Looking Forward and Back

Dec28LookingForwardHas 2015 been a good year for you? Or a struggle? What can you learn from your experiences this year to make the next one even better? What do you most want to see happen in your life in 2016? If you are serious about living your bucket list dreams, then I invite you to spend time looking forward and back.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is one of my favorite times of year (next to Christmas itself). Aside from the lull in regular activities during winter break, I love the perspective afforded during the year-end wrap up. I spend time reviewing the past year and celebrating all that has transpired in the past twelve months. And I use both my accomplishments and missteps to plan what I’ll go after in the year to come.

For example, in 2015 we missed out on the trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania that we’d hoped to make because of health struggles for our middle daughter, Katherine. But after a long series of doctors and tests, we did get a diagnosis and successful treatment. Her health is so much better now than it was in January. With this coming on the heels of her sister’s protracted concussion recovery, I learned how to be persistent and stay positive on my kids’ behalf. Hopefully health won’t be an issue for any of us in 2016. And while Hershey isn’t on our list for 2016, we are thinking through what other places we’ll visit.

Early in the year our eldest, Bethany, travelled to Spain on a school exchange trip – and adventure that was both eye-opening and frustrating. But instead of staying mired in all that went wrong, we chose as a family to host another teen from Spain a few months later. And that experience showed us that it is possible to have a successful cross-cultural exchange. In 2016, I want to keep that same attitude of not letting one poor experience prevent any of us from embracing opportunities for adventure, in whatever form.

That’s just a little of what I’m pondering as I look back on 2015 and prepare for 2016. This process, more than any other, makes the biggest difference in my life when it comes to reaching my bucket list goals and helping my family reach their goals. It gives me a grid to evaluate the decisions that will arise in the coming months. I can ask: does this fit what I’m hoping for in this year or not? Will it distract me (or my family) from what we most want to do? Does it help us to become the people we want to be?

This process also helps with time management and calendar planning. I go through a brief exercise similar to this one every month for my writing career goals. It shapes my action plan and daily “to do” lists. I can see clearly what next steps I need to take toward realizing my most desired goals. Which allows me to map out my time each day to make sure I continually make forward progress. At the end of the month I always review how I did on reaching my goals before planning goals for the next month.

The other strength in taking time looking forward and back is that you can use it to plan your budget. What bucket list goals did you have to bypass this year because of finances? How could you adjust your spending (or boost your earning) in the next twelve months to make a more costly goal attainable?

Why not join me in a year-end review and planning session? Pull out your favorite pen and a blank sheet of paper. Curl up in a cushy chair, under a cozy blanket with a cup of tea or hot cocoa or a glass of wine. And enjoy both looking forward and back in order to make 2016 a year of bucket list goals achieved! That’s what I’ll be doing this week.

If pouring into your relationships with your spouse and kids is a goal for you in 2016, then I invite you to check out my Udemy course, Build Stronger Bonds Writing Family Bucket Lists. It helps you Build Stronger Bonds Writing Family Bucket Listsbring your family closer, create more camaraderie & make quality memories, using your bucket lists as a springboard. Plus, it’s available for the lowest price right now. Take 60% off registration through 1/1/16 using the code NEWYEAR16.

Living the Story You Want to Tell (October’s Dare Accomplished)

Living the Story - The October Bucket List Life Dare AccomplishedI rolled down my car window to see the Starbucks menu better in the foggy morning air. I never remember the name they use for the extra-large drink. Venti. With a free drink on my card, I could splurge and go big. Then I glanced in my rearview mirror. An older model Buick had pulled up behind me with two women in it wearing head coverings. Would they go big and get Ventis too? My hand shook with giddiness as I put the car in drive to pull up to the window. I was more excited about what I was about to do for those women behind me than I was about the Venti Salted Caramel Mocha the barista handed me through the window.

My completion of the October Bucket List Life Dare to commit a random act of kindness might sound cliché. But I have always wanted to surprise someone by paying for their order somewhere. So that’s what I did.

The funny thing about it was how much the barista at the drive-thru window thanked me. It was a dreary morning, so I had hoped to make someone’s day a bit brighter with this treat. What I hadn’t expected was that it would start with the barista. It was also serendipitous that I had the free drink on my card for myself. And that I’d made a bit of extra cash that week selling an old Halloween costume. A confluence of events that set the stage for my paying-it-forward adventure.

Here is what impacted me most about taking the step to actually pay for a stranger’s order: I was living out the story I have been wanting to tell. You see, what has kept me from doing it before was the story I have always told myself about myself – the story that said I’m not one of those people who does that sort of thing. Even though I have always wanted to do it. And so paying for the order of the person in line behind me at the Starbucks drive-thru was more than just a feel-good gesture to complete the month’s dare goal. It served as a means of being myself more fully. Living out who I want to be.

Maybe that part shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, I believe very strongly in the concept of making bucket lists because of how they help us ground ourselves in our identities and let us live out who we were created to be. But I hadn’t seen how sometimes we can hamper our own progress by simply buying into the notion that we aren’t, or can’t be, the people we most want to be.

For some more inspiration on paying it forward (and living the story you want to tell), check out what one man has done at his pizza shop in Philadelphia.

Did you complete the October Bucket List Life Dare? If so, how did it go? If not, why not jump in now – just because it’s not October, doesn’t mean it’s too late. Chime in on the comments below to share your story (or the one you want to live into).

