YOU HAVE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
My computer monitor looks like a root system for sticky notes; it has become host to the layers and layers of pastel-posted ideas and to-dos that I scribble and stick as they flit through my mind while working. The accumulation of such notes creates a feeling of clutter, but more uncomfortably a sinking feeling that there will simply not be enough hours in my life to accomplish everything I want to do. But I know better.
Several years ago, I took a workshop called “Falling Awake” with Dave Ellis. One of the preliminary assignments we were asked to do to prepare for the class was to chart out our major life goals for each area of our life in five-year segments. I defined my major areas as: health, finances, family, work, spirituality, and writing. And I brainstormed a mighty comprehensive list in each area.
I was 34 years old at the time. Based on average longevity of my family members, I estimated that I’d be alive with my thinking cap on until at least age 85. This gave me ten, five-year sets of time to work with.
I dove into this exercise and was intently focused on plotting out conservatively realistic deadlines for my overwhelming list of goals throughout a fifty-year time spread when suddenly I came up empty-handed. Having arrived at the thirty-fifth year in this chart—age seventy—I had run out of goals. Everything I could possibly imagine that I might want to do in my life was accomplished. Imagine that! And I still had fifteen years to work with, give or take the unpredictable bargain of mortality.
So, I scrawled across the final fifteen year segment in my most bawdy script: “Mourns death of older husband for some years (I was single at the time) before falling wildly and unexpectedly in love with a younger man.”
What would life be like if you felt assured that there was plenty of time for every writing goal (and every life goal) on your dance card? What would you write (or not write) with fifteen gift years?
Make a “Rest-Of-My-Life Plan” and Plot Your Possibilities
The common wisdom is, “Live like you’re going to die tomorrow.” My variation on this theme for writers is, “Write like you have the rest of your life ahead of you.” And make your own rest-of-my-life plan to help you conceive the general shape and scope of what is possible.
With this big-picture of your future sprawling out before you in measurable increments, you’ll know far better whether you’re aiming too high or leaving a purposeless decade or two dangling.
Don’t worry, this plan isn’t fixed in stone. So much happens in life that we can neither predict nor control. This is simply a way to estimate your capacity to inhabit the time you are given with the intentions you have chosen (and articulated clearly in chapters one and four). It’s just another way of reassuring yourself that you have all day.