The first week of January is a natural time to look back. Just as the earth begins another whirl around the Sun, we can’t avoid confronting the reality that yet another sizable chunk of lifetime has been sealed and locked away in the archives. We don’t get many of those chunks, seventy or eighty if we’re lucky, so it makes sense to step back, look at how we’ve spent this last one, and adjust the sails if necessary.
A family member had a great idea and passed it on to me. This time of year, we should all come up with the year’s highlights, much the way they do for sports, news, and the arts. It’s a good way to identify exactly what the year means to us when we consider the big picture, zoomed out far enough that we can only see the brightest bits.
So here’s the deal. I’ll post my top five highlights of 2009, and hopefully you will be inspired to post yours, either in the comments below, or on your own blog if you’ve got one.
Approach it however you like. They can be things you started or finished in 2009, decisions you’ve made, experiences you’ve had or any other memories that stand out. All that’s important is that they serve to represent to you this particular chapter in your story, whether you’ve been authoring it consciously, or haphazardly.
As you’ll see, my choices are not quite the memorable, standalone events one might think of when they hear the word “highlights.” Each of these five happenings marks a revelation of some kind or the beginning of a new arc in the story. That’s just how they came to me; you do whatever you like.
These kinds of lists make me nervous, because there is always the risk of some unforgivable omission. But here are the highlights that characterize the best of 2009, in my life:
5. The decision to make audacious plans – The first twenty-seven years of my life left me rather unambitious. The four-sentence version of my life story goes like this: I excelled at almost everything as a kid. I became extremely accustomed to victory and praise. I had a taste of defeat and found it unbearable. I thereafter avoided all forms of challenge or competition, so that I could never lose and never fail. Tragic.
A light flicked on at some point in 2009, though I can’t recall a specific date. I’m not sure exactly what triggered it but I suspect it had something to do with the fairly rapid success of this site. From the seed of an idea and a fair bit of elbow grease, something wonderful grew out of nothing, and suddenly the future seemed to spread wide open, awash with possibility.
All those awful clichés have been suggesting the same thing for years: You only get one life; Reach for the stars; Make the most of it; You can do anything you put your mind to. There are a million ways of saying it, and I heard the same sentiment so much as a child I learned to tune it out. I guess I always supposed it was true, but the messages a young adult gets from his surroundings seem to deny it. People generally do not reach for the stars, they reach for what’s comfortable, and stay there as long as it remains comfortable, which is usually forever. I grew up in a culture of complacency.
So something clicked, and I began to see that I can make just about anything happen, provided I don’t let the opposing extremes of fear and comfort influence me too much. I’ve made an extensive life list, which I now regard as a roadmap rather than a wishlist.
Included in this rush of ambitious plans was the decision to become self employed, to travel like mad, to reach millionairehood, to speak multiple languages and over 150 other more-than-worthwhile endeavors that never would have happened had I continued to let comfort and ease be my compass in life.
I’m already checking some off, and getting others underway. Suddenly the future is bright, and so is the present. Life was never quite like this before.
4. Unclehood — On September 11, five weeks before I left on my trip, my sister and her husband had a baby boy. I went to meet him after work. The room was full of family members, some of whom had all just earned a new title. A new mother and father, new grandparents, new aunts and new uncles.
They were all familiar faces, except there was one more this time: baby Keane.
Now, I’ve met lots of babies. I’ve held newborns. They’re cute, but I had never been so affected by a baby as I was this time. In fact, I had never really understood all the excitement about babies. People have babies all the time. They all look the same, they don’t do anything. They don’t even know where they are.
But Keane didn’t strike me as just someone’s baby; he was a complete person right from the start. I can still picture his tiny, bewildered face as I held him on his birthday. He was already one of us; we didn’t have to warm up to him. His face was already familiar.
Unclehood doesn’t usually confer any additional responsibilities, but suddenly I feel my role on this planet has become a little more important, like it’s taken on a little more consequence. My nephew has wonderful parents and an unbeatable family network to love him and help to raise him. If it takes a village, he’s got one, and I’m grateful to be part of it.
3. Overseas travel — As I write this, I’m staying as a houseguest in Nelson, New Zealand, sitting in a blue armchair, looking out over a valley through a pair of French doors. I keep finding myself in scenes I never could have imagined. My life is full of people I didn’t know a month ago. I’ve been in the country for six weeks, and before that I spent a month in Thailand. I have loved virtually every minute of it, and I foresee much more globetrotting in my future.
