Which is It?

I have been incredibly contemplative the last couple of weeks.  This happens a lot when I teach- I get to thinking about how I would design my life, if I could do so deliberately and purposefully.  I am starting to recognize it as a symptom of when I feel like I don’t have choices.  Also, I can be just as big of a procrastinator as anyone else- so conveniently, these contemplative moments happen when I am supposed to be grading or reading papers or prepping for class.

In any case, I have been thinking a lot about what keeps people from accomplishing the things they want.  I read The 4-Hour Workweek  by Tim Ferriss a while  ago.  At the time, I was working in state government and was really frustrated with his ideas.  Long story short, he advocates outsourcing everything possible in order to free up time.  I thought it was highly unrealistic for people like me (people working in places where they have little control over their work life).  But, I am starting to realize that he’s right about some other stuff.  Mostly, that people do a bad job estimating what they actually need in order to accomplish dreams and live their biggest and best lives.

I think that if most people took a long hard look at their life lists and bucket lists, they would be surprised about how much of it is doable.  See, according to Ferriss, the things that most people are putting off until they retire or until their kids graduate or until whenever, are actually doable before then.  It’s mostly just a matter of figuring out what it is that you need in order to do the thing.

On top of that, if you don’t hate your job, you might not be looking forward to retirement (obviously, this is a very bougee thing to say-I recognize the relative privilege that allows me to be able to say that some people don’t hate their work).  While I don’t doubt for a second that there are people who want to win the lottery so they never have to work again, a lot of the rest of us don’t hate our jobs.  If you are a person predisposed to hard work, you might THINK you want to lay on the beach for the rest of your life.  But what happens when you get tired of doing that?  Beaches are kinda boring, once you’re past the thrill of being on a beach and your friends/family still have to work.  So what is the point of working your ass off for a pile of money so that you can retire and lay on a beach, when the rest of your friends and family are still working or in school?

It is easy to think that you need to just become a millionaire and then you can retire and start checking things off your life list.  Alexander Heyne notes that “breaking free” of the “rat race” isn’t likely to ensure your eternal happiness, because often, we don’t have a good read on the situation.  In the end, we have these big goals and life dreams, not necessarily because we WANT to actually do them, but rather because we aren’t really honest about WHY we want them.  With the exception of things that actually require vast sums of money (like buying a fancy yacht or donating a pile of money to charity), many of the things that we want to do don’t require a lot of money.

Time?  Yes.

Knowledge?  Yes.

Logistical support? Yes.

But not necessarily a pile of money

In the last couple of weeks, I have thought through the kinds barriers that people face to checking items off their life list.  And here is what I came up with:

Most of the big things we want require logistics, knowledge, resources, and/or time.

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For me, things clicked when I stopped thinking in terms of “When I retire…”and more in terms of “Which of these can I do now?”  Literally, nobody has time for that.  I got things to do NOW.  I don’t have time to wait.  None of us do, really.

There are different reasons why I haven’t done all of the big things I want to do, like hike the Long Trail, learn to ice skate, brew my own beer, and run all the bridges in Chicago. Hiking the Long Trail requires 3 weeks off of work and a commitment of some resources.  Learning to ice skate will require that I have my life arranged in a way that I can commit to showing up and practicing how to do it, maybe hiring a coach, if I needed it.  Brewing my own beer requires a little equipment (most of which I have) and a lot of knowledge.  Running all the bridges in Chicago requires time and a daily commitment- but not a pile of money.

All of us are capable of starting where we are, once we know what we want.  The question is, what do we need to get there?

Knowledge?  If you want to learn to speak another language, are you currently not doing it because you don’t know how to get started?  Should you try an app or local classes?  Should you find a tutor online?  What way of learning a language works best for you?

Logistics? If you want to run a marathon, but are currently caring for a young child or an elderly parent, what do you need to have in place in order to get training runs in place?  Is it a matter of getting a treadmill for your basement?  Or do you need to arrange your days so you can run in the morning before your spouse goes to work?

Time? If you want to write a novel, is it just a matter of carving an hour out of your day to write?  Is there a way to reclaim some time in your day that you can repurpose for writing?  Or would upgrading your phone allow you to write while commuting on a train to work?

Resources? If you want to own your dream home, is it really being able to throw a stack of money at a realtor?  Have you considered the different paths to home ownership?  Is it matter of buying the perfect home or could you buy a fixer upper? Is it only the perfect home in the perfect neighborhood in the perfect city?  Or would you move anywhere?

All of these are questions we should be asking ourselves about why we haven’t done the big things on our lists.  Once you’ve answered the questions, you’re ready to start.

Item Complete: #33 See Paris Bird and Flower Market

Way, way, way back, like all the way back in 2008, I stumbled upon an article (I think it was the Guardian piece I linked to here) about the Bird and Flower Market of Paris (Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux).  As a former southern belle and country girl at heart, I am always sorta intrigued by “markets.”  Like you go to one and get the thing.  Markets always make me think of “the good old days” (whenever that was), when people would get groceries from the butcher, and the grocer, and the baker.  I don’t know- it always seemed so quaint.

The Paris Bird and Flower Market was interesting to me, because, like most everything in Europe, I thought that it would be cool to stroll along the cobblestones where generations before me had shopped and socialized.  Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux has been around for over two centuries.  Plus, if we are being quite honest, I am quite fond of shiny, pretty things.

I was already interested in seeing the market when I heard an absolutely brilliant piece on Snap Judgement.  It is a cool story and features birds (with a cameo by the Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux).

When my dissertation advisor sent me a note about a demography conference in Paris earlier this year, I submitted to it.  Ultimately, it was accepted and away I went!!  I had hoped to figure out a way for my favorite boys to come with me- but it just wasn’t in the cards this time.

Forgive me for what I am about to say-I kinda want to kick my own ass for it.  So here it is:

The trip wasn’t great.

I know.

I can’t.

Anthony Bourdain has this to say about enjoying Paris:

“What does it take to enjoy Paris? A F%CKING plane ticket! That is what it takes! You get on a plane and come to Paris and you wander around freely. Even if you’re eating badly in Paris, its a good thing… Let’s put it this way: if you are lucky enough to have a passport and a few bucks in your pocket and you find yourself in Paris… if you can’t find your way to a good time somehow, then there is no light or joy in this world.  How could you not enjoy Paris?  Having a miserable time in Paris is the best time ever…”

Shame.  I bring shame to my family. I know.

Here is the thing: I am getting old, y’all.  Or maybe not old-old, but just too old for five day trips to other time zones. Because I could just not get the jet lag sorted out.  Of course, it didn’t help that I did not sleep well the two nights leading up to my trip.  And I had great ideas of sleeping on the flight.  I even bought a neck pillow.  A neck pillow!!

Maybe I was too excited about going.  Because I could not fall asleep on the plane.  Know when I got sleepy?  Just as we started our descent in Charles de Gaulle.  Like it was amateur hour.  By the time I got into Paris at 6 in the morning, I had gotten about 6 hours of sleep over the previous three nights.  It wasn’t great.

So I was wiped out.  And I just couldn’t get my Paris legs under me.  I was mis-informed by the internets about the availability of sim cards for my “unlocked” iPhone.  Why did this matter?  Well, when I got a smart phone, I purged the “map-reading” and “spatial awareness and navigational” files from my brain.  Because I didn’t need them anymore.  My brain needed the space- for remembering important things, like lines from movies.    Look, man!  Something had to go!  So it was map-reading.

Also, I hadn’t bothered to learn any additional french, beyond the french that I already knew:

Bonjour, madamazelle, I like your chapeau!” (Good day, m’am, I like your hat!)

Enchante” (Enchanted- and I only learned that because it sounded fancy).

Merci beucoup!” (Thank you).

Parle ingles?” (Do you speak English- duh! American!)

