After leaving school, I decided to spend “the last summer vacation of my life” working on my life goals full-time. I went through my list one evening, picked a few items I could start on that summer, and dove in. That summer ended up being one of the best of my life. I was spending my 40 hours a week training for a marathon, learning to rock climb, doing martial arts, and reading all the books I had always wanted to.
When I got to Seattle to start my job, I started talking to everyone I met about what I was doing. I noticed something interesting: a lot of people wanted to live their lives with greater focus on their goals. We couldn’t devote 40 hours a week to it, but we wanted to do something in our day-to-day that reflected greater priorities.
And so the Finishing School was born. The Finishing School is a group of people that meets once a month or so for each member to report on what they’ve done on their life goals, as well as get encouragement and advice from the group. There are two rules to the Finishing School:
- Every member must make at least some progress on at least one goal
- If this is your first night at the Finishing School, you must read your entire life goal list
So that’s where I’m at– writing this blog, being part of the Seattle Finishing School, and achieving my own goals (currently working on: climb Mt. Rainier). If this sounds cool, here are a few recommendations:
- Poke around here and see if anything interests you (recommendations below; my life list here)
- Want to start a Finishing School in your city? Let me know and I’ll hook you up with advice and other people interested
- Join the Bucket List Society mailing list (see the side bar on the right)
And to get you started reading, here are a few of my favorite and most popular posts.
- 5 Bold Rules for Journaling. I think journaling is one of the best possible activities you can spend your time on. Here’s why, and here’s what to do when you journal.
- 5 Public Speaking Tips You Haven’t Heard Anywhere Else. I’ve done a fair bit of public speaking, and I’ve never run across advice as useful as what I’ve had to find for myself. Here’s that wisdom– let me know if it works for you too.
- Eurisk: my theme for 2012. I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, but I describe my “theme for 2012” here. It’s about taking chances on the things that might help you the most.
The weekend before last, I tried to achieve a life goal of mine– #21, Climb Mt. Rainier. I didn’t.
Here’s what happened.
On the night before we started climbing, everything looked good. I had been training for months. Practice climbs, classes, reading mountaineering guides in my free time. The usual. I had a team I trusted and liked. We were all in shape, healthy, and eager to go. Our bags were packed, gear checked, double-checked, and we even left on time. Most fortuitously, after we reached base camp on the first afternoon, the rangers said that even though there was some avalanche danger, they were optimistic about the weather– a gift, given five days of storms, high winds, fresh snow, and no one summiting.
Unfortunately, neither did we.
One the second day of climbing, everyone gets up between midnight and 5 AM to try and reach the summit and make it back to base camp before the heat of the day and the weather changes. We were on the trail by 2:30 AM. I’m not a morning person, but I wake easy for alpine starts. We set out across the Cowlitz glacier up towards the imposing Cathedral pass in the dark of night.
A few hours later, we were nearing the base of a giant rock formation that splits two glaciers– the Disappointment Cleaver. One group– some firefighters from Seattle– had been ahead of us the whole time, and as we crossed the snowfield to the cleaver, we watched their headlamps bobbing up, and then, down the side of the cleaver. We met them at the base– the bottom of the lower part of the rock, on a 45-degree snowfield that bottoms out a few hundred feet below into an enormous crevasse. It wasn’t the sort of place you’d normally want to spend more time than necessary, but the other group had kicked out little seats for themselves in the snow and were resting up. “How was it up there?”
“Eh, no way up. You can try; we’ve got no idea.”
I looked up. They pointed a way not to go. “Well maybe I could try below that shelf. How long are you guys going to be here?”
“Dunno. We don’t know if we’re going to make it up there. And here is where the rangers said there was avalanche danger. Not sure we’d want to be coming through this mid-morning.”
Oh yeah. Avalanche danger. Read More
When my great-grandmother passed away, our family sifted through her house, sorting through all the things we would pass on or give away or throw out. Somewhere in that fray, someone found and moved to my grandparents’ attic a poorly-bound book with a faded cover. I don’t remember where I found this book– whether I was hunting around that attic or whether an aunt passed it along to me. All I remember is my incredible curiosity upon first holding it in my hands and reading the title.
