Updated: Aug 9
By Kaye Olsson
I Start Wondering Columnist
Are you a list maker? I am. It makes my little task-oriented heart so happy to check things off as they are completed, and it gives me an overall sense of accomplishment to be able to look back with satisfaction on what I’ve achieved. So, it shouldn’t surprise you that one of the ways I celebrated my 50th birthday was by making a list of 50 fabulous things I had done that year.
Okay, here’s a little background information first. There is not much longevity in my family (my mom got terminal breast cancer at 54) so reaching 50 felt like a milestone of sorts to me. Not to be morbid, but I had gotten to a point in my life where I felt it was important to appreciate every moment because I never knew when it would come to an end. Coming from this mindset, I thought it would be fun to record memorable events that happened throughout the year so I could enjoy reflecting on them afterward.
Initially, I assumed I would need to plan various experiences in order to have something memorable to record. I am naturally curious, so I anticipated exploring new places, tasting different foods, and meeting interesting people. I kept an open mind and started thinking of things I had always wanted to try. But ironically, there was no planning needed because that year turned out to be one of the most eventful ever!
Surprises of All Kinds
Things started out innocently enough with a surprise birthday party thrown by my friends, a delicious tamale-making class, the acquisition of my first electronic tablet, and a chance to “pay it forward” by anonymously buying a couple’s lunch in a restaurant. I also experienced my very first drag queen show, observed a slam poetry competition, and enjoyed a weekend getaway in a historic log cabin that had been transported from North Carolina to Texas. Pretty fun, right?
The surprising twist was that not everything that happened when I turned 50 was fabulous. First, the
organization, where I worked, was victim to a hostile takeover that put my job in jeopardy so I had to seek employment elsewhere. I landed an awesome position – but in a major city three hours away! So I rented an apartment and began commuting home on the weekends, only to have my husband lose his job a month later. Next, instead of coming to live in the city with me, my husband made the surprise decision to move to Montana so he could renovate a small cabin we had purchased a few years earlier. What?!? Thus began our long-distance marriage and my new life as the sole breadwinner supporting two households. This was followed by the death of our beloved 17-year-old cat plus a broken tooth on New Year's Eve, which led to my first experience with major dental work. Not so fun.
It was a kind of trial by fire, but I learned to adapt and become self-sufficient. With my husband living six states away, I had to be independent and rely on my own skills as I negotiated a new car purchase and sold our previous house on my own, and learned my way around an unfamiliar city. As the year progressed, I met fantastic new friends, discovered all sorts of cultural experiences, and developed an increased sense of self-confidence. This, in turn, helped me to succeed in my new position and I ended up feeling quite proud of how everything turned out. Now, many years later, I have maintained that same sense of adventure and independence. I still seek out new experiences and try to view everything I encounter with an open mind.
Recording What Happens
Using lists to record achievements is not really a new idea, but it is obviously very popular. Many books build on the concept of making lists or documenting accomplishments. For example, My Year with Eleanor is Noelle Hancock’s memoir of the year she decided to heed the advice of Eleanor Roosevelt by doing one thing every day that scared her. In Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, Julie Powell recounts her attempt to reclaim her life by challenging herself to cook every single recipe in Julia Child's famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. There is also the more literal approach as in The Bucket List: 1000 Adventures Big and Small, which features an eclectic range of ideas such as self-improvement, sports-related activities, natural wonders, cultural experiences, and more that can be used as inspirations to stretch ourselves.
Do you have a milestone birthday coming up? Do you want to begin to make plans for the new year? Do you simply feel like you could use some extra motivation? Consider using the structure of this list-making approach to help you explore what life has to offer.
It's really a matter of attitude. As random opportunities present themselves, before automatically saying "no," try saying "why not?” just to see what happens. Being open increases our awareness of possibilities and recording the experiences can offer a wonderful sense of accomplishment in the end. My life is certainly a lot fuller today because I was willing to dive in and experience so many new things I had not even planned on doing. In fact, I plan to mark my 60th birthday with 60 Acts of Kindness.
How can you celebrate your milestones memorably and creatively?
“Now, many years later, I have maintained that same sense of adventure and independence. I still seek out new experiences and try to view everything I encounter with an open mind.”