I like to play a game of taking stock every year called 12 Months to Go. I pick April 15 as game day, because taxes are due day in America and a good time to ask “is this all worth it?”. You can pick January 1, your birthday, or any other date of particular relevance; it’s not important.
Find a few hours to be alone on game day. Take a walk or a drive, sit in a café. Avoid friends, family, and your local bar. Alcohol has a way of elevating emotions and clouding rational.
The game goes like this: Imagine you’ve walked out of your doctor’s office with the alarming prognosis that you have just 12 months to go, dead stop. This is a come-to-Jesus moment that provokes some sober introspection about the few weeks remaining. For me it begs 5 big questions:
- Am I happy with my partner?
- Am I happy with my job?
- Am I happy with my location?
- What life dreams remain unfulfilled?
- What other situations in my life need resolution?
Let’s take a look.
Am I happy with my partner?
There is not much middle ground on this one. With only 8,760 hours of sand left in the hourglass either you can’t imagine spending another precious night with the person waking you with his or her snores, or you can’t imagine spending them with anyone else. So either enjoy the bliss or get off your ass. There is still time to take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic (“From Frieda Kahlo to Marty McConnell”, by Marty McConnell). And if the quixotic search for your one true soul mate comes up empty, running solo is better than weltering under the strain of empty kisses and false emotions. So, how well are you sleeping?
Am I happy with my job?
Look, with 12 months to go you shouldn’t be thinking about work with a capital W at all. You should be committing that limited time to accomplishing something of immense personal meaning; something that friends and family can speak to at your eulogy with enthusiasm and admiration. And don’t confuse professional success with meaning. I had my moment of sun in Silicon Valley, but this the last thing I want my obit to read: Bill was was a respected financier. Quelle horreur! Musician, writer, seeker, mentor, father, lover, …even if I fail gloriously at them all. Now we’re getting more genuine. Time is ticking, what do you want said in your eulogy?
Am I happy with my location?
Where you live is as important as the clothes you wear. It defines the sights and smells and sounds of your day, with sun or rain, frost or heat, colors your mood and emotions, can motivate or depress, can liberate or restrict. Location shapes the customs of community and rules of engagement with others, and the tempo of the day.
That perfect location may change with age and a deeper self-understanding. At 40, I was happy as a cherry stone clam with my bourgeois life in beautiful San Francisco: a nice home, 2 cars, well-paying job, growing family, …the quotidian of contentment. At 50 I was going out of my fucking mind. I bought a one-way ticket to Provence and found a small apartment in Aix, no furniture, no car, no job, just the complete liberation of a clean canvas and a slower, leaner, less predictable lifestyle. If I was going down in flames I’d be singing Hallelujah through the soot and cinders. Take a look out your window now. What do you see?
What life dreams remain unfulfilled?
Most of us have at least one big dream to fill before kicking off. It could be based on travel, achievement, recognition, or contribution. What am I missing? We talk about it over drinks with friends, our imaginations well lubricated. But it’s mostly talk if there’s no time pressure involved; someday. When you’ve just learned that there are just 365 somedays left, there’s no time but now, this hour, this minute to get moving.
You don’t have a dream? Well I go back to the eulogy thing: what do you want friends saying about you from the dais? If you died tomorrow would you be comfortable with their summary?
Do you have closet skeletons, because I have skeletons. There are people to whom I am long overdue in saying “thank you,” and to others “I’m sorry”. There are close friends and family gone unvisited, letters gone unwritten much too long. There are classic books to read, films to see, philosophy to noodle, wines to taste, places to visit before I consider this life remotely close to complete. And the older I get the more I realize I know absolutely zero about so much. I’m great at making lists of this stuff, then filing it away for another day. You have 365 days to go. How long is your list?
12 Months to Go is a fun game for the uncommitted, a more dangerous exercise for those of us serious about life change. It can surface uncomfortable truths about our happiness and outlook. It can provoke action or elicit disappointment to our inaction. Not for the lighthearted.
If you think that changes of this magnitude are impossible you’re wrong. If you’re in a dishonest relationship you should leave. You’ll both be better for it in the end. If you are uninspired by your job you should quite. You can live on less while developing something more inspiring. If you’re bored with your town you should move, … across the planet if that sound fun. Visas? We don’t need no stinking visas! Go underground, lie about your situation, get creative. I have expat friends in Aix who’ve been living off the legal grid for years, making it up as they go. No one lives by the rules any more. Why should you?
Worry about getting caught when you get caught. Anyhow, you only have 12 months to go.