I was going to write this Perspective article on my type-A tendency to keep lists. Though often silly and sometimes trite, throughout my busy days, lists have a terrible tendency to dominate my life. I thought this would be a great opportunity to show deep connections between my daily “to do” lists with my “list of life goals.” It was going to be a sentimental, slightly witty piece. It was going to be great.
So one evening during Winter Break, I set up to write the article. But after ripping my desk drawer apart, I couldn’t find my “list of life goals.” Anywhere. At all. An old, crumbled sheet of yellow paper,
this list wasn’t just a typical list-I had marked where and when I completed some of my major life moments.
Travel to Ireland, Germany and Poland: Completed in the spring of 2006.
Have a memorable first kiss: Completed April 28, 2004 with Noah Myrent on my front porch.
See the sun rise and set in the same day: I completed this goal, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember … it was written on the darn list, after all.
So I spent a good half hour ravaging my desk drawer, sorting through old newspaper articles and Time magazines, wondering why on earth I needed to keep half the things I did. (Did I truly need my recorder from third grade? It’s not like I ever mastered the instrument.) But after I realized that the “list of life goals” was somewhere in the abyss of journals, notebooks and papers I haphazardly keep, I slowed down and looked at what I was pulling out of this little drawer.
Currently entering my second semester of senior year, I had been in a bit of a funk. I’m not sure if it was the daunting job search or the reality that I’ll be leaving a place that I’ve grown to love, but I just was out of my traditional spirit. For example, typically I love jogging. But during Winter Break when I went to the gym, I could not even step foot on a treadmill because I just did not feel it. I used every machine except the treadmill and I could not figure out why. I would not say I was close to any kind of depression-I am very excited to begin this next stage in my life. I just felt out of it, a bit disconnected, and I could not pinpoint what it was or why I felt that way.
But two words of wisdom, two trinkets from my past shook me a bit that evening. Rattled me. And left me staring at the ceiling that night and feeling once again like I was on the right track for my life.
One was a letter from my Advanced Placement German teacher in high school, a man who our class respected and loved more than any other teacher in high school. He sent us an e-mail the day before the AP test encouraging us to do our best. It resonated with me, so I printed in out and stashed it away.
“So take this challenge, like so many you have to this point in your life,” he wrote, “and realize this, too will pass, and you will have more, greater challenges that you will not only face, but withstand and KNOCK DOWN. Be confident, be yourself, be your best.”
I re-read those words and paused. I realized that these simple words of encouragement were as important then as they were now. The challenges in store for me next semester-the fears, the joys, the decisions and the memories-would pass. I would knock down any barriers. What seemed like an insurmountable challenge to me during my senior year in high school was only a fleeting, slightly important life moment. All I remember from that year in German are the good memories, the laughter and overcoming any fears I had. The same would be for this semester and the next few years.
A second item grabbed my attention that evening. It was a series of quotes from the book This Side of Paradise from F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“And he could not tell why the struggle was worthwhile, why he had determined to use to the utmost himself and his heritage from the personalities he had passed,” I had transcribed, ” … He stretched out his arms to the crystalline, radiant sky. ‘I know myself, he cried, ‘but that is all.'”
At the time I wrote that quotation down, I remember not completely understanding the last phrase or why it was important. I just knew I liked it.
But now, years later, it makes sense to me. What happens next year, what happens within the next three years-I can only control a part of it. I can only make so many lists and check off so many life goals. I only know a small part of this world and that’s OK because I’ve got a long, long time to figure it all out. And a list of life goals is supposed to take your whole life to complete, right?
So I didn’t find my list that evening and I know it will turn up sometime in the future in some unlikely spot. I feel as if I was actually supposed to see those two other items that evening instead, so I would feel more confident in who I am and my abilities. The pieces from my past reminded me, as cliché as it is, that I can succeed in my future.
So even if I don’t know what going to be accomplished next on my “list of life goals,” I do know myself. And that is all.
And you know what? The next morning I went for a long, wonderful jog.