lifestyle, the path not taken, it makes me feel like crying because it would have ruled out my life today under the palm trees.
It’s really the big decisions that matter, the ones we shouldn’t make impulsively but also shouldn’t make because someone else approves. Are we making them when we need to, though, or are we delaying or ignoring them in favor of the superficial?
It’s probably better, then, to use the desire for a fresh start as a sign that it’s time for an assessment. How are things going? Is my most obvious problem, what: financial, dental, situational, relational, physical, social? While I think it out, would it be a good idea to also do some space clearing and update my resume? Should I stay away from pet stores and tattoo parlors just in case?
Every day really is a fresh start. It’s never too late to ditch the naysayers. It’s never a wrong time to take full accountability for your life.
When is that book going to get read?
I’d really rather ask WHAT is that book you’re reading? To me it’s a mark of courtesy to hold up my book in public areas, so those who are interested can at least see the title. My husband has even learned to do this for me. When he travels on business, if he sees a woman around my age who looks like one of my book group buddies, he’ll text me the title of whatever she’s reading.
The most interesting books are getting read. Right now, today.
If it is so good that someone is carrying it around town and actively reading it rather than stroking their phone, something is going on. I need to know, What is that book??
On the other hand, if a book is sitting around, midway through a stack, with a bookmark poking out, then something is not going on. For whatever reason, that book lacked the mysterious something, the je ne sais quoi that I can’t describe and my autocorrect can’t spell.
In those cases, the question is, WHEN is that book ever going to get read?
Chances are, never.
There is nothing quite so aspirational as a bookshelf full of unread books.
It’s October and I’ve just gone through a purge of my active reading stack. I like to dedicate the month to spooky stuff, and anything I didn't finish in September is therefore getting pushed off at least a month.
This policy gives me a moment to ask, Would I choose this book again?
Now that I’ve had it sitting around for a week or more, if I haven’t felt compelled to drop everything and read it right away, would I choose it again? Am I feeling any kind of pressure to read it just because:
Someone else wants me to read it
My book club is reading it
I paid for it
I already read at least one volume of the series
I met the author
I’m a completist
Books feel like homework to me
I’m working from a list
I’m emotionally invested in the Sunk Cost Fallacy
I simply can’t bear to let go of books, from tractor manuals to travel guides from 2008
As an example, I have a developing friendship with a woman I think is awesome and very interesting. She invited me to her book group (yay!). They’re reading a hit novel (good) that is historical fiction (ugh) and representative of kinda pedestrian picks. Am I really willing to start reading books that don’t appeal to me for the sake of a cool chick I’d like to see more often?
(Here I remind myself that the first book group I joined read a lot of books I had loved, but the members never finished any of them and also never liked them).
If you come over to my apartment, you will see two types of books. One, my husband’s aerospace and robotics textbooks, and two, my books. I keep books that aren’t available in ebook or audiobook format, because I can’t get them any other way. Then I never read them because I actively hate reading paperbacks. Quite the quandary. There are novels I’ve had since before we got married, and I still can’t bear either to get rid of them or to break their little spines.
Am I going to feel any more in the mood to read them ten years from now than I am today?
One of the things I have noticed is that my favorite authors keep on publishing new books. I can pretty much guarantee that there will be at least 500 new books every year that will catch my attention. I already know I can’t read that many books, especially not if I have to factor in the reading list I already have. Choices have to be made.
At a certain point, you’re either into a book, or you’re not.
Gone With the Wind was the first one that really got me. I stayed up all night, three nights in a row, trying to finish it the summer I turned thirteen. I melted my book light! I cried at a few points and couldn’t get over the ending. At that age I would start a book and it was like climbing inside to live among the characters.
That’s a pretty high standard to set, but an interesting one. Aside from not having much sense of whether a book was problematic for some reason, what qualities made books so much more immersive? Was it just youth? Or were we more likely to grab something, dive into it immediately, and read according to whim rather than some kind of task list?
This is the direction I’m moving toward. I want to feel like:
within a twenty-minute window.
