Reclaiming Wife: On Goals & Growing Up

This week, I’m heading down to Palm Springs, to go to Camp Mighty and think about life goals. Camp Mighty is the bigger, public, offshoot of Mighty Summit, the conference for women leaders in media that I attended last September. It’s been a crazy, exhausting, enormous year, and I’m really ready to go on a retreat to do some thinking about my life and about where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. I’m planning on having some drinks by the pool and taking some naps, if we’re being honest. I’m really looking forward to some quality time with other smart women (and ok, men, too) discussing how we want to change and take control of our lives. But I’m not just wanting to think about taking control of my life (arguably, I’ve done enough of that). I also want to talk about the way surrendering to the bigger picture is powerful, powerful stuff.

To get ready for the retreat, I spent last week going over my Life List. To understand my massive list obsession, you need to go back a little bit. The first blog I ever read was Superhero Journal, starting in very very early 2002. I read it every single day, and Andrea’s five-years-plus ahead of me point of view helped me muddle through the tangle that was my early 20s. (I’m pretty sure everyone’s early 20s is a tangle of figuring out what you want, who you are, and what you’re good at… and that particular state of confusion was not limited just to me.) So in 2004, when Andrea first suggested the idea of Mondo Beyondo lists, I was in. I took a piece of paper and wrote down every dream that I could think of, that I really, really wanted. Now, as a 24-year-old flat broke, New York City artist type, these goals seemed huge and impossible to me. Go to Europe? With $800 in the bank? Not likely. Move to San Francisco? Not in reach. Have a career working for myself and running a creative business? I knew it was the perfect blend of my skills, and my heart’s desire, but I had no clear way to get there from where I was.

But I wrote down the goals. And now, in 2011, it’s not just that all but two of those impossible goals have been crossed off, it’s that the goals now look like an outline for my life: live in San Francisco, get married, start a blog, run a creative business. So, long ago, I discovered the power of lists. And then in March 2008, just one week before I got engaged, Maggie Mason of Mighty Girl posted her list of “100 Things To Do Before I Go,” and I was hooked. So I played around. I expanded my list. I worked with David as part of our pre-martial counseling exercises to come up with a joint list, our ambition squared list. And right after we checked “get married” off our lists, we checked off “drink whiskey in Scotland” for our honeymoon.

Which brings me back to last week when I was curled up, updating my list.

Different people work different ways. But as someone who is a hyper do-er and always has approximately one jillian things on her plate, I’m not fantastically interested in letting my Mondo BeyondoLife List become yet another string of things I have to do. So every year, I take a crack at updating it, and then I tuck it in a drawer, where I basically don’t look at it for a year.

So last week, I was going through my list. My plan was to add new goals, but as I went through it, I realized I needed to check off things I’d done. So I started crossing things out. And crossing things out. And crossing things out. First, I realized that out of 100 items on my list, I’d done 46. FORTY SIX. Then, I realized that I had done 26 of those things in the last year. TWENTY FREAKING SIX THINGS. And these were not small things, mind you. They were huge things. Quitting my job to work for myself, writing a book, taking a last minute trip, going to Mexico, watching my husband argue a major criminal case, swinging on the trapeze, going to the Greek Islands, drinking tea in Turkey.

(Which felt like flying, by the way. The big goals always feel like flying, once you push through the terror and get it done.)

So I started thinking about how on earth I could get that many things done in a year. And I started really trying to figure out why these lists work for me in the first damn place and what about the transition to married life has put me in hyper drive.

And this was the best I could come up with. For me, the darkest, scariest times in my adulthood have been when I had no idea what I wanted, not when I had no idea how to get what I wanted. I remember being at my lowest point my junior year of college because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my experimental theatre education, or where I even wanted to live. By the time September 2001 had clobbered me over the head and changed my life forever, I knew that I wanted to stay in New York and work in theatre. I was terrified, not having an apartment or a job two months before I had to move out of my dorm, but I remember telling someone, “I don’t know where I’m going to land, but I figure you have to land somewhere, right?” And I was right. You do.

I was at a place of existential dread when I knew I needed to leave theatre, but I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do with my life. I was 27 and prone to wandering around my apartment muttering, “So much potential, wasted.” But by the time I knew that I wanted to leave my corporate job to be a professional blogger and write a book, I was miserable, but I knew that selling and writing a book was a series of steps, and I just had to do them (even if I didn’t have much time to sleep in the meantime). And doing things was something I knew I could master.

So for me, I think these lists work because they make me do the hard and terrifying work of identifying what I want to do, and they make me be brave enough to write them down on paper. And once you know what you want, there is a lot less magic to it than you’d think. After you know, you just have to figure out How To Get It Done, and go after those dreams like a motherf*cker. Dreams don’t come true any other way than massive amounts of work. The magic is in the dreaming them up and claiming them as yours.