Allez putain!!” (Go Whore!!- This is in reference to when your team is doing badly- I wouldn’t have actually said this to a Parisian sex worker).

Why?  Why would I have not needed any french?

Two reasons my friend!

Exhibit A).  I think this one is obvious- but my french is quite terrible and on previous occasions, most French people would rather stoop to my useless American tourst level and speak English than listen to the likes of me butcher their beautiful language.

Exhibit B).  I was supposed to have a phone with access to the interwebs via a data plan purchased for use with said SIM card, which should have worked with my bullshit phone.

My plan (flawed as it was) did not require conversing all that much in French nor worrying too much about navigation because I would be able to navigate myself around.  And even if I did need to speak French, I would be able to access the internet, which would have provided me with useful customized phrases via apps.

How did that work out for me?

It was a shit show.

I drove the jetlag struggle bus the entire time I was there.  My first two days there required me being at a conference, so I didn’t do much then.  Friday night I went with a girl from the conference to a nearby area of the city that had a street full of side-walk bistros and cafes.  I had fish and chips, because it looked really good (which it was) and Creme Brulee, which I wasn’t sure I had ever had before (if we are being honest, I wasn’t that big a fan of it.  I thought the texture was a little weird).

But then I had what could have been a lovely Paris weekend to myself, to get lost and day drink and nap.  And I just couldn’t- mostly because 4 hour long naps really eat into the day and make it so you have a hard time falling asleep.  And waking up.  Also, “Work Travel” JBR showed up- to put the brakes on almost everything.

I did manage a couple of really fantastic meals while I was there-including lots of baguette. Do you now how you could improve the taste of a salad?  Put it on a baguette.  Honestly!! I checked out Shakespeare and Co (a bookstore), which had a double bonus of selling booze- so you know that was my jam.  There was a little cafe near Place d’Italie (where my bnb was located), where I had dinner on Saturday night.  I had escargot cooked in basil and olive oil, that was wonderful.  You know what I did with that bread, right?  Used it to soak up basil and olive oil, like a boss.

My last full day there was a Sunday, which was the day I headed to Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux for the birds and the flowers!  img_9389

I don’t know what the usual turnout is for the market.  But it was a rainy early fall day- so there weren’t very many vendors, nor shoppers (which was fine by me).  So it’s hard for me to say much about the experience, other than most of the birds that were on display were small. Beautiful, but small, little guys, pink ones, grey ones, and light blue ones.  It’s a great thing that I would have had quite the time getting it through customs, because all of a sudden, I wanted to buy a bird.  Can you even imagine?  “M’am, do you have anything to declare?”

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The flowers were mostly garden center flowers (and supplies), meaning that most were in pots.  I sort of expected stalls on stalls of cool cut flowers- but that is okay. They were still gorgeous.  But again, same issue, with customs.  Plus, I was already going to have a tough time toting my stuff back on the plane, can you imagine having to carry a giant potted plant back on a plane? That would have been fairly annoying for everyone around me.

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So, while the Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux was slightly underwhelming, the experience did lead to a fantastic meal.  On the way back to the place I was staying, I grabbed a late lunch at a cafe nearish the Eiffel tower.  It was probably toursity- so don’t judge.  Also, it had fast free wifi, so who was winning?  My server spoke pretty good english (as did most of the French people I encountered).  She talked me into a lambshank special that was heavenly.  Plus french onion soup, baguette, and beer?  I died a little.  It was divine! img_9425

Altogether, the trip was okay. I am glad I went (and really glad I got to cross off Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux from the list.)  In the future, it would do a lot better to be well-rested in the days leading up to the trip.  This way, if some of my plans don’t work out, it is no big deal.  And have a better plan for telecommunications.  Or take Dave- Dave’s french is decent by most standards.  It would have really helped on this trip.

Why “Seeing the Cubs Win the World Series” is a Terrible Life List item

I remember writing my first list in 2002.  At the time, it was solace in a life that was not going according to plan.  Some events during my junior year of college ended up changing my career plans- and I really had no idea what I was going to do with my life.  Long story short: I had planned on a career in law enforcement.  But then, in college, I got into some trouble with law enforcement, which I thought would be a non-starter for someone wanting to go into law enforcement.  We could Monday morning quarterback the hell out of whether that was actually true.  But for me, a 21 year old kid who had never been in trouble, I thought my career was over before it started.

I was living in a shitty studio apartment on the edge of FSU’s campus in Tallahassee, Florida and working two jobs, struggling with what to do next.  All I knew was that all the things I wanted to do with my life- the non-career stuff, seemed so far away when I was struggling to pay rent.  I got really sick that year (in the fall-winter of 2002-2003) and ended a three year relationship with a guy who had a different idea about what we were than I did.

I remember being really frustrated, thinking that it sucked that things weren’t going the way they were supposed to because I had, for all intents and purposes, done things “the right way”.  Went to college, double-majored, graduated with honors, early, played by the rules-which included not being a “mess.”  The life list helped me, because in creating it, I was recognizing and recording the things that I wanted to do. It assuaged my stress at not being able to do these things, while getting me to think about what kind of career I would need to support checking items off this list.

Since then, the list has changed; I have added things and taken things off the list.  What I have come to realize is that there are three main things to consider when you add or subtract items to your bucket list.

Why do YOU WANT to do the things on your list?

There are lots of reasons that items get added to our life’s to-do list.  You’re listening to a radio story and think, “That sounds pretty cool, I’d like to see that.”  It could be that for you, there is some substantial meaning in accomplishing a task.  Doing that task will make you a college graduate or a published author.  Or maybe you inherit some item from a parent or a grandparent.  There is nothing wrong with that- doing something in someone’s honor, because they never got around to it.  Or sometimes you just want to do a thing because it would mean a lot to a loved one.

For example, one of the first things that Dave (my husband) and I did when we started dating was see the Cubs play in the National League Championship Series game at the old ProPlayer stadium in South Florida.  We were in those first heady days of a new relationship- where we couldn’t get enough of each other.  12118829_10106769551521333_4684805451227117528_n.jpg

We drove 8 hours to Miami, for a date, essentially, less than a month after we started dating.  It was then that I added “See the Cubs Win the Series Live” to my life list.   I just knew that I would love to be with Dave in Wrigley when they won the series.  Of course, I didn’t really have a great grasp of what that meant- the series of events that would have to fall into place for that to happen.

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Cubs Win!

How much control do you have over the things you WANT to do?

There are some things that we decide to do, which are simply a matter of grinding it out- committing the time or putting the work in.  These include things like learning a skill or a foreign language or running a marathon.  These items require commitment to the cause and regular effort- be it weekly or daily or more often.

But, there other items are largely outside of our control.  Wanting to see the Cubs win the Series Live has a major requirement: it requires the Cubs to be good.

I know, right?  LOL!!

Except, not really right now.  In the last two years, the Cubs have been brilliant.  At no point since 2003 have my chances of seeing the Cubs win the series Live been THIS GOOD.   Honestly, I don’t wanna jinx it, but they are so good right now.  I mean, how could you watch the video below and not want it to happen?

IT MIGHT HAPPEN THIS YEAR.

Take a deep breath…

Let’s remember that in order for me to see them win the series (LIVE), they need to first, get to the series.  For argument’s sake, let’s just say that is going to happen.

Because I want to see this happen live, I am going to need to be at the game when they win it- which is the tricky part.  World Series tickets don’t just grow on trees.  Even if I could get them, they would likely be much more expensive than a responsible person (such as myself) could probably afford.  Assuming I could pinpoint the exact game when the Cubs win the series, it would be very expensive to be there (and I am not at that place in my life to afford it).

Because I can’t tell the future, I would have to buy tickets to games 4, 5, 6, and 7, to ensure that I am in the stadium when the Cubs win.  Worse, I would also have to plan to travel to away games- in the event that they win on the road.  GAHHHHHH!!  Why couldn’t I have been a trust fund baby!!!

Really, I have very little control or agency over seeing the Cubs win the Series, which makes this item a bad life list item for me.  But for someone who has more financial resources- this isn’t unreasonable.  That is the cool thing about life lists- is what might seem like an insurmountable item for one person is a done deal for someone else.  You might have the time, but need the money.  You might have the money, but need the time.  You might have neither the time or the money, but you have the know-how.  Or you might have time and money and know how to get the know how, you just haven’t put a plan into action.

In what ways will accomplishing life list items CHANGE YOU?

There are the things that we want to do, because we will benefit from the process of doing them.  Running a marathon- means, probably becoming a runner.  Learning french will put you in a good place for a big fun trip to France.  Maybe learning to code will help you get a better job.

But, there are some things that we want to do that really won’t change us.  They won’t impact our lives in any meaningful way.  We want to add these items to our collection of experiences.

There is nothing wrong with this.  There is nothing that says you have to grow and become a better person with all the items on your life list.  If I got to see the Cubs win the Series Live, would it make me a better person?  A smarter person?  A more disciplined person?  A better mother?  A better athlete?  No.

Might it be something I remember when I have misjudged the distance of the last step on a set of stairs when when my life flashes before my eyes?

Yes.  Yes, it will.

Not a Memo. A Mission Statement.

The human brain is a weird thing.  Mine so, probably more than most.  I think it is in part due to my preference for bright, shiny things.  Like, for some reason, my brain has no problem watching movies I have already seen.  You’re probably thinking, “Dude, that is everyone.”  Fair enough.  But does your brain constantly search for the exact right movie scene to describe a real life situation?  No?  Well, try not to be jealous of my super power.

The scene I am thinking of is Tom Cruise in Jerry McGuire– at the beginning, when he has his epiphany and writes the memo mission statement.  I feel like Jerry McGuire right now.  I am wiped out after a long day at work and not much sleep last night, yet, here I am- furiously pounding away on my computer.  The rest of the house is asleep and I really should be in bed.  But here I am.

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Jerry McGuire (Tri-Star Pictures)

Here is the thing:  we are at a very special point in time.  In our hands, we have devices that can access all information known to man- SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME.  These devices allow us to save so much time, because we do the things that we need to do in our lives so much faster and more efficiently.  Twenty years ago, if I wanted to deposit a check in a bank, I had to actually go to the bank- today I take a picture of it and upload it to my bank.  If I wanted to talk to my mom on the phone, I had to plan to actually be in my house at a certain time in order to talk with her, on a land line- today I can call her when I am getting off the train on my way to work.

It is not all barfing rainbows and unicorns.  Our technology has become a double edged sword.  While we can shop for groceries from home via an app or pay bills through a bank’s mobile app, we now have the ability to waste unprecedented amounts of time.  Think back twenty years ago, what you might have done if you found yourself with an extra 15 or 20 minutes.  Say some type of schedule or transportation glitch left you with 15 or 20 minutes you might not have accounted for.  How might you have filled that time?

Simple:  you would have read a newspaper, read a book, did a crossword, or some type of handiwork (knitting or crocheting)- if you had your materials with you.  Maybe, if you didn’t have any of these, you might have sat in quiet reflection for 15 minutes.  But now, we have these devices that allow us to piss away an obscene amount of time.  Between social networks and game applications alone, an average person can blow 20 minutes without even thinking about it.  If I am not careful, I can piss 15 minutes away before I EVEN GET OUT OF BED.

Isn’t that amazing scary amazing horrible amazing?

Here is the thing: 15 minutes here and 20 minutes there doesn’t sound like a lot- because it isn’t.  But think about what it might add up to over the course of a day.  15 minutes when I first wake up.  15 minutes at the end of a workout, where I catch up on emails and notifications I missed while I was working out.  20 minutes waiting for dinner to cook.  15 minutes pissed away on social media when I put my son down for bed.