My husband literally does this. We go to the bookstore, he buys something, I write down a list of two dozen new titles, and we’re off. He’s finished his choice a week later and my picks are still on hold from the library.
I’m sometimes reading something four months after it initially caught my attention.
What I’m doing when I write down a list that long is pre-committing Future Me to at least two weeks’ reading material. It seems that in practice, I really only get around to reading maybe 10-20% of these picks. What am I doing?
When is that book going to be read? In the afterlife? That’s assuming I get to go to the sort of afterlife where I have eternity to read random novels.
I advocate doing a clean sweep and starting over. I advocate avoiding the remainder table or otherwise discounted books. I advocate buying your most anticipated books by your favorite authors as soon as they hit the shelf and then reading them while you’re still walking out of the store, maybe even bumping into a pole along the way.
When is that book getting read? Why do you ask? I’m already a hundred pages in.
It’s my birthday, a time I like to think about what I’ve done over the past year and what I want to be doing by this time next year. Typically this includes asking myself why I keep trying to plan something special, because somehow or other I always seem to manage to mess it up.
Classic birthday fun: Discovering stinging nettle the hard way, getting a second-degree sunburn in a weird pattern that didn’t fade for two years, stepping barefoot in puppy leavings, and now, sitting around for forty minutes at a bus station in Aberdeen because nobody updated the website with the school holiday schedule.
In a way, I think of it as good luck. If whatever dumb and annoying thing that’s going to happen to me through my own ineptitude is going to happen on my birthday, then maybe I can avoid that sort of thing the rest of the year?
Also, it’s raining, something else I try to see as a sign of good luck. It rained on our wedding day (Northern Hemisphere in August) and there is a superstition that this brings prosperity. After ten years I can tentatively say that this seems to have been borne out.
At some point in the last year, I made a list of “43 for 43” - things that I wanted to do for fun, to make the year special. I can only claim to have completed a dozen of the 43 items. That’s because this thing called “fun” doesn’t come all that naturally to me. I tend to be an intense, driven, restless sort of person and if I don’t plan and calculate, all the fun tends to get left off the list.
Sixteen of the items are fitness-related and I didn’t do any of them.
One thing I can say I’m proud of crossing off that list: I helped celebrate my brother’s fortieth birthday. If I hadn’t started nagging everyone about it almost five months in advance I think it probably would have been a last-minute family dinner, rather than a memorable vacation weekend.
I am good at recognizing spontaneous opportunities when they come along. That’s why I can claim to have done a bunch of random fun things in spite of myself. For instance, since we came to the U.K. I have taken serious advantage of the widespread availability of vegan food. I’ve had a sausage roll, a Magnum bar, and a Jaffa cake, and I even tracked down a bag of Starburst! (With blackcurrant!) We’ve walked fifty miles in five days, including days when we spent 9-10 hours on a plane or a train, and I’ve spotted twenty species of birds for my life list so far.
Eat, walk, look at birds, repeat. That’s sort of me all over.
If there’s one thing to do on a birthday, it’s to think about your favorite people, favorite places, and favorite things. Are you spending time with your loved ones and doing what really matters to you?
I realized when camping last month that I hadn’t been in a forest in two years. It took five minutes to commit that that should never happen again. I had forgotten who I was.
That brought up a series of thoughts about things that are “really me” that I haven’t been doing much lately, if at all. Traveling, cooking and having dinner parties, distance running, spending time in the woods, heck, even doing cryptograms. Too much focus on goals and self-improvement can eventually crowd out everything else.
Then I remember that it’s been a tough year. I spent a lot of time ill for about eight months, started having the occasional episode of migraine or night terrors after a four-year hiatus, and then rounded it out with a bunch of oral surgery. Whee. I can forgive myself for not having some kind of “perfect year” or hitting every single benchmark.
Of course I can also say that I feel like I deserve better from my physical vessel and that I’m hoping for better health, vitality, and well-being in the coming year. I want to get back to running again. I miss hills for breakfast. Also I can hardly wait until our lease is up and we can move to a place that doesn’t have loud, early-rising upstairs neighbors. I’d prefer to be thinking about more interesting things than why my neighbor feels the need to do her vacuuming at 8:00 AM.
