This week’s Renaissance Reflections post comes not from the Da Vinci book but from an article on Medium.
How To Invest In Yourself by Jon Westenberg is essentially an exercise in life planning, for people who are serious about Getting Important Shit Done. Since that’s a category I fall into, I decided to give it a go. My results are below; I’d recommend reading Westenberg’s article in full if you plan on following this yourself though, as I’ve just summarised things (and also changed bits).
Write A List Of 100 Things You’re Going To Do
The idea behind this is not to make a bucket list, which lots of people do but few people fulfil. Instead, it’s to write down stuff you’re actually going to do. Life goals that are attainable, if ambitious.
This was surprisingly difficult. It took me most of an afternoon. I think of myself as an ambitious person, but 100 is quite a large number to come up with. Also, my goals change throughout my life, but I guess if some drop off and get replaced by others in the future that’s fine.
One thing Jon mentioned was that some of the goals should be small enough to be attainable in the very near future, because that’d give you a sense of fulfilment.
Reading down the list, I found it a bit daunting. 100 things looks like a lot when it’s written down! So I decided to add a step, which was to make a list of 100 things I’ve already done in my life that I’m proud of.
A selection of these included:
- publish poetry
- write and perform my own music
- publish an academic paper
- be on a philosophy panel
- be on a digital forensics panel
- present research at an academic conference
- teach a class
- lecture at a university
- write a novel
- dance on stage
- climb a mountain
- find a missing person
- work on a child protection investigation
- perform contortion in front of an audience
- run an art gallery
- run my own business
- leave the religion I was brought up in
- work out the Google Page Rank algorithm
- make a Kierkegaardian decision in my personal life
- solve a difficult personal problem by turning it into an algebraic equation
Making this list is pretty fun, because it reassures you that you can achieve goals, by showing you that you’ve already done it.
Once I had both my lists in front of me, I looked at the next step, which was to divide the goals list into three sections:
- Things I can do immediately
- Things I need time for
- Things I need skills for
This was quite difficult, because there were several things I needed both time and skills for, and there were also several things I could theoretically do immediately but can’t, due to fun things like work commitments and not having enough money.
However, I did manage to do this.
The next bit was to work out which steps needed to be taken in order to accomplish the goals that couldn’t be done immediately.
I was doing this with a friend, and at this point both of us got tired. Depending on how granular you get, there can be a lot of steps for 100 goals. I decided I liked the idea of splitting the list into prioritised sections and then making those ones more granular.
Part of the reason for this was the way the list was phrased. It’s not meant to be a list of stuff you’d quite like to do; it’s meant to be a list of stuff you definitely want to do – enough to put all the necessary effort in.
Frankly, I’m not sure there are 100 of those for me.
Perhaps that’s because I was ridiculously prolific as a teenager (before taking a long break of non-prolific-ness) and achieved a load of my goals back then. Or perhaps I’m just not very ambitious after all.
However, I decided to go back down the list and sort it in a different way.
When I was seventeen, I got very ill and nearly died. At the time, there were still lots of things I wanted to do with my life in the future, but when I was in hospital facing the reality of probably being about to cross into the land of eternal sleep, I realised that I was happy with what I’d achieved to date. I’d packed a shitload into seventeen years, and I was proud of that. It was a good feeling: I’d be dying with no regrets, except not living a bit longer.
And then I survived, which was nice.
But as you can probably imagine, this experience gave me a new perspective on life. When I was working in my old job, I thought about it often. If I’d died when I was 23 or 24, I would have been annoyed with myself at not doing something important with my life, or even something I vaguely cared about. I would have had many regrets about the previous few years.
I feel like this is a good way to sort priorities, so I went back through my list of 100 goals and asked myself which of them I’d regret not having done on my deathbed. Now obviously this depends when I actually die; if it’s within the next five years, I’m not going to regret not getting all of them done. But the further away death is (and hopefully it’s quite far!) the more I’ll regret not doing more of the things I care about.
So, assuming I live a reasonably normal-length life, my revised set of goals reads thusly:
Write about physics
Reread the Gateway notes and come to a conclusion
Set up a charity / CIC
Read a really old magickal text in its original form
Go to a Star Trek convention
Present research at a large academic conference
Hack into something that’s hard to hack into
Do an undercover investigation
Sing an opera duet / trio / quartet
Publish a novel
Publish a non-fiction book
Go to France
Go to Egypt
Volunteer with Prajwala
Contribute to a social revolution
Walk all the way around the UK using only the coastline
Learn to play classical piano
Spend time volunteering with the Waccamaw River people
Record an album in a recording studio
Have a bookshop
Solve a previously unsolved mathematical or scientific problem
Decode a manuscript
Have a book collection with >10,000 books in it
Retire from the internet
Have a dusty old office and sit in it researching stuff
Learn to drive
Become an expert on something that’s ungoogleable
Go to Brittany and camp in the Forêt de Brocéliande
Be a schoolteacher for a while
…and a few more that I won’t share here.
I ended up with 43 things I’m going to do before I die, because if I don’t then I’ll almost certainly regret it.
Then I divided them into columns: stuff I can do now, stuff I need skills for, stuff I need time for. Then I worked out how to make them happen. Some of them I’m already working on anyway, but I think it’s generally a good idea to periodically remind yourself of your goals and make sure you’re on track.
What are your top goals in life? What might you regret not having done if you didn’t have much time left?