Every year of my 30s has had some kind of birthday reflection and a motto. Here are the ones from the past:
I was really impressed with my coworker Kevin Weil who ran 30 miles on his 30th birthday this last weekend.
I definitely could not run 37 miles today. I wonder actually if there was ever a year that I could run the number of miles that matched my age. I think 17 or 18 was probably my best bet, but that’s pretty lame… if I can get back on my running wagon maybe I could aspire to run 40 miles on my 40th.
My primary personal goal this year is to do 1,000 small things to become a marathoner. I registered for the Lake Tahoe marathon at the end of September. My knee is attempting to thwart me, but I am not gonna let that discourage me (too much).
I also take the time every year to update my Manifesto for Living:
It hasn’t changed drastically since 2007, but it has grown from 11 to 19 and probably needs to be edited down again sometime soon.
And as of this last year, I’ve also started maintaining my list of beliefs, with a public history of changes as they evolve. (see inspiration here).
Why do all of this? I’ve found that as I get older, I often forget things that were important to me in the past. By documenting these things, it’s possible to build on a foundation that’s too difficult to keep in my working memory all of the time.
I have this strange hope that one day all of these various beliefs, values, mottos, etc will coalesce into some simple unified understanding about life. But I’m not holding my breath right now.
Our brains evolved to strive for a coherent narrative (as a way to predict long-term dangers with more accuracy than a non-narrative-driven logic could capture). We strive for a single driving plot line that explains all of the myriad convoluting details. But a coherent narrative isn’t a naturally occuring thing, and in a way the tension between real life and coherent narratives creates as exhaust an unending supply of frustrating cognitive dissonance that might be a big chunk of our motivation to get out of bed in the morning. To make things make more sense.
My made up word’s definition: 1 unit of work towards a long-term meaningful shift in identity is a “slog”. 1,000 slogs towards the same long-term meaningful shift in identity is a “kiloslog”.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my death bed this year. From creating my own memento mori to reflect on every day:
To thinking about how I would die if I lived 100 times:
To calculating my deathday.
Despite my morbid tendencies, the goal of the thought train is to continue to reset my perspective on life so as to minimize regret on my death bed.
When I think about the things I will regret on my deathbed, the general character of “regretted things” are things like missed opportunities, an insistence on holding on to local maxima, and a general lack of purpose that results in years or decades of long circuitous routes back to where I started.
The unit of work that leads to “appreciated things” on my death bed seems to be clumps of work that had some artful or meaningful result. For some reason I imagine that the resolution is a minimum of 2-4 years of intentional, focused effort. Approximately a metric kiloslog of meaningful work towards something bigger than myself. Life only has enough room for a dozen-ish kiloslogs.
I want to focus this year on making more of those. More kiloslogs in year 37!
Practically speaking, initially I used Twitter to track each of the slogs towards becoming a marathoner, but usage dropped off when the novelty of the work wore off. I didn’t want to tweet every little thing I did. So I’ve recently switched to using Peabrain to track my slog-tracking, and hope that my velocity starts to pick up again.
I’m currently 49/1,000 slogs into my journey towards becoming a marathoner. Which, I think, might be at least one of the things I appreciate having done on my death bed.
PS. What’s the character of things you’ll regret and things you’ll appreciate on your death bed?
Buster Benson (@buster) is a writer and builder of things. If you're new here, check the about page or see my entire life on a page.
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