When she was a little girl, did she dream about being the world’s most meticulous housekeeper?
When I was a little girl, I wanted to read every book in the world and I wanted my own parrot. One down, one to go.
Incidentally, Noelie just had her 21st hatch day. I owe her a berry.
I’ve been nodding off in the middle of writing this, on a bus with the heater on, having slept poorly in a sleeper car on a train last night. Snapping awake made me feel like a doddering elderly person. If I’m lucky that will happen one day! One day I’ll be quite old and I can tell patient young people what it was like in the Eighties, when phones had cords, VHS tapes cost $99, and you had to go to your friend’s house to play games or watch music videos.
I might be halfway through my life, I might go tomorrow, and maybe I’ve got another 65 years. Who knows? Who knows what sorts of dramatic changes and technological innovations I’ll see in my time? What will become of me?
All I know is what I’ve learned, which is that it’s good to be grateful for what you have, it’s good to stay in touch with your values, your family, and your old friends, it’s good to see the world, it’s good to save money, and it’s good to take care of your health and your teeth.
Now I’m off to start my personal new year with some travel, some time in the woods, some more intensive journaling, some birdwatching, and the absurdly early bedtime suitable to a lady of my age and station.
I like a good euphemism, especially for self-talk. When I tried to come up with a better way to think about oral surgery, the term “dental reset” came to mind. Works for me. There’s a lot going on, and I wish it was already over (and paid for), and grouping several procedures into one batch is helping me deal with it.
Dentistry is amazing from an historical perspective. I remind myself of this. Not very long in the past, the best available option for even the wealthiest person would be to have a tooth removed without anesthesia of any kind, that or let it decay in place over a few years. Poor dentistry was probably a factor in decreased longevity because of infection and the difficulty of eating while mostly toothless.
That’s why I can still smile while signing off on a copay of over a thousand dollars just to not be awake for all this.
I’m straightedge, I won’t drink a beer, but go on ahead with that IV and the oxygen!
My image of a root canal, before I had my first one last month, was a vague and nameless horror. People speak reverently of root canals in the same way they do of automotive collisions. All I knew to expect was misery. IT WASN’T THAT BAD THOUGH!
Resorption repair: not that bad either.
In neither of these procedures in my dental reset have I been offered painkillers, which is great because I wouldn’t want them anyway. I was prescribed Vicodin for the extraction of my wisdom teeth, and I quit taking it on the second day because it made me feel so ill. That, and my mom found me passed out on the bathroom floor... In my opinion, painkillers don’t treat pain, they just make a person too incoherent to complain about it.
Sometimes you have a problem. Then you get a prescription and you have two things: the original problem plus a pill problem.
I woke up in the same dental chair where I started, which was an improvement over my wisdom tooth experience. Then I had been taken to another room and laid out on a cot, which was disorienting and upsetting. Waking up alone in a strange room without being told this would happen! This is why I think one of two things. Either anesthesia has improved as a practice over the past 25 years, or I’m better at tolerating it.
Or my endodontist is a genius, which is likely in either case.
Okay, so the anxiety. We got home from the airport after 11 PM, knowing I would have to be in the dental chair at 8 AM the next day. The first thing they told me was that they might not be able to save the tooth and we’d have to deal with that later.
Hitting all my buttons:
Large bills, due in full
Dying under anesthesia
Being moved around while unconscious
Going around toothless, even for a day
Wondering how much more of this I will confront in the next 40-50 years
Teeth are the sine qua non of the middle class. I really didn’t want to be losing three teeth, especially not on the same row, and I didn’t feel all that impressed with the alternatives. Isn’t 43 a little young for a bridge?
Basically what happens with resorption is that the tooth starts to sort of dissolve. It doesn’t hurt and you can’t see it with the naked eye, so the only way to find out it’s going on is with an x-ray and a smart dentist. I love horror movies but come on. The procedure involves cutting into the gum tissue to fix the damaged root and then voila, sutures in your gums.
