Just after I turned 39, I began making a list of 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40.
It's the kind of list I'd make if I found out I was dying. In a way I felt that a part of me was -- the youthful part that thought anything was possible if I wanted it badly enough and worked hard enough.
In a burst of optimism before giving up on my fantasies, I started a list that combined the practical and the impractical:
- Create a last will and testament.
- Wear a piece of really expensive jewelry.
- Have my first mammogram.
- See the place discovered by my son Colter's namesake.
- Start playing guitar and piano again.
- Buy a house.
- Take Colter to Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
- Thank my family for their love and support through the years.
- Hold my dad's hand one more time.
someone famous I admireJames Taylor.
That last one is definitely fantasy. But I have accomplished a few things on the list. I did have a mammogram and buy a house. We started to plan a trip to see Colter's Hell for my birthday but realized it would be more of an adventure than we wanted.
As the months went by and I crept closer to "middle age," I discovered that there was both too much I wanted to add to the list and too little. It became impossible to complete the list, let alone accomplish everything on it.
I began to feel weighed down by my lack of dreams, desperate to understand whether I was lacking ambition or imagination.
Then someone suggested to me that I reverse the list-making.
Instead of making notes of things to do, she suggested I write down things I was glad I had accomplished before turning 40.
This list was way more fun:
- I painted the white picket fence in front of my childhood home.
- I planted cucumbers and tomatoes with my dad.
- I read thousands of books that made me laugh and cry.
- I wrote 75 or so columns, hundreds of entries in my weblog, and created this weblog (DotMoms) that makes other people laugh and cry.
- I once went to a party with the perfect hair, the perfect tan, wearing the perfect little black dress, ready and waiting for the perfect man.
- The perfect man appeared -- about 10 years later -- and I married him.
- I started a peer counseling service that still helps college students get through the night.
- I saw Bob Dylan, Shawn Cassidy, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, the Grateful Dead and David Cassidy in concert at least once (but not at the same time).
- I lived in New York City for four years during college, worked in book publishing, went to museums, saw shows on and off Broadway, and ate way too much good food.
- I had a baby.
Creating this list helped me focus on what I was happy to have experienced rather than the dread I felt about getting older, getting old, being finished.
It also made me welcome my 40th birthday -- in less than two months -- with a renewed energy and an appreciation for the benefits of age and experience.
The accomplishments I've enjoyed most haven't been the ones that appeared on any list ahead of time. They were not about doing as much as they were about living and enjoying what was in front of me.
If I'm lucky, the next 40 years will be full of the same.
A modified version of this LifeFiles column originally appeared on about 70 TV station websites managed by Internet Broadcasting Systems.