A List to Live By

I love reading blogs, but I keep forgetting to log into my Feedly and actually read the ones that pop up in my subscription list. Not too long ago I saw a new post by Emma Wilhelm called Building the Life You Want.

I didn’t even really need to finish the essay to get motivated with a title like that (but I did read it, of course). As a person who dislikes staying in one place too long (whether physical or metaphorical), I identified with her desire for change and realized I should make a list of goals and changes that will form the foundation of the life I want in the future.

When I was married, it sometimes felt that every idea that came out of my mouth was met with “No.” I was a dreamer married to someone who kept his feet so firmly planted in the ground that the hole he wore into the soil eventually obstructed his view of the sky. He couldn’t understand my cravings for a diverse life and I couldn’t understand how he had no cravings at all.

Sometimes I forget I no longer need to consult him when I want to make plans. Crazy or rational, I am free to make a list with ten thousand goals and I’m the only one who can ultimately decide, “No, that’s not right for you now.” Delicious.

So after reading Emma’s post I considered the life I hoped to have in six months, one year, five years, ten years, twenty, fifty. What was stopping me from building that life?

Nothing. Nothing is stopping me.

Some of the goals are conservative and realistic, some are more ambiguous and lofty. Generic, even. I may cut some in a week or add ten more next month. But this, right now, is the life I want to build, with notes to myself about how to put it together.

The List

What: Be Present for Your Children
How: Let them know, every day, that they are most important. Don’t check emails as often. Teach by example that technology does not trump nature or face-to-face interaction. Hug them, guide them, let them make mistakes, let them take on responsibility, let them roam a little more.

What: Write
How: Read more. Use the iPad less. Type a bunch of crap and delete it and start over and write some more. You used to write all the time – you wanted to have a book published before you turned thirty. Okay, that didn’t happen but you were busy having babies. Make that “before I turn forty.” You can do it. Get off the internet and take some classes, join a workshop, submit work. Blogging is your journal (hurried writing you don’t even proofread, for crying out loud) – go unearth your prosaic voice and use it for the fiction you love.

What: Publish. For Money.
How: See above. You can’t be a writer unless you write. Mom will be proud. You’ll be proud of yourself. Dad will stop thinking your BA was a waste of money. Your old professors will say, “It’s about time.” Write that book you’ve been thinking about. Write the books you haven’t thought about yet. Write that screenplay you’ve been composing in your head and have someone make it into a movie. Get paid as a writer. You might feel like you lost your talent, but it’s still there – you just need to uncover a lot of junk to unearth it.

What: Get a 9-5 Job with Advancement Potential
How: Tell everyone you know that you’re looking. Visit Linkedin and figure out what on earth it does. Shine up that resume. Interview. I know you’ve enjoyed working on and growing your own business for the last five years, and you should be proud of that, but it’s time for a job that fits neatly into normal work hours. I know you’re tired of working so many nights and weekends and being unsure how much money will come in each month. Get a paycheck from someone else, get health insurance, get a retirement plan. Maybe you can take the bus to work and use that time to write. Don’t waste it on Facebook and Candy Crush. Do the best you can in your position and then move up. Move up until there’s no where else to go, unless you make enough money writing that your health insurance and retirement accounts at the safe job are no longer needed.

What: Travel
How: Well, you’ve stockpiled enough frequent flier miles to take four trips so far, so plan them. Go. Go visit friends and family or go somewhere you’ve never been. Your first taste of independent travel came late in life, but don’t forget how good it felt to explore a new city and stick your feet in the ocean. There’s so much of the world you haven’t seen. Get your passport, already!

What: Learn to Speak Spanish
How: Rosetta Stone. Or classes through community ed. Ask your old co-worker from Mexico to teach you. Then go visit a Spanish-speaking country with those frequent flier miles and put your mad language skills to use. Might also come in handy when salsa dancing. The voice of America is not in uniform English – becoming fluent in another language is not just a recreational goal but could be good for you professionally down the line.

What: Get Strong
How: Stop making excuses for why you can’t – everyone works, lots of women have babies, millions struggle with self control around food. Educate yourself and realize it’ll happen when you’re in the habit of making the right choices every day. You don’t have to be a certain size or have a certain body fat percentage, just feel good about your efforts and stop sabotaging yourself with blame and insecurities. By example, show your kids to love their bodies and how to eat until satisfied and fill their stomachs with actual food that (mostly) comes from the earth and not a manufacturing plant. Stop with the guilt. You are fine, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting something a little better than fine, either. If that means that you one day have the means to get a boob job or a tummy tuck, go for it. Just realize it won’t fix how you feel about your body. Do it for the right reasons.

What: Do Good
How: Keep volunteering for the organization you support. You may even have more time for it when you land that 9-5 job. Keep looking for positivity in the world and share it with others. Think the best of those you meet instead of assuming the worst. Involve your children in charitable activities and let them know the reasons they should always give back to their community or to communities they’ll never experience. Reach out to your friends. Be a good listener. Smile more. Continue to be empathetic in a world where empathy seems to be dying. Don’t lose hope.

What: Let Go
How: Realize your ex was just one man – the way the thought and acted isn’t the way every person will think and act.

What: Get Organized
How: This is probably the hardest for you. You’re busy so filing away papers gets pushed aside. But you feel better when there’s less clutter around, which will make it easier for you to do the things you want to do, like read, write, exercise, play with the kids. Don’t go to bed at night until you’ve put away 20 things.

You’ll note there is no “Get Remarried” or “Find Love” here. When I was 20, I’m sure my list would have included “Get Married!!” right at the top. Recognizing I’m newly divorced and my attitude may shift, now I feel that if I make love a box to be checked off by a certain time or with a particular type of person I will rush into a relationship that isn’t right simply to say I’m in a relationship. Being single and building my life independently feels like the best route, which I imagine will remain true until the (possibly-never) instance I meet someone who makes me stop wanting to be single.

Today I kept my iPad and phone in my bedroom while the kids and I ate breakfast. I did a load of laundry and put away the clean dishes. I ate apples instead of the last few Oreos in the pantry.

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