The biggest struggle with willpower that I have ever had in my life has been to keep my tongue away from those sutures.
I sat in the dental chair and, I kid you not, the song playing was “Band on the Run.” Paul McCartney singing:
IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE
I woke up and they helped me into a wheelchair, where I immediately started shivering, an aftereffect of sedation.
I felt basically fine, though I think my appearance alarmed the rideshare driver.
My husband had to take the day off work to be with me, which was actually good because he was able to catch up on work email accrued during our trip. It turns out it was also helpful because he paid attention and remembered all the specific details about flossing and brushing and anti-inflammatories and the prescription medicated mouthwash.
I didn’t realize until about twelve hours later, after sleeping off the residual anesthetic and reading all my brochures, that there are a lot of reasons why someone can’t be alone right after this stuff. Apparently anesthesia makes a lot of people violently ill and it can even make you stop breathing. Yikes!
In actual fact, I had some of the best sleep I’ve had all year and woke up feeling refreshed. I went to check myself out in the mirror, expecting bruising and puffiness and circles under my eyes. Since all I did all day was drink fluids and nap on and off, I looked... rather dewy. If anything, if there is any swelling, it seems to be making me look younger.
If you’ve been contemplating this kind of endodontic magic, obviously your experience might not be the same as mine, but don’t be scared. I haven’t really been sore, or dizzy, or nauseated. I’m hungry and not loving the soft foods diet, and the suture is mildly distracting, but I’m sleeping fine. I can get the stitches out next week.
It seems fair to mention that, especially for my age, I’m in pretty great shape. I didn’t have any of the health problems listed on the intake form, such as diabetes or heart disease. I’m at a healthy weight. I work out. Circulation and respiration matter here. I also suspect that I’m having a relatively easy time because I’ve been a vegan for 22 years. I may not be experiencing the standard amount of inflammation as someone who regularly takes in a lot of sugar, coffee, alcohol, salt, and saturated fat. No idea.
They were able to save my tooth! Sweeter words were never heard. This is probably the best and smartest thing I’ve spent money on all year.
Root canal: Fine
Resorption surgery: No big deal
Crown: To be scheduled
Someday is Not a Day in the Week. Sam Horn wants to remind us that we can find a way to live out our dreams today, rather than waiting until “later.” First of all, later doesn’t always come. Second, by the time we retire, many of us don’t have the health or freedom to do the things we’ve been waiting for decades to do. Whatever it is, let’s figure out how to do it now.
This book is centered around a “Year by the Water,” Horn’s way of living what she teaches. She decided what she wanted to do, gave away all her stuff, and hit the road. This sounds like something for kids in their twenties, and of course it is, but Horn is a mom of a kid that age. Pay attention, non-kids, because the message that Someday is Not a Day in the Week is aimed at us.
Horn reminds us that we can’t take our mobility for granted. She has a few examples of people who worked hard their entire lives, only to be unable to enjoy their freedom once they had earned it. So many of us are such workaholics that we don’t know how to unplug. We don’t take our vacations when we’ve earned them, and we don’t retire even when we can. How would we feel if we had to look back and realize that we never took the time when we had the opportunity, and suddenly we never can?
How can we make more time to live out our dreams and be more consistent with our values? How can we restructure our commitments? If George R. R. Martin isn’t obligated to finish writing Game of Thrones, then how much are we obligated to do?
I loved Sam Horn’s book, which is full of practical advice and exercises. I’m taking the advice that Someday is Not a Day in the Week and building my semi-annual review around it.
I hope you choose to stop waiting and start creating the quality of life you want, need, and deserve now—not later.
Are you overthinking your dream?
....when we focus on what we don’t want, that’s what we’re going to get.
Get crystal clear about what makes you laugh and enjoy your life, and schedule it on your calendar.
...meaning makes us happy, not money. And everyone can afford that.
Have some of your dreams come true and you’re not even noticing them?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies