Thursday, October 14, 2010

List of Nowhere Near 100 Dreams

I last posted about my life reorg quite awhile ago. Part of the delay in getting this next post up was due to how busy my life has been over the last few weeks, but that's not the whole story. The truth is, I found the next assignment surprisingly challenging. It sounded easy enough- write a list of 100 dreams. These could be big or small, they just had to be things I wanted to accomplish in life.

It wasn't easy. Not by a long shot. In fact, I still don't have a list of 100 dreams. I have a list of 25 dreams and two ongoing things I'd like to add to my life. Despite my failure to actually complete this task, I found the exercise very useful. The difficulty I had in doing this was surprising to me, and very thought-provoking. I don't think I would have had this much trouble earlier in my life. Was my trouble at this time due to my age or my status as a mother? I suspect it was due to both.

I realized as I started thinking about what my dreams are that I was assuming that my adventurous days were behind me- I was thinking that I was too old for some things. That is pretty silly. I am 38. People on my dad's side of the family regularly live- and live well- into their late 90s. My Mom's oldest brother is over 70 and still going strong. Chances are, I'm not even half way through my life. Realizing that was quite a wake up call for me. Why was I assuming that my time for achieving dreams was over when I still have at least half of my life ahead of me? That makes no sense.

I think motherhood plays a role in my problems with this assignment, too. In our popular culture, mothers aren't really expected to have their own aspirations. The good mothers are shown as caretakers, whose goals in life all involve supporting their kids. If a mother has her own goals, she is usually portrayed as being incredibly conflicted about them. This is probably related to our cultural hang up with the idea of working mothers. Regardless, I think it is B.S. I can support my kids in their goals and dreams (and even support my husband in his goals and dreams!) without completely abandoning my own goals and dreams.

So there is no good reason why I can't write a list of 100 dreams. I haven't given up. I'll get to 100 some day. But for now, I'll be content with a list of 25 dreams:

  1. Set up my travel website and put in the effort to see if I can make it a success, whatever that means. I guess I’ll know it when I see it....
  2. Learn how to take good photos. Most of the nice photos I post were taken by my husband.
  3. Write a list of 100 (or should it be 200?) major islands and visit them all. I’ll have quite a few crossed off already.
  4. Visit all of the US National parks
  5. Have a meaningful yoga practice. Bonus points if this lasts for more than a month.
  6. Raise great kids. I get to decide if they’re great. When is this “done”? I think by age 25 it is their own fault if they screw up. But maybe I'll change my mind about that when Pumpkin is 25....
  7. Visit the carribean already. Which is better? Carribean or South Pacific? I can't say because I haven't been to the carribean!
  8. Publish a book. I haven’t decided yet if self-publishing would cross this off.
  9. Read some Tolstoy. I’ve never read any. It seems like I should...
  10. Swim behind a waterfall.
  11. (Help) build a database, website, or software tool that develops a sustaining user community- the kind with power users and evangelists. This could be within a company; it doesn’t have to be a publicly available resource.
  12. Take another “big trip”- be gone for multiple months.
  13. Visit every continent. Yeah, even Antartica, even though it will be cold and I’ll get sea sick going there.
  14. Be part of a company/team that brings a drug to market. I’ll have a small part, but I still think it would be a thrill.
  15. Cruise somewhere. Probably Alaska or Fjords. But do it in style.
  16. See a concert at Carnegie Hall. Classical music strongly preferred.
  17. Spend a weekend in a hotel where the attraction is the room (eg, oceanfront condos at hotel del)
  18. Live in a house that is completely decorated how I’d like, inside and outside. My husband says this will never happen. Pessimist.
  19. See Machu Picchu. My husband is probably going to insist that we hike to it, but I’d be happy to take the train.
  20. Have conversational proficiency in another language
  21. Be The Boss. I’d love to stop implementing other people’s boneheaded decisions and start implementing some of my own boneheaded decisions. I think being an independent contractor would fit the bill, but I don’t know if I can hack the business development that would go with that.
  22. Live in a foreign country. (With the caveat that I don’t want to do this until my kids are much older- probably until they are off to college.)
  23. Take my kids to see a live performance of Beethoven’s 5th. It is still one of my favorite symphonies, and it is a good intro to classical music for kids.
  24. See the pyramids in Egypt.
  25. Take a big train trip. Maybe the Orient Express? Bonus points if I can do it in luxury.
And here are the two things I think I should try to do, but which aren't really goals because they are never completed:
  1. Have a date lunch or dinner with my husband once a month
  2. Take a walk every day. OK, most days. I do my best thinking while walking!
I also came up with some things I've already done that surely would have been on earlier versions of my list:
  1. Take a big trip
  2. Go to Easter Island
  3. See Angkor Wat
  4. Lead the informatics department at a small biotech
  5. Get a PhD
I was struck by a couple of things as I worked on my list:
  1. I didn't think of career related things to put on the list until I'd been working on it for several days.
  2. A lot of my items, both past and present, involve travel. 
Hubby thinks that these two things are good and normal. I wonder if it says something about what I should be doing with my life, work-wise (i.e., not what I'm doing now).  On the other hand, I don't necessarily think that I should try to my travel part of my career- sometimes trying to do something as a career sucks the joy out of it. For instance, I like music, but I know that trying to be a professional musician would make me miserable, and would probably destroy my love of music. 
So it was an interesting exercise, on many levels, and it was actually a lot of fun to try to figure out what I really want to do with my life in the broadest sense. And it gave me a lot to think about for my life reorg. I think my next post in this thread will try to pull a lot of the things I've been thinking about from doing these exercises together. But I make no promises about how long it will take me to get that post written. I have a lot of thinking to do first.


