What I have done for probably 50 years, is sit down and write a list that will orient me, that will place me firmly right where I am in the trajectory of my whole life this year. When I was working, I asked my patients/clients to do it too. There are two main points to this: 1. to NAME what matters to me, and 2. to place my life and desires in the group context of those who matter the most to me.
I believe very firmly in naming what is important. If we do not put a clear name to our wants/needs, we keep aimlessly drifting along in life, and when the opportunity to do or get what we want presents itself, we do not even notice. In five years when you look back at 2018, what will you wish you had done, seen, made, offered the world? If you don’t name it, it will likely be just some vague blur.
The context part, I think, is the critical piece. In five years and 10 years, how old will you be? How old will your grandkids each be? How old even will your pets be? Those ages of others besides our own precious selves puts the speed of life right in front of our eyes.
For years, around this time, I would take a big sheet of paper, mark off three columns: One year, five years, 10 years across the top. Down the left hand side I would list myself, my kids, my grandkids, closest friends, even the two dogs. In column one at the top I would write down the ages of each of those folks one year from now. Then I did the same for the five- and 10-year columns. Frankly, this was always the most emotional and revealing part of the whole thing. Now at 80, I am not even bothering with the third column. Realizing what a different stage of life those folks will be in five or 10 years from now places your own life in a pretty specific context.
Then I would zigzag back and forth between columns writing down what I hoped I would be able to accomplish. If I put in the 10-year column that I hoped to build a house one day that fit me exactly, then in the one-year column, what first steps might I take this coming year toward that outcome. “I want grandkids” was on the list for decades. When my daughter had three children in four years, deciding to move to Minnesota and be the nanny for each kid for their first year was a no-brainer. I had been “naming” it for years. The result of this is that I have done just about everything on my personal bucket list and find myself quite contented. I never made it to Machu Pichu, but I can live with that.
One kindness might be on that list – getting affairs in order so that my kids have an easier time when I do croak and they have to clear up my life. If you have not done it already, please do not put off making a will, having a durable power of attorney for your finances, and a health care proxy in case it turns out to be needed. I keep a big shocking pink folder by my front door labeled ICE (In case of emergency). It has all my doctors names, medication list, who to call, etc.
These are not, as you can see, self-improvement goals, but rather a spotlight on what for me would constitute a meaningful life. Life goes on, even at 80. There are still things I want to put on the list (but they are going in column one, just in case).