November Bucket List Life Dare: Express Gratitude

November 2015 Bucket List Life Dare: Express GratitudeDoes it ever feel to you like Thanksgiving is here and gone in a flash? Like the blessing over dinner that we pass off as “giving thanks” isn’t proportionate to how much we have to be grateful for? It bothers me, but I have to admit that I’m not very good at doing something about it. Sure, I am quick to say “thanks” on a daily basis to people who help me. But I’m not as good at taking it deeper and really reflecting (and acting) on the abundance in my life that I have to be grateful for.

It makes sense that we ought to appreciate what we have more. Thankful people are more satisfied, less aggressive, and more giving. Not only that, but research shows that grateful people actually get further in life. Gratitude expert Dr. Robert Emmons of U.C. Davis says this:

Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.

If we want to live more meaningful lives as individuals and as families by reaching our bucket list ambitions, we need to be practicing gratitude regularly. That’s why I decided this month’s dare should challenge us to make something more of our gratitude.

So here is this month’s Bucket List Life Dare: Name one person you have been wanting to thank – for something they did or an influence they had on your life. Take time this month to write or otherwise express your gratitude.

If you want to take it a step further and build off Emmons’ gratitude list research, you could make your own list, adding one item each day that you are grateful for. Then note who you have to thank for that item. Did someone help you obtain, attain, or maintain what you’re grateful for? Choose one of those people to express your thanks to this month.

I will be sharing about how the October Bucket List Life Dare went for me, and asking you to chime in on your experiences, later this month. In the meantime, let us know in the comments if you’ll be joining in this month’s dare.



September Bucket List Life Dare: Back to School (Learn Something New)

I love learning – new facts, new skills, new technology. In the past year alone I have learned two new software applications, Scrivener and Screenflow. I learned the basics of how an 1890’s print shop was run and how to demonstrate it for museum visitors. I learned how to travel for less using hotel and airline points and miles.September 2015 Bucket List Life Dare

But watching my kids start a new school year of studies makes me want to learn even more. Do you ever feel that way too? Then you will want to join me in taking this month’s dare to learn something new.

Choose a topic, a skill, a discipline – something you have always wanted to know how to do or know more about. Then find a way to learn it. It is easier than ever to tap into learning experiences, both online and in your neighborhood.

My recent favorite online learning platforms are Creative Live and Udemy. Both provide easy access to a variety of subject matters. I like CreativeLive for the chance to watch for free while the course is first airing (live and in replays). And Udemy has an incredible breadth of topics and levels of learning. Another place where you can learn from amazing people about fascinating topics is TED, with their recorded presentations from TED events.

Locally you could visit your library or check out course catalogs from your community college or local park district. Even shops can be sources for classes (knitting classes at yarn shops, cooking classes at housewares stores, etc.)

Your challenge this month is to choose your subject, find a learning opportunity and sign up! Me? I’m debating between getting serious about learning Italian by finding a Level 1 course to work my way through or something else entirely. I’m open for suggestions!

Life Dreams, Work & Discovering Your Calling: An Interview with Jeff Goins

Last week I had the privilege of interviewing Jeff Goins, author of the new book The Art of Work, about work, calling and bucket lists. I have followed Jeff since his first e-book The Writer’s Manifesto in which he sets forth the mindset for embracing the calling of being a writer. His other (awesome) books are Wrecked, The In-Between, and You Are a Writer.

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Here’s what Jeff had to say:

How did you come to focus on this idea of “calling” that you emphasize in The Art of Work?

Through personal experience. At 28 I felt like I should know more. I kept asking, “Is this as good as it gets?” Why weren’t my job and marriage good enough? I kept thinking I was missing out on something.

And then I began to take writing more seriously. I wrote a blog. I published books. And finally I moved to writing full time and supporting my family with my writing two years ago.

You say in the book, “Most people waste the best years of their life waiting for an adventure to come to them instead of going out and finding one.” That sounds risky. What do you say to parents who live in the tension of wanting safety and security for their family, but knowing finding and following their calling involves risk?

Be honest with yourself. There is risk in jumping out and doing something. But there is also risk in staying comfortable. Ask yourself, “What will happen if I don’t do this?” Maybe nothing.

The greater question is: what creates discomfort for you? Doing and failing? Or not trying?

I love how you talk about “listening to your life” when it comes to discovering your calling. What do you think makes this process so powerful?

We are unaware of our own lives. Awareness is a practice. We deepen that practice through paying attention.

We tend to look at our lives not as stories, but as scenes. We think, how do I get through this week, this day, etc. We look from scene to scene or moment to moment. And we miss the big picture story our lives are telling.

But if my life is a story, then I can ask, what genre is it? What is the conflict in my life’s story? Who are the characters?

The concept of a “portfolio mindset” in The Art of Work sounds like a great format for parents who want to be “present” for their kids, yet fulfill their own life purpose. How does that work?

It’s messy. You have to be careful. Don’t assume your calling is just work. A calling is deeper than that. The fact that I’m a dad colors and gives context to my calling.

Some things won’t get done. But a calling is more complementary to life than competitive.

So what is on your bucket list?

To go to South America. Skydive. Write a novel.

And I would love to take my son to Europe for a few weeks to expose him to the culture there – before he is in middle school.

I have travelled by myself and with people. It’s easier by yourself, but at the end of the journey there is an emptiness. You did cool stuff, but there is nobody to share that with.

There’s nothing like walking over a bridge in Venice and getting to share that with my wife. The same is true for your calling.

For more great advice from Jeff Goins about finding and living your calling, check out his blog at: goinswriter.com.