Which brings me back to the whole marriage thing. I’ve talked before about how getting married launched me into the realm of ambition squared, and about how choosing a life together made me serious about consciously choosing, well, a life. But I think, maybe, it’s a little more than that. I said once long ago (though I’ll be damned if I can find the link) that you can be a grown up without being married, but you can’t be married without being a grown up. And recently commenter Edelweiss emailed me and said, “I read an archived post yesterday because one of you brilliantly connected it to one of the grad posts. Being lazy, I tried searching for the words ‘growing up.’ I got a bijillion results. I’m sure you’ve all already realized you’re really talking about growing up here through the common ritual that marks adulthood. But it was the first time I realized concretely that people love the Reclaiming Wife posts and Meg’s personal updates and the comment threads not just because it relates to being a healthy partner in a marriage, but because our generation doesn’t have a cultural script to follow for all the periods of life where we are expected to redefine ourselves.”

And that, I think, is it. Marriage is a huge transition, and in talking about the transition of marriage, what we are really talking about is what it means to grow up. And for me it means about what I said after I turned 30, a year and a half ago, “I know what I want, more or less, which is huge. I spend less of my energy stressing out about basic survival and money. I’m fairly financially secure, I’ve got a pretty serious and wide ranging skill set. And while I don’t have exactly what I want, I’m willing to fight hard for it. And I think, really, that’s what living the f*ck out of my 30s is going to look like. Fighting for it.”

And that’s what growing up has meant for me. Thinking long and hard about what’s working and what’s not, putting down on paper what I want, and then putting every fiber of my being into getting it. So I’m looking forward to pondering that a little more this weekend.

And also, frankly, to lying by the pool. Because sometimes surrendering to what the world has in store for you is the most important part of finding happiness. And I’m down for that too.

Pictures: My five goals for the year, in Greece; Drinking Tea in Turkey (Personal for A Practical Wedding)

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  • 46?! That’s amazing! Maybe I’ll go and write a list… It seems to work! Thanks so much for the inspiration to live the lives we want to live, not the lives that others think we should live. Kind of like weddings, huh?

  • Holy f*ck, forty-six items scratched off is amazing!!!!
    I believe in the power of allowing yourself to truly want things that seem impossible at the time.
    When I was in my first or second year of college, I read The Vagina Monologues. I had the edition that had the VDAY section at the end. When I finished it, I was sitting on the steps of my flat, feeling so strongly that I wanted to do this. I wanted to bring VDAY to my campus. I had no idea how, I didn’t know anyone, and it seemed impossible, but I spent a full ten minutes just sitting there and feeling this desire wholeheartedly. Fast forward to my senior year in college. A friend hooked me up with a girl that had just graduated from the theatre department the previous summer and wanted to bring TVM to our campus. We co-produced and co-directed the whole shebang and it was awesome.
    It is these moments, of allowing ourselves to sink in to what we truly want, that make life feel utterly magical.

  • Meg, I really love your spirit. I have three lists: Be, Do, Have. It’s basically the same idea, but three lists instead of one. This makes me want to get it out again…

    I think one of the best things about getting married is having someone to share my Be, Do, Have with and the more of these we check off together, the more densely knitted together I feel we become.

    • I love the Be, Do, Have idea! Very cool breaking down the list like that.

      • Be, Do, Have–adopted! I knew I took the day off for a reason. ;)

  • Wow, enjoy Mighty camp. And yes, I agree, the hard part is figuring out those dreams, where you want to go, what you want to do, specially in difficult situations, and then, you go for it, you make it happen, no matter how hard it all seems.
    Have fun at the summit, and thanks for this space, again.

  • Granola

    Congrats on a mighty 46 things. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head identifying that deciding what you want is the scariest part. I’m in my (now) mid-20s and making those decisions just feels impossible some days. Like I’d rather go hide under the covers than have to face them. But face them I must, and knowing life gets way better on the other side is good motivation.

    • Pippa

      Early 20s for me, and goddamn I feel like I’ve been fighting a battle between hiding under the covers and discovering my dreams for the last ten years of my life. Only time is moving ever forward now and I’m still battling the unknown!

  • Kellyh

    Dear Meg, I know we’ve never met but sometimes it feels like you’re that friend that always manages to tell you exactly what you need to hear exactly when you need to hear it. You’ve got about 5 years on me and these are some of my favorite posts because they make me feel like I might make it out the other side of my own “place of existential dread” figure out what the heck my dreams actually are and go after them.

    • ANDREA

      “I knew it was the perfect blend of my skills, and my heart’s desire, but I had no clear way to get there from where I was.” This is where I am.

      Being 5 years younger than Meg is… let’s say…really damn useful.

  • So timely, the Universe. Just yesterday, my husband and I were chatting over breakfast, about how this time last year I was living in a frantic tizzy over being married 6 months, having a new job and a new home, and not knowing what’s next. Was it babies? Was it grad school? Basically, I was here: “For me, the darkest, scariest times in my adulthood have been when I had no idea what I wanted, not when I had no idea how to get what I wanted.” I set aside mental time and started sorting out my options, and figuring out just what the hell I wanted to do, and over the last year, I started doing it. Yay!

    It must be a seasonal thing, though, because suddenly I’m feeling the urge to revisit, evaluate, shuffle, add. If this is to be an annual occurrence, I’m all for it. Ticking items off the list sure makes you feel so powerful, and this time around, I’m very, very excited. And Meg, you’re setting an awesome example with your ahead-of me view. Thanks!

  • you inspire me.

  • I love this post. I’m 28 and like you, I read Superhero Journal in my early 20’s and felt so comforted by watching someone else figure it out. Since then, I’ve made my own Life List and Mondo Beyondo list and while that list is great, I think you’re right: dreams don’t come true without a massive amount of work put behind them. I’ll be at Camp Mighty this week, too (drinks by the pool, hurrah!) and I can’t wait to put more thought into exactly how I want to do these things. Lovely post, and I can’t wait to meet you!

  • Moz

    It is so interesting you say that what was scariest for you was not having a plan.

    I have spent the last almost 7 years without my ambition and only really got it back in the last few weeks. I didn’t even realise that the biggest casualty of this illness that ate my 20s was my sense of hope and the expectation of something better for myself. And suddenly I find myself with plans again.

    Plans are good. Goals are good. And it is only after living without them that you realise how much they matter.

  • Amber

    I just have to let the other women out there know they’re not alone. Marriage hasn’t been any kind of transition for me. People have asked, “How’s married life?” And first, I wonder why the hell they’re asking, and then I think I need to be honest, because I was made to feel bad thinking we’re supposed to feel different after our wedding. so I say it’s just the same as it was the day before we got married. I have just as un-grown up moments now as I did before. So ladies out there who feel the same way, you’re not alone.

    • meg

      Welllllll….. I’m 2.5 years in. So what I’m talking about now is totally different from what I would have (and did) talk about in the first year. Things change, one way or another, over time. Which, it turns out, is brillant.

      • Amber

        I’m not in the first year either.

        Of course things change over time, of course I’m not the same person now as I was before (but I wouldn’t say that change is because I’m married).

    • Marina

      One of the biggest things I get from this blog in general is that marriage CAN BE a major life transition if you use it as one. There are lots of other ways to transition into adulthood, and lots of ways to have a wedding without using it as an opportunity for transition, but if you decide to use it that way there’s a certain amount of cultural scripting around weddings and marriage that can make it a big deal.

      For me, there wasn’t a sense of instantaneous change at the wedding itself. But two years later, I can pretty clearly see a distinction between my pre-wedding self and pre-wedding relationship, and post-wedding self and relationship. Not quite sure what all those distinctions are yet, and as Meg says they’ll probably continue changing, and that’s a good thing. ;) But I think if you look for and actively work to create those distinctions/transitions, they’ll be there.

      • meg

        Yes. That’s beautifully said, and I think more fleshed out that it has been in my mind. It doesn’t have to be. It isn’t always. But if we invite marriage to be a change, it can be (and that’s something that plays out over the long term. The changes I noticed in the newlywed change were totally different than the changes I notice now.) I also am fascinated when people say, “HAVING A WEDDING WILL NOT CHANGE US. WE ARE GOOD THE WAY WE ARE.” Because *of course* you’re good the way you are. But isn’t it awesome and brave to be good the way we are, and still *invite* things to change us?

        And then, of course. Sometimes you have no choice in the matter ;)

        Anyway, Marina, you should write a reclaiming wife post CLEARLY. I want more.

        • Between Marina and Meg, this is… mmmmmmm. Inviting events to change us is such a perfect way to capture this whole conversation. Can’t wait for this Reclaiming Wife post!

        • kc

          “But isn’t it awesome and brave to be good the way we are, and still *invite* things to change us?”

          All kinds of yes to this.

  • I am utterly intimidated.

    I spent my 20’s taking care of my sons and learning how to be married (and believeing that was enough). It’s only now in my 30’s and post-divorce that I feel the need to make lists and kick ass. I’m back in school to finish college but I’ve decided that I need to go all the way to my doctorate (because I don’t do anything halfway). I was thinking that getting my PsyD was a big enough goal….but maybe I need 99 other ones too :)

    Thanks Meg.

    • FawMo

      I’m intimidated too….but in a good way. In a “I’ve got 6 +/- decades to fill and I better damn well make the most of them” way.

      Ready go!!

  • I’m always inspired by life lists, 30 before 30 lists, etc . . . maybe it’s time to start one! Our first anniversary is coming up in January & I’m so excited to get away & spend a quiet weekend not only celebrating but reflecting. Just a little time spent on discussing what’s happened this past year, what we’d like to happen in the next year & beyond. For ourselves, for our marriage. We don’t have official lists but we’ve got the goals.

  • This is an inspiring piece of writing. Life lists are on the agenda for this winter. The first thing on the list is my/our already agreed upon goal of putting down the computers and talking to one another…this weekend we did fabulously. Perhaps this week the topic will be “things to do.”

    P.S. I want to reiterate how awesome this piece of writing is. I very much look forward to your longer form pieces Meg…counting down to the book.

  • Melissa K

    “…but because our generation doesn’t have a cultural script to follow for all the periods of life where we are expected to redefine ourselves.”

    I love that – that is so true, and I keep reading this blog post-wedding because it is about how to grow up.

    Tips for how to get myself out of that “existential dread” stage of wondering what I’m supposed to do with myself and all of this supposed “potential” — that’s always appreciated!

  • Thank you for always reminding me of this, Meg: “After you know, you just have to figure out How To Get It Done, and go after those dreams like a motherf*cker. Dreams don’t come true any other way than massive amounts of work.”

    This week I am going to set aside allotted Conquer that Motherf*cker Dream time. No husbands, no internet, no cellie.

    Get that sh*t DONE. Cross it off. Sigh happy little sighs. Insert margarita poolside.

    Thanks for pushing the lazy out of me yet again.

    • FawMo

      It was so fun to meet you yesterday! Good luck and I’m excited to keep tabs on your progress via book club.


      • Likewise! So good to giggle with a group of ladies who are just my pace. Fun, fun! Jingle Bell RUN!!! You organizing?? ;)

  • Caroline

    This is so timely! I’m in my early twenties, and this weekend in a particularly bad existential crisis of what do I want to do. I went bak to school this fall forma nursing degree, and just decided to change my major in something else, but I’m not sure what. I’m pretty sure that the dream I went to nursing school for isn’t what I want (to be a nurse midwife), but I have only vague ideas what else I want to do (be a rabbi? A chemist?) and also have a lot of fears about graduating with a ” worthless” degree and not being able to make a living, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy being a nurse. Being a midwife is a longtime dream of mine, and I’m not sure that it is what I way to do anymore, and that is terrifying. Being adrift without any idea what I want to do with my life (except that I want to share it with my partner), is so scary. Thanks for showing it’s less scary a few years down the road.

    • Sophie

      I’m feeling exactly this right now. Except I’m in my late twenties. And in the last week have been also having a crisis about whether I DO want to share it with my partner or whether I’ve just gotten wrapped up in the pre-engaged state. Very scary.

      • Caroline

        Sophie, you know what is awesome about the fact that you are questioning if you want to be with your partner for life? You aren’t married yet. It is terrifying and hard now, but if you decide the relationship isn’t right for you, it’s significantly easier to wal away now. ( by no means east, but easier). So yay for questioning if marrying your partner is the right choice.
        And hugs and encouragement through the scary of it. I wish for that you find the place were you question often, and always find the answer is a resounding yes, whether with this person or another.
        Uncertainty of life plans is scary.

        (also, wanted to clarify to all that my partner is the one thing I am sure of. I question it sometimes, and always always the answer is yes! I want to be with him and marry him (I don’t care as much about wedding him anymore). But goodness, the where are we going to take our lives together uncertainty is huge.)

  • morgan

    Being married has certainly made us both braver. I’m not a list person at heart, but we talk about what we want all the time. And we’re doing it! Trips, jobs, baby… It’s amazing how powerful two people working in tandem together.

    (I’m leaving for Seattle for the long weekend while David goes to Chicago. I don’t think I would have done these seperate trips had we not made it clear how important travel was to Team Us.)

  • Anne

    Oh, man. As someone in her mid-20s, this really hits home. Even the idea of making a list seems daunting. It’s not that I don’t have immediate goals to put on it, but the far-off ones? Absolutely no idea. Or, rather, so many ideas that don’t fit together that it seems strange to write them down. Can one be a (musicology) professor/restaurant owner/graphic designer/editor/run an an arts organization all at the same time? I completely agree that the darkest times in my life have been when I really had no idea what to go on. I’m looking forward to being at a point in my life (soon, I hope?) when I can figure out how and if any of my ideas fit together enough to be something concrete I can work toward.

    (Also, absolutely beautiful piece of writing. Really, really awesome.)

    • Marina

      I vote write ’em down anyway! Maybe you won’t do them all at once, but wouldn’t it be cool to look back when you’re 70 and realize you’ve done most/all of those things at one point or another? :)

  • Hooray for 46.

    I especially loved your point that surrendering to the bigger picture is powerful. My struggle is to find the balance between the many lists (I love those lists!) and living the bigger picture— being in it. Like you said, not letting the list become another stream of to-dos. I like the idea of writing the list, and tucking it aside. I keep being surprised by how much happens by putting out the intention– realizing what you want.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Also, how did I not know of the wonder that it Superhero Journal? Thank you!

  • For the record, you, Meg, are my Andrea and APW is my Superhero Journal. You’ve helped me sort through so much of the mess in my life and I’m seeing a lot clearer these days. At this point, I can honestly say that APW has helped me improve my marriage, reinstate my feminist ways, increase my confidence, break through the walls of depression, and renew the faith I have in my life goals.

    I just wanted to make sure you know that. I’m not sure if being someone’s Andrea was on your list or not, but if it was, go ahead and cross that one off, too.

    Thank you a thousand times over.

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  • I love what you wrote about marriage and growing up, Meg. I started a 101 in 1001 list right before Jason proposed to me that I pull out every once in a blue moon these days. This morning, after reading your post, I took it out and realized that I’ve checked off nearly all of the “big ticket” items on it (Travel to Europe! Pay off student loans! Start retirement savings!) in the one year since we got married. That felt amazing.

    Not every risk I’ve taken since getting married has worked out (i.e. a few months ago, I applied to a dream job and didn’t get it), BUT marriage has undoubtedly made me braver, more willing to dream, and more able to chase those dreams.

    • meg

      But failure is a good thing, right? Because all successful people are is people that are really good at failing, getting up, and keeping on.

      • Oh, absolutely. I actually feel liberated these days when I “fail big,” because it means that I’m at least risking and dreaming big and not just staying, perpetually scared, in my own comfort zone. Five-years-ago-me was not that brave.

        • And it forces you to make new plans. I’m on, uh, Plan G of this year’s career change, and while I’m sad that some of the earlier plans didn’t work out, at least I tried. And I know if G fails, I’m on to Plan H, until it sticks.

    • I am glad you brought up failure.

      I have a “wiley” dream I am working on…. and I guess , as Meg says, it is the “keeping on” that is key….

  • Gillian

    Okay first of all reclaiming wife, and watching you figure out your life, are why I continue to read this blog past my wedding ;) Thank you for your thought-provoking and inspirational posts.

    Secondly – thank you for acknowledging ‘a jillian’ as a large number ;) I thought I was the only one and it made me laugh.

  • One of the things I struggle with when it comes to articulating life goals is distinguishing between:

    A.) Things I actually want to do, and
    B.) Things that I believe some ideal version of myself would want to do

    …if that makes sense. As an example, I like to trot out “illustrating a children’s book” when people ask me about goals. It’s a nice one; a tangible but challenging accomplishment that would use my skills. And yet, thinking about actually doing that fills me with this sense of dread.

    Is that simply fear that I’d need to “push through?” Or is it my gut telling me that activity wouldn’t really make me happy and I should probably find something else that I can get excited about?

    How do you tell the difference? I have yet to figure this out.

    • anon

      I have the same trouble. In the past, I’ve set my mind to accomplishing a number of things that I thought I wanted–really, really wanted… only to realize halfway through, or even when I was finished, that this wasn’t what I wanted after all. It just… sounded good. Sounded like something I should want. Or societal pressure made it seem like a proper pursuit. I don’t regret those experiences, but it does give me pause now, when I think of goal-setting and life lists and so on.

      If you figure it out, let me know. ;-)

      • Steph

        I totally agree with you both. I have stopped in the middle of reaching a goal multiple times in my life, not because I chickened out or became scared, but because I realized that the goal was not something I really wanted. It was something I had convinced myself I wanted. And I’m still trying to figure out why and how I had done the convincing.

        I’m currently on track towards a different, big career goal I set for myself, and I find myself wishing and hoping and wondering if it will happen again. There’s a lot of fear there for me. That I’ll have gotten it wrong again.

      • Rhubarb

        I know this problem.

      • meg

        I just take things off the list if I realize I don’t want them anymore. I do it ALL THE TIME.

        • It’s ridiculous how this one little comment of yours, Meg, relieves such a burden from me. I’m also in my early 20s, and battling anxiety, depression, and ADD–to such an extent that this Deans List student was kicked out from her college. Oof. It’s a heavy blow.
          Thing is, my tumbling-around mental state often brings this goal-setting paranoia to a new height–the real, but too-scary-or-uncertain-that-i-abandon-it goal, versus the realizing-hmm-this-isn’t-my-real-self abandoned goal. To boot, a lot of these goals or plans of mine feel imminent. Since I haven’t earned my BA yet, I need to finish school! Do I attend the amazing, unique private school–that will keep me there four more years, give me a “useless” degree, and did I mention student loans? Do I keep working as a waitress? Do I just try to finish a degree, any degree, as soon as possible?
          Goals that are scary, emotionally, are one thing. But goals that require MONEY that I do not really have–terrifying. Come on, economy.

    • meg

      If it’s not a fun goal, I think there is no damn reason to put it on your life list/ mondo beyondo list. One has enough to-do lists. This should be things that are SCARY (because you don’t know how to do them) and EXCITING (because holy shit if you could do them how amazing would it be). So if it’s not exciting to you, fuck it.

    • It seems to me that if you create a list with as many as 100 goals on it and Illustrating a Children’s Book gets done, then it was important. Maybe that’s why the lists need to be so big, it’s impossible to know what your real goals are sometimes. Put it on the list and see what happens. If you accomplish 75 things on there but you never Illustrate a Children’s Book, did you really fail?

    • Vanesa Gingold

      In high school I wrote on all my scholarship applications that I wanted to be a “plastic surgeon for burn victims” – really, I wasn’t too sure about what I wanted other than not being stuck in a small town high school. I was a good science student – though I always loved art, and not-so-secretly aspired to be an artist since childhood – this answer seemed like a more impressive and respectable goal for my collection of skills.

      Now, I am still a little shy of the “artist” title, but have admitted to myself that it’s really what I want – so I’d better figure out how to make it work. Aren’t the biggest and truest dreams always at least a little terrifying? The hardest part for me has been identifying which “ideal self” I was trying to live up to. Is it your ideal or one that’s been given to you?

      There are always a lot of pressures – but there are also a lot of different possible lives to live. I have a space in a print studio co-op whose members are mostly women over 50. It’s incredibly grounding to go there and be with these women. They all have achieved different measures of success as it might be externally determined – but each of them has been successful in following a dream, through times when it must have been much more difficult to claim one’s dreams as a woman. My advice? Talk to some people who aren’t in their 20s or 30s – especially those who’ve been wonderfully stubborn about following their bliss.

    • Shannon

      What you are describing here is shame… If you knitted your brow in confusion when you read that, I understand! It’s a very complex topic, but it’s at the root of what you are talking about around knowing when something is what you want and when it is something you think you’re supposed to want. I think that learning to understanding the difference between those two things is pretty important in the process of setting and achieving goals. That being said, learning to forgive ourselves for time spent on things we didn’t really want in the first place is even more important…

      I’m in my mid thirties, and I have to say that my experience of my twenties was vastly different from the way most people in this discussion are describing their experiences. Rather than setting goals during that period of my life, I actively avoided goals… This was not avoidance of life or an unwillingness to examine what I wanted, but rather a time during which I explored everything that came across my path, and if it felt “right” or interesting or fulfilling to me, I pursued it. I avoided making goals because I felt like the life lessons I had been taught about goals were actually antithetical to my process of figuring out what I wanted to do. Specifically, I thought (and still think) that we can set ourselves up for a pretty narrow existence in the world if we focus in too much on achieving specific goals.

      Towards the end of my twenties, I finally started feeling the call to start setting goals again. I hate lists, I’m just going to come out and admit that… I especially hate lists that are about “life goals.” That’s just me, clearly lists seem to be working for most of you! Actually, I would say that in some ways I have the opposite approach to goals as what Meg is describing in this post… Rather than setting really specific goals, I purposely set my goals as generally as possible so as to keep my mind open to whatever possibilities might come up along the way that I didn’t envision or expect when I set the original goal. I find that this is what works best for me – not sure if there are others out there with this experience. I’m very introverted, which I’ve recently discovered is actually quite rare, and that our culture and social structures are really geared towards extroverted folks. I don’t know if this really explains my somewhat different approach to goal setting, but it’s a theory…

      Anyway, this discussion is really good and important — re-evaluating our lives, whether it’s in terms of goals or what we’re doing now, or a little of both, is such an important part of living lives that are authentic to who we are as people. Thanks, everyone, for all of your comments! And in case anyone is wondering about the whole shame thing, I highly recommend looking into the work of Brene Brown, Queen of shame resilience education.

      • Shannon

        Sheesh, I’m sorry my comments are always so freakin’ long… I totally forgive anyone who just skims the thing!

  • i just discovered the power of the list. not the to do list, but the what i want list, what speaks to my soul list. spending time writing those things down made me feel more alive than i have in years.

  • mimi

    Great and inspiring post. I’m bookmarking this to start my own list soon.

    Oh and totally superficial – I have the same (sexy) Anthropologie shirt that you’re wearing in your “tea in Turkey” pic. Love! :)

  • I have realized today, after reading this post and letting my subconscious pair it with things my therapist has told me over the last month, I need to make these kinds of lists. I need tangible, visible, so-large-I-can-touch-them-on-paper lists to help me get to where I want to be in life. Where I’m meant to be. Thank you for all of your links, because I go to all of them and get so excited to discover new resources and things I need to propel. I signed up for Mondo Beyondo’s newsletter and got their Dream Generator. I can’t wait to use them. And my husband is on board, too.

    Except we are going to make huge lists… literally. Huge. And hang them on the wall. A list so huge the sharpie marks of “I’ve done this!” will be visible across the house, as a constant reminder. Love it.

    Thank you.

    • OMG, that is such an awesome idea.

      I have a (very large) life list. 100 items of it are on my blog. (the other 120 are on a spreadsheet for adding to my blog as I achieve things) And I went in to detail – specifying “Travel to Europe” was not enough for me. I specified a dozen cities or countries in Europe I want to visit (means I have an excuse to go back)!
      And we booked flights this weekend to do it!

      A lot of the other things are little things – do a cake decorating course, try scuba diving – that I can pick up and do anytime when I feel like life is stagnating. I cant wait to get on and get some of these things done!

      DH and I were talking on Sunday on our way back from our Anniversary weekend retreat about my life list and how we should work on one for him, and one for both of us. I LOVE the idea of writing it out large and putting it on the wall. Brilliant! We will totally action this!

  • Kim

    Loved the post. Somehow I’m feeling paralyzed and afraid of even talking about our dreams…every time we start talking about one dream (buying a house), we get stressed out when trying to factor in other pieces to the equation (saving $$$, picking a mutually-agreeable location, keeping/finding new jobs near said house, buying second car, having kids, keep working/stop working)…for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m not able to figure out what happens next, or why. There is no easy solution, no simple steps to take that solves all the questions. And we’re torn – stay where we are, or leave it behind? Where are we most comfortable starting something new?

    I need to make a Mighty List, or at least start working with my husband on goal setting and working together to accomplish our goals. Our next goals are intimidating…eek!

    Thanks for helping me understand that everything is possible, if you put your mind to it and work for it!

    • kayakgirl73


      Your whole first paragraph is exactly the broken record that keeps running through my head driving me nuts. I know I need to start small, but I’m having trouble getting started.

  • Rhubarb

    I’m writing my life list right now. It’s funny: I feel like only this year, starting 30 in the face, am I ready to actually own the important things I want to do. Before, I could think of fun adventures I might want to have but I didn’t feel sure enough of the kind of person I wanted to be to make a full-on list with the serious goals on it.

  • Jo

    “…our generation doesn’t have a cultural script to follow for all the periods of life where we are expected to redefine ourselves.”

    That’s why I keep coming back here. And that’s why weddings have become extra scary in the face of the WIC – there is very little in terms of safe space for negotiating what is (should be) a big deal commitment in a world where anything goes. And that applies to basically all of growing up, too. Now that we as a society have laid bare a million options for every choice, the individual is left with nothing to go on other than perhaps guidance from parents, friends, and role models, and spirituality if that’s your thing. Which is a bit of a slippery place to be for such important decisions as who to be with, what to do with your days, and how to be in the world. Just saying.

    • Jo

      I’m a different Jo, but just had to say I agree exactly with what the other Jo said. I’m in my mid 20s right now, and love my life (live in my favorite city in the whole world, San Francisco, have fabulous friends, a job I love, and time to pursue other interests), but when I think about the future and what I want next, I Freak Out. Meg and the APW community has been a voice of sanity and reason in my life, talking me down when I do freak out, and helping me realize that yes, there are other older and wiser people who have figured it out, and given time, I will too.

  • Katie

    I quit my job on Friday. Can’t tell you how timely this all is. I quit because I’m old enough now to know what I want and deserve and that wasn’t it (abusive, hostile environment with screaming disrespectful boss? Not for me). I’m obviously scared of unemployment but also really excited because I have those things on my list I know I want and now I just need to make them happen. Thank you so much for this post and this blog in general. It’s meant a lot to me and given me real guts and inspiration when I needed it.


      I want to leave mine so badly (it’s awful, but not as awful as you’ve described) but am rigid with fear in doing so. We need my paycheck, and we have a huge four-year-old mouth to feed. The idea of jumping ship will seriously render me paralyzed. But OHMYGOD do I dream of it.

      Basically, if you’ll allow me to whip out this gem: YOU GO GIRL! GET ON WITH YO BADSELF!

      • Katie

        Thank you so much Melissa! I am super grateful and well aware of how lucky I am that at the moment I’m financially able to make that choice (and currently don’t have any additional mouths to feed except my husband’s!). You’ll find a new job, I’m sure of it!

  • This made me realize that everything from my 20something “I want to do this someday” list I’ve pretty much done, or occasionally abandoned. I’ve been working my butt off these past few years (in a good way, on stuff I like), but it’s felt more like a slightly rudderless series of “Make It Work” moments/months than working up to some long-term horizon goals. I’m not sure that is particularly unusual for pushing 40, but I’m definitely going to take some time this week to dream a new list.