What’s more, is that very little of what we do in this wasted time (scrolling through social media, streaming shows and movies, and texting) actually adds up to anything of substance or value.  At the end of my life am I going to be laying on my deathbed really glad that I finished watching Sons of Anarchy on Netflix?  Probably not.  Am I going to be think back to all the information about reality TV stars that I have somehow collected through social media?  FALSE.

The good news is that this situation isn’t hopeless.  With a plan and the right mindset, it is possible to convert all those “wasted” minutes to productive minutes using deliberate action steps.  We do this in order to help us achieve the things that we want to achieve, whether that is learning to fly fish or running a marathon.

In his book The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New RichTim Ferris argues that most of the things that people WANT to do in their life don’t require extreme wealth or even vast chunks of uninterrupted time.  Even the “big” things that people want to do, like “buy a house”, “learn another language” or “take my family on an around the world vacation” aren’t really that big or difficult with the right mindset and a killer plan.  Further, he argues that we get it into our heads that we have to put off doing these things- until we are retired, until we pay off the mortgage, until our kids graduate.  The trick is to change our mindset from thinking of doing these big things as a reward for a long and productive career to engineering our lives in a way that supports the things we want to do.

i-will-not-be-commanded-i-will-not-be-controlled-i-will-not-let-my-future-go-on-without-the-help-of-my-soul-greg-holden-the-lost-boyThat is what we are doing here.  It is why I am here.  I am not a wealthy woman.  I am not entirely in control of my own career at this point.  I have a child and a partner who expect me to be reasonably in the picture (which means, not taking off and hiking the triple crown right now).  But I will be damned if I am going to sit on my ass for the next 40 years, waiting to retire.  There is no way I can live, hoping to “earn” my retirement, destroying my body by sitting in an office chair for 50 years of my life.  I want more.  And I am not willing to wait.

I want this blog (and theoretically the community that it will support) to be a vehicle for getting myself and others working productively on the things we WANT to do.

What about you?  Are you going to wait until you’re at the end of your life before you start living it?  Or are you going to start now?

I guess what I am asking is, are you in?

Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying

One of my favorite movies is Shawshank Redemption. I have probably seen it, maybe 20 or 30 times (legitimately).  I was recently discussing with a friend that if we see it on cable, we are canceling all plans for the rest of the day.  Because that is what you do when Shawshank is on.

My favorite scene is with Andy (Timothy Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman) sitting in the prison yard.  They are talking about whether or not they could live outside of the prison.

I see a lot of parallels between their situation and the situation that a lot of people find themselves in real life.  For whatever reasons, many of us find ourselves imprisoned in a life that we don’t find fulfilling, doing work we don’t love, existing in situations that don’t make us happy.  We grind on- because at the end of the day, most of us do the things we’re SUPPOSED to do before we do the things we WANT to do.

We put off for years, decades even, the things that we really want to do- the things we think will make us happy because we’re waiting for conditions to be right.  Instead of doing the things, we cultivate a life list or a bucket list, with the hopes it will tide us over till we’re ready.  We’re waiting for our kid to go to kindergarten, for our partners to get those promotions, for retirement.  We spend so much time waiting for our lives to be right, to foster success in the things we want to do, that they are one and the same in our minds.  We’ve somehow convinced ourselves that many of the things we want to do require such large time and resource commitments that they are impossible until our life circumstances change.

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Columbia

Here is the thing:  most of the things that we want to do in our lives don’t require life-changing, consciousness-altering events.  Often they don’t require us to be suddenly, disgustingly rich.  They don’t always require large chunks of uninterrupted time in the most inaccessible places. In most cases, accomplishing the things you want to in life requires a shift in your philosophy.  For many, living your funnest, most fulfilling, best life simply requires making the time for the things you want to do and committing to them.  In many ways, it is a simple choice: “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

As Red would say, “That’s g-damned right!”