Last year as I was cleaning out my closet I came across an old sketchbook. Although none of the pages were dated I knew right away from the sketches of potential clothing designs, mood board collages, to-do lists with items like “get business cards and email website guy” that it was from 14 years ago when I started my first ‘real’ business Random Nicole. I’d had other businesses before, like the candy business I started when I was 12 when I sold chocolate lollipops outside my dad’s barber shop and the soap business I started with my friend Paige but I consider Random Nicole my first real business since it was the first one that I did full-time and it not only sustained itself but made a profit.
Back then I was living hand-to-mouth and struggling to buy groceries as well as getting extremely creative to pay my rent by throwing pop-up art shows in my apartment and raiding my collection of vintage clothing in my closet to sell at second-hand stores. Even though I was working constantly back then, it seemed like I had more time than I do now. Although professionally I’m more successful than I was 14 years ago, I long for the days when I allowed myself to spend whole afternoons going through magazines and creating collages or writing extensive life lists of things I wanted to accomplish or do in my sketchbook.
Having a successful creative business (whatever successful means to you) has its’ benefits. These days I no longer have to move all my furniture into one room and turn my living room into an impromptu art gallery on the 29th of the month in hopes that my friends and family will buy enough of my art for me to pay rent. I have a solid creative community where we share our triumphs and tribulations. I know that the work I do is helping others make a living doing something they care about. All of those things are part of my idea of success.
However, working long hours and dealing with the stress of being responsible for so many people’s well-being takes its’ toll. I felt myself getting burned out and my body was fighting back. Sleepless nights, migraines, stomachaches and a lingering low-grade depression plagued me. I knew I had to start making time for things other than work. I’d been keeping this hectic schedule up for so many years that when I did finally give myself some time off I had no idea what I wanted to do. Every idea that sounded fun (like creating a DIY blog post, writing a new online class or picking out blog posts to share on social media) was work related. I began to think back to the days before I had a business. What did I do in my free time when I was a waitress/full-time college student? What did I enjoy doing in high school? How did I spend my summers as a kid? It seemed like back then making time for fun came without effort.
Then I found that old sketchbook and inside it was a life list. Looking at that list made me think about how much I enjoyed lists. Not only is list-making fun for me but, crossing things off lists gives me great pleasure. Most of my lists now are work related but finding that old list of mostly non-work stuff made me think about how important it is to take time out to dream about the future (as cheesy as that sounds).
I read through each item on my old bucket list and was shocked to see that I had actually done several things on the list:
Go sailing – check!
Find love – check!
Pay my rent doing something I love – check!
Have a backyard studio – check!
Live in a house – check!
Drink more water – check!
Join a gym – check!
Sing and play guitar on a stage – check!
Start a retirement fund – check!
Take a tropical vacation – check!
I was feeling pretty good. BUT there were a lot of things on the list that I hadn’t done and still wanted to do like:
Take an interest in my health
Have a baby
Write a book
Start an active hobby
Spend an entire day in bed drinking champagne and ordering take out
Then I started thinking about what I would like to add to the list like:
Take a pottery class
Take more baths
Cook dinner at least once a week
Tell a story at The Moth
Learn to play one song really well on the guitar
Send more thank you notes
My love of list-making had become work-centric and it took revisiting my younger self via that old sketchbook to remind myself that personal list-making is just as important as professional list-making. I also realized that if I didn’t start adding personal and creative items to my weekly to-do lists they likely wouldn’t get done (at least not as quickly). The act of writing something down is the first step to making it happen.
Case in point: Several years ago when a drunk guy in a wheelchair (who was an acquaintance of a friend) at a bar invited me to go on his boat the following day, I almost said no. It seemed like just the kind of situation my mother had warned me about (drunk stranger + the open sea = disaster). But then I thought about my list… ‘go sailing’. I agreed to go and spent the day on a boat with that guy and group of 8 of my girlfriends singing and playing guitar, listening to the sailor’s amazing stories about being a volunteer firefighter before he was paralyzed and trying to escape my seasickness. Not only was it a once in a lifetime chance, but I disembarked that boat feeling awesome, happy, inspired and excited about getting back to work.
You don’t have to go sailing with a stranger on a boat to reap the benefits that creating and doing things on a life list can do for your personal and work life. The first step is creating that list. Sit down in a quiet place alone brainstorm about all the things you want to do. Since we’re focusing on personal life if something work-related pops into your head write it down on another list. Next go through all those goals and assess which ones are attainable in these categories:
-Three years from now
-Five years from now
Then pick a few out from each category to focus on. If one of your goals is to start drinking more water – awesome, you can start that right now! However if one of your goals is to spend a year in Paris but you’re tied to a great job you love in the states, you’ll want to put that one into your long-term life list. If you think you can make it happen in five years then put it on that list. For BIG goals like that (and even medium sized goals) you’ll need to break them down into smaller action items and chip away at them. Just saying you want to spend a year is Paris is a start but beginning to research what it would actually take to make that happen is how you’ll accomplish it. For more on setting intentions and accomplishing goals, check out this post by our friend Kari Chapin. There are so many benefits to taking that time out to accomplish personal goals (even if that goal is to sit on the couch and watch television all day). Check out these posts I wrote about the benefits of downtime and letting go of busyness.
Whatever you add to your life list remember that the first step to doing something is figuring out what you want to do. The next of course is taking action which is what Kari’s post will help you with. So whether you want to run a marathon or bake a cake from scratch or learn to speak Spanish, the time to start is NOW. Its SO worth it and your future self will thank you a million times.