Birthday Goals and Serendipity

22nd November 2011

Say, you should know this post is sponsored by the American Cancer Society as part of their More Birthdays campaign. This is their logo, which you may choose to click on if you hate Cancer:

I happen to be a big fan of birthdays and the people I love having as many of them as they can get their hands on. Also, paper hats.

This is me and and Evany with our phasers set to stun.

I make my goals for the year on my birthday, and this year I thought a lot about my friends while I was planning. I’m a big fan of a tidy list, but Evany not so much. The first time I suggested she write a Life List, she made a face like there was something alive in her mouth and it was trying to struggle free.

Evany’s instinct isn’t to plan, she just surrounds herself with interesting people and tries to say yes. In fact, you may recall that time I talked her into leaping to her death while she was still having adrenal flashbacks from the 40-hour labor she’d endured a few weeks earlier. She’s a trooper.

I thought of Evany when I said yes to Geri-Ayn’s last-minute suggestion that we spend my birthday in St. Lucia. I thought of her when I was making yet another birthday list, and I realized that lately the world has cooler ideas for me than I have for myself.

Remember when we talked about guiding principles, questions you ask yourself when you have a tough decision? You guys had some useful ones:

-“Is this worth the energy I am going to put into it?”
-“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
-“If not now when?”
-“One year from now, will this matter?”

At Camp Mighty, Evany suggested a great one too. She gave a talk about how we all have friends who choose partners or make decisions that only cement their worst qualities. For all of us, there are forks in the road where we decide to “lean into the worst side of ourselves or stay gold.” Evany suggested you ask yourself, “Which decision makes you the better version of you?”

And I thought back to myself with a notepad in a hammock on my birthday, asking myself whether this or that activity would make me feel more chilled out. You know, just planning peaceful times, writing peaceful stuff on my tidy list so I could check each thing off peacefully, maybe while I meditated or something.

But now my planning is starting to get in the way of interesting projects that are materializing on their own. And the best version of me really loves other people’s adventures.

So this year, leaving room for serendipity tops my list of birthday goals. In that spirit, I’m wondering what you guys have crossed off your lists that you’d recommend. What have you done that’s worth doing, and next time can I come too?

In the meantime, I’ll just be following Evany around in my space suit.

27 thoughts on “Birthday Goals and Serendipity

  1. Nichole

    One of my new goals is to Go On An Adventure With Maggie. (It’s not on my list, actually, because it’s a little stalkerish, isn’t it?) That said: Wanna go to Graceland with me? That’s the one “adventure” thing on my list that I can imagine happening without too much magical intervention from the universe.

  2. Dan Pierson

    I usually make my life list around New Years, as an alternative to a pages long spreadsheet of resolutions. For me, it’s all about actionable goals, rather than ambiguous “I’ll be better at [blank], I swear!”.

    You might want to check out Chris Guillebeau’s “How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review”.

    By the way, enjoy St. Lucia—paradise! There is some great hiking up the Volcano, and every Saturday they throw a crazy street fair called a “Jump Up” in Castries.

  3. Peeps

    I’m coming up on 30 and have dedicated the next few months to thinking about what I’m leaving behind and what I’m going to work toward bringing into my life. The things I’ve crossed off my list in the last couple of years have been superbly liberating:

    1. Be who I am without apologizing for it. Graciously being true to myself has had a domino effect of getting toxic people out of my life, making good boundaries easier, saying yes only to the things I really want to spend my time on, and building great friendships.

    2. Focus on the end goal and ignore the form the journey takes to get you there. Letting go of expectations keeps me out of my own way, my perfectionism in check, and lets good things drop into my life through serendipity.

    Those things have helped me cross off life list items about learning to love and trust, to create art, to sew beautiful historical gowns, to travel. I highly recommend learning that wildly impractical skill or art that has always fascinated you, particularly if you’re worried that people will think it’s stupid. It heals a lot of small broken places inside to be brave enough to take on a long-term project just for yourself.

  4. Megan

    I love this tack.

    I would like to play in the bateria (drum section) of a samba school during carnival in Rio.

    I know people in Rio who could help make this happen, but being so close to a big idea can sometimes make me feel a bit like barfing.

    Why is that?

  5. Megan

    Oh, wait! You asked for things we’ve already done.

    Every day, I’m working on not adding aggression to or escalating aggression any situation.

    Dude. It’s super hard.

  6. Rebecca

    This month, I met my goal weight after 8 years of trying, finished the Couch to 5K Running Plan and signed up for a 5K, and started a consistent meditation practice. It feels like winning at life.

  7. Nora

    I’m not sure that I’d recommend this to everyone (because really, not everyone has the same yums), but after years of talking about it, my partner and I just bought a boat, and are living on it. And it’s even more awesome than I thought (bonus? I also crossed off ‘eliminate clutter.’ Whooo boy did I).

    Also, this year I got to see my partner improve his relationship with his son. That’s one that I never thought I see, and lifted about five billion pounds of sadness I’d long ago stopped noticing I was carrying around every day. Hurrah!

  8. Ella

    Folding 1,000 paper cranes was amazing, not because of the cranes themselves but the meditative quality of folding, at night in the quiet, for prolonged periods of time. I got a lot of self reflection done and it really helped me keep things together through that quarter of grad school.

  9. Pam

    After 15 years of running, I signed up for a marathon. Booyah! Every time I go running now I skip with the excitement that I’m really doing it.

  10. Justine

    I have yet to make a formal life list, but I tried to spend this year with my craziness not getting into the way. It wasn’t always successful, but I think I did some cool stuff. I went to Chicago for the first time, on a plane for the first time since 1998, on a trip that was the first time I was leaving my family behind. The whole concept of going to a new city by myself was terrifying to me, even though I would do this sort of thing when I was younger and reckless. I spent the whole trip (when I wasn’t in a conference) doing things that I normally wouldn’t do, like Skydeck and the Ferris Wheel (I am positively TERRIFIED of heights). It was wonderful and exhilarating to confront my fears head on.

  11. jbc

    I am turning 30 in 5 days, so this is timely! For my birthday my best friend since childhood and I took a trip to Cuba. I also threw myself a massive 30th birthday party that came off fabulously. 30 feels super good and I’m not even there yet!

  12. The Woman Formerly Known as Beautiful

    First of all, fabulous gams. Seondly, I’m a big fan of dancing in gay clubs. Gay men are beautiful, muscular, they love to dance with straight women, but don’t want to do the horizontal mambo with them which means the straight women can stay married and raise their children with their husbands while simultaneously feeling up some delicious, oiled up man meat. I know it’s inappropriate to leave links, so I won’t. But you might like my post: Wednesday Epiphany: I love Gay people!

    I am looking forward to see where your destiny takes you! I know you’ll do it with aplomb.

  13. kelly

    i just wanted to say that you continue to inspire. i totally love your attitude, and hot damn, i swear i’m going to get going on my own life list. it’s brewing within – i just have to put it down on paper in order to be accountable. as for things on my yet-to-be-written-down life list, but can be crossed off soon: i’m taking my eldest daughter to the nutcracker, here in san francisco, in a few weeks. i’m beyond excited. thanks again for sharing your amazing journey w/ us all.

  14. Kat

    When I read the comment about the 1000 cranes I had to mention mine too. I started folding my cranes because of the old lore about being granted a wish. I finished them very early this year and wished to move back to California? Then the earthquake hit Japan and I found out that OshKosh was encouraging people to send their cranes in. For every crane they received they would send an article of clothing to Japan’s children, plus the cranes would be put on display in Japan. I felt so thrilled when I was able to send my cranes into them knowing I could do such huge good and I found out within a few days of sending my cranes that my husband had been given the transfer we were waiting for to move back to California.
    Sorry so long just wanted to share!

  15. Sheri Bheri

    I know this will sound ridiculous to some, but I got my first massage (I’m 40) this year. It was actually VERY hard for me to allow myself to be pampered. Yes, I did have a break down and wept big sobbing ugly tears beforehand, because who would *want* to touch me? It made me realize how horribly I speak to myself and I’m changing that. So yeah, I’m with you there, say Yes and don’t be afraid to do the emotionally scary stuff. Crap, I think that means I have to go skating this winter.

  16. Sarah

    Totally worth it: Glamping in Big Sur @ (w/ a midnight dip in the hot tubs at Eslan.)

    Totally random, but completely serious: Want to go to Kenya next month? Consider it training for Kilimanjaro. :-). (That offer’s open to anyone who’s a good traveler, and not going to murder me in my sleep. I’m headed to Addis Ababa for work and am trying to pull together a side trip somewhere nearby. Staying in Ethiopia or going to Tanzania/Zanzibar are also on the table.)

  17. Cindy

    I have to admit, the list fell to the way side this year. I did mark off one huge item on the list, “move to a different state”. And wow! Just wow. Moving was something we always talked about doing, but I thought it was just always going to be that. And it’s all because I said “yes”. I’m not so sure I would have been as open to the idea of saying yes before making my list.

  18. Stephanie

    Serendipity is a great goal. I was inspired to pen a life list lately and have already crossed off two of my goals: bake a lemon meringue pie from scratch and bake a cheesecake from scratch. And no, not all of my list items relate to food. :)

  19. Amy --- Just A Titch

    Evany’s talk was my favorite at camp, mostly because I tend to dream with a spreadsheet in hand, instead of being open to opportunities and such. I think it’s easier to keep it small. But this year, I’m committing to doing Life List stuff, but also just saying yes to other things.

    P.S. Are you still interested in trying to go to Glide? Let’s make a date, lady!

  20. Shem

    Last year I added zorbing to my life list. I mentioned it to my husband and he booked it for me as a surprise for my next birthday. Was a great thing to cross off, something I probably wouldn’t have got round to without it being organised on my behalf! In case you’re not sure, zorbing involves rolling down a hill in a giant inflatable ball, fun :)

  21. findingmagnolia

    For 2010, my goal was to go to Ethiopia and adopt our daughter. I tried to make a bigger list, but in the end that was all I wanted, and that did indeed happen, with all sorts of related things working out along the way. 2011 has found our family in a holding pattern, and it is no surprise to me that the one thing I want in 2012 is to bring home our second daughter. I think I might be on some sort of five year plan for growing our family, after which I’ll get back to all the little things that were sacrificed for this one, big, important thing. Like taking piano lessons!

    I realize I haven’t mentioned an adventure that is easy to join a person on, but if you want to travel Ethiopia with our little family and then share a plane ride home with an overwhelmed and terrified toddler, you’re more than welcome to join us.

  22. Stephanie A.

    By far, the most fulfilling thing I’ve done on my life list this year has been to participate in a flash mob. I loved the dancing and performing, but it also brought me closer to some of the parents at my son’s school. Generally, I am pretty shy, but it helped teach me to participate in life a little more and to be a little more comfortable with the uncomfortable.

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