A few years ago, I was facing a major life milestone- the big FIVE-OH. Or, as my daughter likes to remind me, “middle age” (my standard response is, “oh, there’s no way I’m making it to 100. My mid-life passed a long time ago…” I believe in scaring the children). Anyway, I was sitting there, slightly buzzed from whatever was being drunk that evening and actually soaking in a hot tub (since I’m all for living the California stereotype), and I thought, “what are some things I want to accomplish before I turn 50?”
That’s how the list started- as a bucket list before a divisible-by-ten birthday. Sober me saw something deeper in the list, however. I’m no psychiatrist, but self-reflection was in the air. I was not so much focused on the future (turning 50 had the same effect on me as any other birthday which is to say, not at all. Not sure why, just never been into the concept of birthdays), but looking at the life I’d been living up until then and the trajectory I was piloting myself. Let’s say I was comfortably isolated, a person who had achieved enough financial success to no longer stress about how I’m paying for groceries, is successful enough in my career that I’m not constantly stressed about getting fired or figured out as a fraud (if they haven’t figured it out by now, it’s their problem, not mine), and become a total master at avoiding people, places, and things. With the advent of streaming movies, online ordering, and the era where social media posting and occasional texts have taken the place of in-person interaction, my life was feeling more and more like serving a jail term, albeit in the comfort of my own house.
Throughout my life, I’ve had fairly severe social anxiety. It means I spend a LOT of time in my head, playing out and re-playing out all the possible outcomes of every conversation before it happens and talking myself out of friend’s parties, hanging out, and group activities. While I have a more great memories than I can fit in my head, looking forward, I’d created a safe little cocoon and didn’t see much adventure in my future. Again, this was self-induced. I wanted it that way.
Through a weird set of events, I was reconnected with the guy in high school I really wanted to like me. My hero, as it were. His charisma and charm was so strong, he had a gravitational pull that was my kryptonite. I hadn’t seen him in around 30 years because A) I had made it a habit to not keep up with people as I moved from life eras and high school was a long time ago B) I never used Facebook*. Anyway, this long-lost friend and I started emailing with the obligatory, “if you are ever in my town, we should hangout” messages. About a month later, I found out he died. Within a year, my mom also died, succumbing to the cancer she’d been fighting for a few years. Again, not a psychiatrist, but there’s no way to get through things like this without change. Unless you are a psychopath. Those events triggered my own special mid-life crisis, one that included looking at what I used to value as important and realizing they really didn’t matter. One that finally figured-out that we are social animals and, despite what my brain tries to tell me, interactions with other human beings (even strangers, the scariest of all interactions!) makes life more meaningful. Looking at the beliefs of most major religions or spiritualism or atheism, I keep coming back to one thing: this is our shot to use this physical form to have experiences. Use it or lose it. Might as well make it a good one.
This is the background of my list: have more life experiences, make yourself uncomfortable, learn new things, and do this while you can. Not sure if that’s hopeful or grim, but does it matter? The list has become my call to action, a reminder to go do stuff instead of sitting on my ass. Ironically, typing this up requires me to sit on my ass. This is probably why it’s taken so many years to do it. As I type this, I am 50.
When I started the list, the items were mostly about singular things, like hitting a bullseye, running a marathon, etc. However, as I’ve made my way through various items, I have learned several lessons, the biggest being that experiences are best SHARED. I’ll do my best to reflect upon each activity, but I have discovered a few repeating themes you might want to consider if you create your own list:
- Experiences are better when shared – not talking about social media here, but in real life (irl). Do things with others for a deeper satisfaction (and bonding!).
- Share with the right people – I attended Art college in the 90’s and, sadly, many of my best friends are the stereotypical cynical, never impressed lot. Many shows (concerts, music, art, etc…) have been ruined by an attitude that nothing has merit. I did my best to fit in and did. Trying to be better. The point is, do things with people who have the capacity to enjoy whatever activity you engage in. You will both get more out of it.
- Get into it! – I have spent too much of my life caring about what other think and that has made me pessimistic and… boring. Experiences are so much better when you really invest.
- Ask the experts – One common fear is that when entering another world, everyone there will be hostile of outsiders. There is some merit to that, but I have found that most people want to share their passions with others. The animosity comes out when if feels like they are being judged. Ask the dumb questions, be honest of your own ignorance, and be respectful and you’d be shocked what you’ll learn and how much you’ll be accepted.
- Ask for contributions – I mentioned above that my list was originally very solitary goals. The fun started when I began telling others of my endeavor and soliciting ideas from them. Crowdsource your items. It’s a guaranteed way to get entirely new points of view.
- Challenge yourself! – The entire point of the list is to expand your experiences and the best way to do that is to go beyond your comfort zone. If you are asked to do something and your knee-jerk reaction is to say “no”, take a moment and think about why. Is this based on legitimate concerns, or is it based on fear?
That’s pretty much the gist. I hope if you have read this far and are considering creating your own 50 Things, that you pour yourself in. You have one life. Make it count.
*It’s not that I’m a Luddite, it’s actually the opposite. I started using social media before it was called that. I had an early-ish blog and used Orkut and Friendster, but found that, even back then, I was spending too much time cultivating an outward version of myself that was frankly more interesting than the actual me. There was a moment when, right after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, someone commented on one of my inane blog posts (probably waxing poetic on Costco pizza or something) with something like, “this seems really self-absorbed”. It was a weird time and that comment hit me in the chest. Pretty much deleted everything then and never looked back.