  1. I haven't ever sat down and written out a full list of dreams - but a few of yours coincide with mine. I want to see Angkor Wat - we were meant to be there May last year. It was booked as a 'consolation' trip post-miscarriage. We had to cancel because I got pregnant again! I guess that's a 10 year dream now because I'd like my kids to be old enough to enjoy it. The other dream I've been thinking about is sort of for Moo and sort of for me. I want to send her away for college - NZ, somewhere else in Australia, overseas... I was away from home for my first years at uni - my sister had the misfortune to start uni the year my mum was back to build a house. I had a lot more fun. And I bet my mother had fewer late nights. It'll be win-win. :-)

  2. paola5:38 AM

    I think I would have completed my wish if I had started one like 20 years ago. Now I would have more difficulty. Thanks for the reminder that at 43 I am probably only half way through my life ( touch wood)and so should start thinking about myslef and my own wishes a bit more starting now. Not that I don't. I'm no martyr for my kids.

    Recently I ran my first half-marathon, which had been a dream of mine for a while. I got the greatest sence of accomplishment and of course that got my mind wondering whether my body could actually handle something more challenging like a full marathon. Still not sure. Other dreams involve travel with my kids. They are at the age where they could handle a short back-backing trip ( they would be 4.5 and 6.5 next summer)and so I have already started hounding hubby about taking a back-packing trip around Montenegro next year. Otherwise the day to day activities that make life worth it like spending more time with my hubby and doing one extra family thing a week.

  3. I think this is lots of fun. I turned 30 last year and was feeling in a bit of a slump so I sat down to write a list of 40 things I want to accomplish before 40. It was so great to re-connect with my goals and my vision of my life again. In fact, I just kept going and I think my list is somewhere around 70. Like you, a lot of things are travel based, but quite a lot are also learning based (like learning how to cook 10 good vegetarian meals).

  4. Great list! When I ask people this question, often the first ones are travel -- possibly because it's socially acceptable and less risky. Stating professional ones in public is hard because if they involve your current job, then you're putting yourself out there in front of your co-workers, or if they involve a different job, well, that's often not the kind of thing we share with co-workers either! Also, in many cases, travel is straight forward. You get enough cash and a willing partner to take the trip (or go solo), book it, and it's done. Professional goals are more nebulous and less assured.

  5. Doesn't getting a PhD involve writing a book (thesis)? Because I count my PhD thesis as my first book and I am sticking to that.

    What about learning to sing or play an instrument? Does making music with other people, perhaps your family, count as a dream?

  6. I love your revelation that you've got heaps of time left to do things in your life. My ex really had this attitude that life ended when you had kids - that you would never be allowed to do anything fun just for yourself ever again. And then we split up, and then I was sad one day because I'd been planning a cross-country bike trip, but then decided not to go (people were being a bit flaky, there was a really interesting summer course I wanted to do, I'd just gotten involved in a new relationship)...and then realized that even if I didn't go in the near future, there was no reason why I couldn't bike across the country when I'm 60...if I want to!