I am meeting new people and encountering new ideas at a much higher rate than I was during my regular 9 to 5 routine at home. I’ve become aware that I’m growing much more quickly than I was before I left. Fears and hangups are dissolving, social skills are blossoming, and ordinary moments are glowing brighter and brighter.
Initially, I had a fair amount of apprehension about solo traveling. Somebody else had always made most of my travel arrangements, so I wasn’t all that confident in my ability to show myself a good time. Thailand seemed especially dodgy, and for a while I considered skipping it altogether, even though the flight would have been free and it’s much cheaper to travel there than in New Zealand. But I went, and more than anything I was surprised at how easy the whole thing was, even for a recovering introvert like me.
I was not always interested in travel. I pictured it something like this: you spend all year saving up thousands of dollars, then you use your precious two weeks of holidays taking pictures and drinking Coronas beneath palm trees, then you go back to work for another fifty weeks and start saving again.
I know now it doesn’t have to be like that. You don’t have to go to resorts, you don’t have to spend thousands, and you don’t have to spend fifty weeks a year working.
Even before I left, I was sufficiently excited about travel to decide I will tailor my lifestyle to make it possible. Look at my life list, it’s out of control. To get to all those places I’ll need to do some serious lifestyle planning. Yet, at the time I wrote it I hadn’t spent a day overseas. Turns out I do love it, more than just about everything.
2. Hollyhock — In October I spent a week at an educational retreat called Hollyhock. It’s a humble village on an island of the coast of British Columbia. There were only two courses that were scheduled during the time I would be in the area, so I chose one called The Buddhist Path to Love and Happiness.
I didn’t know what I was getting into. I thought it would be a series of easygoing talks about Buddhism, with plenty of spare time for jacuzziing, wine-drinking and beach-walking. Instead, I discovered it was an intensive program of meditation. The days began at 7am and ended at 10pm, and we were not to speak for the entirety of the five day program.
The first day was very difficult. For a novice meditator like me, spending hours and hours sitting alone with one’s thoughts is an extremely taxing experience. Without the obscuring static of incessant thinking, you wouldn’t believe what feelings and fears that surface.
By the end of it I had learned a shocking amount about myself and how I operate. I also recognized the importance of meditation in learning to steer my life. Everything I do to manipulate the top layer of detail in my life — the realm of time management and goal-setting — is almost in vain without the clarifying effect of this mental work. The head-noise takes over otherwise, and moment-to-moment impulses undermine long-term plans.
From my internal viewpoint, the effect of those five days on my life has been dramatic. Even though I’ve been traveling through unfamiliar places and situations ever since, I’m far less uptight, far less confused, far less preoccupied with control. The insights I experienced that week are irreversible. I can never again be quite who I was before.
The food was also awesome.
Ah, my own baby.
Sometime in January 2009, I stumbled across Problogger, and life changed. Suddenly I was wrapped up in the idea of running my own blog. That night, I signed on for two years of hosting, then downloaded WordPress and started playing with it. Six weeks later, as of the Ides of March, I was online .
I don’t think I’d ever had such a strong, sustained interest in any pursuit before. What attracted me was the sense of community I saw amongst the bloggers in the comments on Problogger. Everyone was doing their own thing, but they were all aware of what was going on in their own respective online neighborhoods. Each niche had its own set of up and comers, big shots, emerging styles, legends and forefathers, wannabes, has-beens, old-fashioned doctrines, and avant-garde experiments. I wanted to become a figure in one of these 21st century virtual communities.
So I did. I was surprised at how quickly I gained momentum. Within a week I had formed a support group with a handful of other new bloggers, and suddenly we had our own little block in the virtual neighborhood. Nine months down the road, I’ve got over a thousand subscribers, even though I’ve done zero marketing during the last three. I built it and they came.
Raptitude has served me in ways I never expected. Aside from the wonderful sense of community, and the connections that come with it, I have tapped into what blogging God Seth Godin might call a “Tribe.” My writing has attracted a bright group of people who know that a human being can have much more say in the quality of his or her life than the average person would suppose. I love those people, and they come here on a regular basis to read, comment, email and Facebook me. I am blessed. Finally, I have found a sizable group of human beings who are on the same page.
My blog has become such a solid part of my consciousness, it is hard to believe that in 2008 there was no such thing as Raptitude.
So 2009 was a stellar year. For me it was the best ever. I’ve hit my stride like never before. Without even a hint of optimism, I can tell you that 2010 will be better.
I would love to hear your 2009 highlights. You don’t have to have five. Post them in the comments below, or on your own blog, and link it from the comments.
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography