It is pretty common for people to think in terms of five-year or ten-year plans when it comes to mapping out the various paths our lives can take. I remember sitting in a restaurant in college and developing different visions of what I thought my life might be if I accepted each of the various offers I’d received for graduate school. Things did not turn out as I had planned, but I still think that exercise helped me make a good decision.
In this post, I want to explore a variation of the ten-year plan. Instead of thinking of a concrete place where you want to be or project you want to complete, I want you to think about the person you want to become. In other words, what will the you of 2020 say about the you of 2010? This question is partly inspired by another blog post several friends of mine were talking about on Twitter and Facebook a few weeks ago. In “Regrets from the Dying” from Inspiration and Chai, Bronnie Ware lists several things she learned from working in palliative care. The list includes things many of us have heard before. Those who were dying regretted having worked so hard when they were younger or having lost touch with friends as the years went by.
I think about such things a lot. Turning forty last year felt like one of the greatest gifts I could ever have been given. My first partner died at thirty-eight, and one of my best friends from college died when he was thirty-nine. All I could think about around my birthday was how I was experiencing something they never could. I would smile politely when people made jokes about growing older or being undeniably in middle age. I made some jokes myself (my father gave me a t-shirt that says “OMG, I’m Old!”, and I wear it often). But I mostly felt amazement. Forty felt like such a solid age to be, one with the possibility of several decades of life ahead of me and a foundation of experiences and learning acquired through decades behind me.
In 2020, I will be fifty if I am still alive, and I have been thinking about the person I could be then, which means thinking about the person I am now. If I reach that landmark age, I hope to be able to say that I spent my forties doing all I could to be ethical and fair in all of my relationships. I also hope to be able to say that I faced the challenges dealt to me directly, with minimal whining and complaining (notice I said “minimal” and not “no whining and complaining”). And I hope I look back and can say that I cared less and less about the opinions of others and focused more and more on things that would enhance my life and the life of my partner (keeping in mind the ethics and fairness I mentioned above).
It’s very possible that, in 2020, I could have finished the book project I started this summer and even been promoted to full professor. It’s also possible that I will have visited countries I have wanted to visit since childhood. And I could accomplish a number of concrete things that have been on my mind for years. But none of that would mean anything if I achieved them unfairly, unethically, and with a constant negative attitude. In other words, it is possible to acquire many concrete things no matter what kind of person we are, and I want to focus a bit more on the person and not the accomplishments.
What about you? What do you want the person you become in 2020 to say about the person you are now in 2010 and in the coming years? Let us know in the comments!