It got me thinking. There's so much I want to do that I've been putting off for various reasons. Either it was too expensive or I've been too busy or a hundred other excuses. It's so easy to just say, "I want to do that, but I'm sure I'll do it later." And then later comes and goes and I still haven't done that thing.
About three months ago, I was informed that a major change in my life was going to occur on or around my twenty-fifth birthday. Suddenly, a lot of things clicked and changed for me. I have a deadline, however firm, for me to stop procrastinating and start doing many of the things I kept telling myself I would do later. Add to that the knowledge that many of my friends were starting to leave New York (fairly typical, really -- more on that in a minute) and I knew that I had to take action soon.
I've been in New York about two years, now. My move-to-NY anniversary is on 6 July, which is the day I landed at Newark International with a suitcase and an offer letter. So much has changed and yet surprisingly little has altered since there. I had dreams back then, fresh out of college, of things I wanted -- fully expected -- to accomplish by this time, and surprisingly few of those things ended up happening.
Furthermore, I've noticed that most people stay in New York for about five years, or they end up living here for forever. I don't see myself in the latter category, and I have Plans (with a capital p!) for where I want to be when I am 27/28. Knowing that a lot of changes are coming -- including many of my friends moving on or out -- made me realize that time is precious and limited. It struck me that living in New York is like being perpetually in senior year of university, in that first semester when the future feels tantalizingly near and yet hazy enough to feel indescribably distant.
There isn't a "later," not really. There's just right fucking now.
So! With a little under a year and a half to go until I turn twenty-five, I figured it was time I made a 25x25 (read: "twenty-five by twenty-five") list. It's one part bucket list, one part a list of dreams, and one part personal development.
- Write my novel.
- Travel to Southeast Asia.
- Ride a horse.
- Go to every speakeasy in New York City.
- Run a half-marathon distance.
- Reach my goal weight.
- Dine at Per Se.
- Design a website.
- See a performance at Lincoln Center.
- 100 posts on Adventures of a Business Major.
- Read every book on my bookshelf.
- Visit all five boroughs.
- Learn how to play guitar.
- Buy myself a diamond.
- Take a cooking class.
- Pick up a ballroom dance – salsa, merengue, whatever.
Have a picnic in Central Park on a nice day.
- Go dance in the rain.
- Knit a sweater.
- Take a bartending course.
- Go to Canada.
- Watch the first 50 Disney Animation Studios theatrical films.
- Get a non-ear piercing.
- Visit every NYPL location in Manhattan.
- Spend a weekend in The Hamptons.
1 Note, this list was edited slightly on 14 October 2013, and then again on 7 December 2013.
Why are some of those things on there?
Some of those list items are things I've been dreaming of doing for years, since my senior year of university. Some of those things are dreams I've made since I started working. Some of those are things I feel like I should do, just because they're good life experience types of things. Some of those things are fun things I want to do with my friends. Some are things I'm working towards right now and want to legitimize and "canonize" as real, honest-to-blog goals I have for myself personally. Some are things I know I won't be able to do if/when I leave New York.
And some of those things are about my own personal development. They look fun or even mundane on the surface, but they're about me facing my own fears and insecurities in small (or big!) ways.
A self-reflection exercise
It's surprising, because I was able to populate this list fairly quickly and with few real repeats. It made me really stop and think about what I felt like I was passing on doing for what are really pretty flimsy excuses. I kept telling myself there would be time later, or that I couldn't do everything.
And while those things aren't untrue, they were becoming excuses for me to avoid doing things that challenged or scared me. It was too easy for me to settle into my predictable, routine life. Work, going to the gym, and spending time with friends in casual settings felt like enough. And it was, for a while.
In May, my job and I parted ways. I left, lacking a clear plan on what I was going to do next and with a huge amount of fear -- of the future, of how bad a decision it was to leave without something certain in-hand, of the risk I was taking, of what the hell I was going to do. I took some time to reflect on what I'd learned and what I wanted in the next year, in the next five years.
A lot of that learning got channeled into my 25x25 list. I mentioned that some of the list items are personal development tasks; I realized I needed to work on those aspects about myself based on performance reviews, yes, but also based on what I wanted from my life, both personally and professionally.
Ultimately, I want to be a better me, and identifying my weaknesses and vulnerabilities could only happen when I myself felt weakened and vulnerable. Leaving my job suddenly, taking a huge leap of faith, putting myself in a tough situation helped me learn more about myself and what I actually want.
While I don't necessarily encourage people to make the same choices I did, I do think that self-reflection (and the accompanying self-awareness) is indescribably valuable.
Making your own list
Do it after a year in the workforce.
You should absolutely make your own 25x25 list (or 27x27, or 30x30, whatever) but wait until you're settled into your life first. The very first year out of school was a huge adjustment for me and for many other people I've spoken with. It's a challenging time, one where lots of things are changing, including yourself! I know I grew a lot (metaphorically) in that first year I lived in the New York area. It's not just paying bills and negotiating roommate issues; it's learning the ropes of a new job, navigating office politics, and finding out who you are at work.
Learning those things takes time, so give yourself that opportunity before you self-reflect. In this time, consider journaling or writing regular long emails to a trusted person -- even if those emails are simply sent to yourself. I kept a personal journal of everything that happened in that first year; I'm so glad I did. In reading those entries, I see challenges great and small that I faced, and I am now better able to offer advice and perspective to friends who are just now entering the workforce.
Ask yourself certain key questions.
Any recruiter or support professional can you that asking the right questions is significantly more valuable than simply asking questions willy-nilly. For an exercise like this, start with the bigger pieces and drill down until you have manageable pieces that you can find concrete steps to accomplish.
- How do I see myself?
- How do I want to be seen?
- How do I become that person?
- Why do I want to be that person?
- What do I need to do in order to have those skills/qualities?
- How do I start doing those things?
- When will I know I've finished?
- What time frame am I looking at to accomplish these things?
- Is there a person that I'm trying to emulate? Can I ask that person for advice?
- What have I been putting off doing?
- Why have I been postponing doing those things?
- What would need to happen for me to stop postponing?
- What prompted me setting that goal for myself?
- Do I still want to do that, really?
Asking yourself questions like these can help you identify what you really want. If the last few years have taught me nothing else, I've learned this much: you have to know what you want out of your life. If you don't, you're liable to stagnate and stop growing.
Make your list blind.
This might sound counterintuitive, given that I just told you to ask yourself deep questions that you have to break apart into finer and finer pieces, but making your list blind (that is, with no notes or echoes of conversations in your immediate environment) is key to understanding what's important to you. For one, the items that top your list will reflect whatever internal prioritization you've already done. In addition, you'll identify whatever goals you've been putting off that you're still passionate about.
Type up your list until you can't think of anything else, then consult your notes and fill in anything you've missed. Don't be afraid to make a too-long list at first; cutting is always easier than padding.
In my list above, I've been wanting to write my novel for a long time. I have lots of research notes, reference materials, resources, and character sheets from the last several times I tried to pull myself together enough to simply write it. Obviously, I failed in all previous attempts. I'm determined to make the next one count.
I also love to travel but haven't done so as much as I wish I would. Part of it is the sheer expense -- New York is an expensive city, and careful saving only works when unexpected expenditures don't randomly crop up, as they have been for me the last few months. I also told myself that I needed a traveling companion and I didn't really have one in the U.S. whose schedule matched up with mine. Finally, my job was intense; I felt my responsibilities were too great for me to simply take an extended leave to travel. Obviously, my situation changed, and I realized I needed to make this a priority for myself. I let my work define me more than I anticipated, certainly more than I realized I was doing until I left. I found friends in other parts of the country and the world who want to do these things with me. I realized my excuses were just that: excuses.
Ask friends to do the list with you.
Some of the things on your list you'll want to do with friends, absolutely. (For example, in my list, some of those Disney movies are going to be watched with a group of friends for sure!) In fact, some items may even necessitate a group of friends to embark with you.
However, your friends likely have goals and dreams they've also been putting off. Encourage them to make their own lists, and share if you both feel comfortable doing so. Hold each other accountable to your goals, and support each other through tough spots and difficult challenges. Having a partner can help you stay motivated and make mountains into molehills.
Plus, you need someone to hold the camera!
Document your experiences.
Whether it's journaling, scrapbooking, taking photos for a Facebook album, or even simply leaving calendar notes on your phone, take the time to track what you've done. Having a record you can look back on, something you jog your memory when you tell stories, will prove invaluable. It takes a lot of time up front, but it pays off in spades down the road.
What happens after the list is completed?
Honestly, I don't know. But as soon as I do, I'm sure I'll make an entry about it!