I was looking at a book of poetry composed by my great-grandmother.
The first poems were written when she was a girl. They were almost a century old. They described life on the Kansas farm, nature, family, etc. She described the first time she saw a car– not because cars were rare where she lived, but because they were rare everywhere. Mass-produced cars had just been invented. Later on, she becomes a mother. One poem is a prayer her daughter doesn’t drive too fast down those country roads.
It took me a minute to realize that one particular poem about a new baby David in the family was actually about the birth of my dad.
Here’s a surprising thing: These poems– they were not good, per se. There is in none of them any astounding amount of literary merit. But I treasure them like nothing else, because I can’t help but be attached to this young woman, maybe about my own age, sitting in the shade of an elm tree and writing poems about the Kansas summer. I am part of what she left on this planet, and these poems are another, and it all feels a bit like I’ve found a long-lost sibling.
* * *
I have told a number of my closer friends that when I die, they are welcome to take my computer, figure out all my passwords, and go through the hard drive or whatever online accounts they can hack into. Should they choose to do this, perhaps the file that will be the most interesting (certainly the longest) is my journal– or, more appropriately, set of journals.
Almost every day since I graduated college, I’ve written in my journal. It’s become a gargantuan undertaking– every few month’s I’m producing a novel’s worth of narration. But I would say without hesitation that journaling is one of the most worthwhile habits I hold, and I fully intend to keep it up until I die. Read More
I’ve got a thing for personal experiments. Every once and a while, I’ll take a week and do something a bit differently– whether it’s eating only one meal a day, going without clocks, or living on a food-stamp budget. I’ve learned an enormous amount from these little life trials, and while most of those things aren’t terribly applicable to this blog, I recently tried an experiment that was: value week.
So what’s value week?
Most of the time when people talk about networking, I zone out in 10 seconds or less. Greased hair, schmoozing, and makin’ it rain business cards– it’s nothing I want any part in. Unfortunately, part of me realizes that at some level, networking is a very useful thing to do. Fortunately, there are plenty of people out there who promote networking as something more than taking names and sending out form email follow-ups.
They see networking as being an activity primarily comprised of providing value to people. You give them the opportunities, the information, or the contacts that matter to them, and you let the rest take care of itself. If and when you need something, everyone you know will be all too happy to help. But that second part is an afterthought; pumping value is the habit.
According to this philosophy, networking is not something you do when you sense you’ll be laid off– it’s a way of life. If you are continually being useful to the people you know, things will take care of themselves. Read More
Through a relatively unplanned series of events, I once found myself on the island of Zanzibar, just off the coast of Tanzania, with nothing to do for an entire week.
Zanzibar, like most tropical islands, is a tourist haunt. And the tourists all do one thing: lay out on the beach. But I have a fair Irish complexion (read: ghastly– people regularly mistake my taking my shirt off for the sun getting in their eyes) and attempting to tan myself is like roasting marshmallows with C-4, except boring. And that’s no good.
Fortunately/accidentally, I found a mentor– a wizened old shopkeeper named Rashid who sold wooden masks to tourists in a small store along one of Stonetown’s hundreds of narrow streets. Within five minutes of me striking up a conversation, he was lecturing me on the value of hard work. And when a foreign old man starts talking to you about the value of hard work, you only have choice: you listen.
He gave good advice. But his views on thriftiness were the first droplets of the monsoon. It turns out that Rashid had a lot of admonitions. For instance:
- Put your faith in God
- You are young– have sex with many girls
- How much did you pay for that!? Seriously!? You are getting ripped off!
For the next six days, Rashid had my back. He found me better-priced guides to go fishing with. A cheaper hostel. He brought me to the town square and gave me and my friends coffee and African pastries and introduced us to everyone who passed by who he knew (which was, more or less, everyone who passed by). Most generous of all, of course, he gave me more advice than I have either the intention or the moral flexibility to put to use.
And all he ever asked in return was my American opinion on whether pro wrestling was staged or not.
Rashid was not who you might think of when you decide you want a mentor, but he had all the same qualities. He knew Read More