A year ago, on my 39th birthday, I published a list of 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. By the end of yesterday, I had finished 25.5 of them. Am I disappointed I didn’t finish all 40? A little, but the list was always aspirational, and in the last year, I’ve done at least 40 great things that weren’t on the list, some of them silly (jumping naked into the icy Baltic Sea), some of them life-changing.
To say this last year was challenging is an understatement; my marriage and my business almost both dissolved, and I’ve been on the brink of financial and emotional ruin several times. Growth is never easy, personal growth is the worst, and I’ve done a lot of personal growth in the last 365 days. Sometimes the best laid plans go astray.
So was the 40 before 40 experiment worthwhile? Of course. It kept my focus on things that were important to me (or at least important to the me of February 16, 2009). Even though objectively, only doing some 50ish percent of them is probably a failure, doing 25 important things was still a good way to spend a year. That’s more than two great things a month on average, and even in a terrible year like the one I just had, that’s not too bad.
I did learn a few things about lists like this, however, if you’re thinking of doing one of your own. Don’t rely on other people, for instance. Keep it to things you can do alone if necessary. Don’t put things that you have to do daily on them, because that just sets you up for failure. Try to make them discrete events whenever possible; break them up into pieces. The hardest ones are (obviously) those you simply can’t go out and buy or just do. The ones you really have to work up to in order to do are tricky, and most of the ones remaining on my old list are of this sort. (In theory, those are the most rewarding as well.)
I’m working on my 50 Before 50 list, which will be (since it is 10 years, not one) broader in scope and deeper in ambition than 40 before 40 ever was. It’s also taking me longer to figure out. But I think it, too, will be a worthwhile experiment.