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How Writing One List Changed My Life

How Writing One List Changed My Life

In 2014, I moved in with my friend Mary Vann at a time when we both felt bogged down with change.

We graduated from college that spring and almost all of our friends left town by the time the leaves began to change color in fall. We had long-time boyfriends, but they weren’t around town anymore either, and neither was fond of phone calls. Re-rooting a social life without the structure and common thread of school proved to be more challenging than we expected. Acquaintances and drinking buddies abounded, but deep conversation was hard to come by. We felt lonely.

Our work situations didn’t help. We both had jobs in our field — rare for liberal art college graduates entering the workforce during the final death throes of the Great Recession — but stepping into our fields at entry-level meant being overworked and underpaid. We rolled up our sleeves and did the hard work, but didn’t have a lot of time or energy left over outside of work to do things we loved. We felt adrift.

After one particularly hard day where nothing seemed to go right, I came home and dragged myself up the steps to the front porch, shoulders sagging and eyes glazed. I looked up and was surprised to find Mary Vann sitting on our porch. Her banjo was resting on the seat beside her. She had a glass of wine — $8 a bottle red blend in a recycled glass peanut butter jar, we weren’t fancy — on the table and was writing in her journal.

“Hey dude,” I said, “What’re you up to?”

“I’m writing my life list,” she said. I had no idea what she was talking about so I asked her to explain, and she did. A life list was a list of everything you’d be doing in your ideal life. The goal was to distill your hopes and dreams into an actionable list that would move you closer to where you wanted to be.

I grabbed my own journal and sat down next to her, making my own life list. I don’t remember what was on there but I can imagine: Get a job that fuels your passion and your bank account. Incorporate creativity back into your life. Find a way to stay in touch with the people you love who are far away. Stay healthy.

That first life list led me to see a therapist for the first time (lifechanging!). It prompted me to start writing creatively again, something I’d brushed aside for the four years I spent writing academic essays and reports. It pushed me to be bold and critical about what jobs I would or wouldn’t do, which led me into the field of policy and politics.

Long story short, at a time when I felt most lost and confused, taking the time to sit down and write out everything I’d do if time or money wasn’t a barrier gave me a light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since then, writing life lists have been a way for me to check in with myself every couple of months. How am I spending my time now, and how does that compare with my values? What small tweaks could I make to be a happier and more loving person?

If you’re partial to list-making, I’d recommend you give it a try. Huge shout out to Mary Vann for being great all around (insert Turtleman Call here!)

Why I Quit Diet Talk and Why You Should Too

Why I Quit Diet Talk and Why You Should Too