    I've tried several times to make a list like this (or the 50 things to do before I die style) and never really succeeded. I've got a few things that fit nicely on the list - get PhD, and bike across the country for example. And yet I'm really resistant to putting things on such a list, because then I'd spend a lot of time feeling disappointed in myself if I wasn't doing them...or that I was failing or something.

    But now I've been thinking about it all evening, and talking to my husband about exactly why I'm having trouble coming up with things to put on this sort of a list...and I think the list I want to make is "things that sound like fun". And then I can think about them and think about why I'm not doing them. And if I've got lousy reasons for not doing them...figure out how to get started. But mostly, the stuff I want to be doing...I'm doing it. And I need the leeway to decide that something on the list maybe just sounds like a good idea, but isn't really a good idea for me...

    But mostly, I'm scared of coming up with a big long list, and then feeling like I'm failing at life because I'm not doing the things on it. Which, now that I write it down, seems like a terrible reason to not have dreams and goals. The fact that it took you several days seems reassuring. It has always bugged me that I couldn't just come up with stuff off the top of my head. Hmm...maybe it is time to start working on a list. Or maybe this is merely another symptom of my list-avoidant tendencies.

  7. @TodayWendy- it actually took me several weeks! In the first few days, I had less than 10 items on my list. And you'll notice that I have at least one thing on the list that I specifically say I want to do, but not right now (live in a foreign country). The point you make about having something on the list and then realizing it is not actually something you want to do- that is covered in the chapter of the 168 hours book that talks about this list. I guess I think of it as a "living document" (to use corporate speak). I can change it anytime.

    @Bad Mom Good Mom- I already play viola and violin (well, fiddle). 5 years ago, there would definitely have been some music related items on my list. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that I don't really have any now.

    Maybe I should make my book item "Publish a book that someone reads"... you're right, I published a thesis. But I doubt anyone has read it! Well, except for the grad student who took over my project. Poor guy.

  8. Great post, @Cloud. Really resonated with me, too, especially this part: "I don't think I would have had this much trouble earlier in my life. Was my trouble at this time due to my age or my status as a mother? I suspect it was due to both."

    I feel like the person I was circa 2001 (single, childless, living in a big city) is vastly different than the person I am today. The old me could have done that exercise in heartbeat. It is an interesting litmus test for the ways my life has changed, and a good reminder to revisit some of those old dreams. Some of mine might still be relevant.

  9. I love your list!

    Like @Today Wendy, when I started thinking about what my list would be, I realized that some things are just things that sound good to me but in reality would not be enjoyable. Like I would like to own my own company in theory, but in reality I do not want to deal with all the work and stress involved.

    Maybe I'll come up with two lists. Real goals and dreams and theoritical goals and dreams.

  10. I like your list, and I like the fact that nothing career related came to you immediately. I mean, career is important, but I always think about the things I'll be most proud of when I am old and at the end of my life, and they are all to do with family and relationships, not career. I know not everyone is like that, but for me, career is important but not that important. Know what I mean? I work to live, I don't live to work.

    Also, you could visit the Caribbean and do a cruise all on one trip, potentially even with kids. We've done 5 cruises, 4 of them to the Caribbean, and I have to say they were wicked awesome. On one of them we took Rosie (pre-Annie) and I'd caution against taking kids before the youngest is at least 3. For two reasons: 1) swim diapers are not allowed in the pools, all kids must be toilet trained; and 2) its way more fun if you don't have to worry about when/where your child will nap. So wait till Petunia's using the potty and not napping, then go!

  11. actually, you shouldn't feel so bad you can't think of 100 dreams. I think I'm biased against people who have a huge list of stuff they "want" to do and it's so overwhelmingly huge and pie-in-the-sky they never get anything done. Quality not quantity, I say, with a manageable to-do list that still aims high. Then as you get through your list add some more.

    Also, I vote that your list include dreams you have accomplished. That will empower you when you see some of the extraordinary as well as basic yet beautiful things you have accomplished so far (your studies and travels, marrying awesome guy, having beautiful kids, kicking ass in general..)


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