  • KEA1

    I decided to start a 40-before-40 list, and initially had trouble getting 40 items. YIKES! I was mortified–but all of a sudden, it was crystal-clear why I had been feeling the restlessness and the need to start putting such a list together in the first place: I had stopped dreaming and imagining! This coming from a hyper-imaginative kid who grew up to do a crazy double-major followed by a PhD and has a ton of extracurricular interests even now. How the hell did I lose my sense of dreams and goals? So I told myself to start imagining the *impossible* things. The “hah–no way am I actually gonna be able to do this, BUT…” things. I had to give myself the safety of an uncensored list, and the safety of knowing that I don’t get kicked out if I don’t accomplish everything.

    And once I did that, I finally started dreaming again. I now have a list approaching 100 items, big and small and everythign in between, with the goal to do 40 of them…or more. And even without having anything checked off the list yet, I already feel so much more alive–and so much more confident that I can attempt the crazy stuff.
    Short end of a long story: THANK YOU MEG, for the fabulous post and subsequent converstaions it’s inspired, and have a fabulous time at the retreat!

  • Jen W

    This post is scary and inspiring and a kick in the pants and the comments help even more.
    I wish I could articulate more how helpful (and scary! but scary’s ok!) I find this post at this exact time, but it is Monday, after all.

  • As an early 20s-er, folks, APracticalWedding is essentially my online mentoring community. In that spirit, can anyone recommend me any other resources that they found helpful in their early 20s–or wish they had around during that age?! If you’ve done a Mondo Beyondo course, would you recommend it to someone my age? I’m open to advice and suggestions. :)

    • meg

      YES. DO IT.

  • Jo

    Hell to the yes, lady. Hell to the yes.

  • “I read an archived post yesterday because one of you brilliantly connected it to one of the grad posts. Being lazy, I tried searching for the words ‘growing up.’ I got a bijillion results. I’m sure you’ve all already realized you’re really talking about growing up here through the common ritual that marks adulthood. But it was the first time I realized concretely that people love the Reclaiming Wife posts and Meg’s personal updates and the comment threads not just because it relates to being a healthy partner in a marriage, but because our generation doesn’t have a cultural script to follow for all the periods of life where we are expected to redefine ourselves.”

    I was just talking to my husband about how being married really doesn’t feel all that different from being pre-married (meaning basically the whole time we were living together before we got hitched, engaged and not yet engaged), except for the awesome breadmaker.

    But reading this, I realized that the process of getting married has changed me in huge (if not all that obvious) ways. I’ve done so much thinking about my life, about what I want and need, since getting engaged. I’ve grown in ways that feel huge. So no, *being* married isn’t all that different, but *getting* married made me grow up. And that’s why I keep reading APW–because it’s about that growing up, which I continue to do, as much as it is about planning weddings and not needing to Buy All The Things and finding meaning in our wedding plans.

  • Rachel T.

    I have been faking adulthood since I was in middle school… but now that I’m 27, working as an English teacher, and actually facing real children, I realize how badly I want to be a “real” adult, however I decide to define that. It’s certainly a scary place, being an adult, and I find myself more and more of an adult every day in the way I handle situations or respond to questions. And maybe getting married next fall will become a transition for me, if we let it, as you so astutely suggested… I hope it does. I guess I have to invite it though…

    But above all, I guess what I wanted to say was thank you for making me look forward to and be excited about actually being an adult. I wish I had more friends like you, people I could ponder life’s questions with and make a road map with, even if it never really becomes a map but more of just thoughts to paper. I just like the idea of having someone who is where I am, even if I’m 5 years behind, to talk to. These posts, especially the Reclaiming Wife posts, make me feel like there’s a real community here, something most of us don’t have in this modern world, ironically. I love you guys for that Meg. I really do. These posts make me think and more importantly, they make me feel like there is someone pushing me to be better, even if that means you push me to better myself. Thanks, as always.

    • I am turning 30 and keep joking that I’m having a teen pregnancy, because I still feel about 14 most of the time. House, mortgage, pension and baby be damned, I still feel like a kid a lot of the time. I keep expecting to start to feel like an adult, but it hasn’t happened yet. But then I talk to my mother, who at 60 says she feels like she’s 18 most of the time, and I realize that maybe being an adult just simply doesn’t feel the way I thought it would, and that my personality kind of *set* as a teenager and that’s why I feel this way. (Albeit a way happier, smarter, funnier, nicer 14 year old that I actually was, so clearly I am growing up.) Without that roadmap, maybe it’s no surprise we feel like we’re lost, and part of that the way we actually feel is a surprise?

  • Wow! I’m addicted to crossing out my daily to-do list. It’s funny how I have a hard time focusing on anything other than the concerns of the day… but you’ve inspired me now to not only make my own life-list, but to sit down with my girlfriend and to dream up a list together.

  • Lists. Work.

    I made a list of all the things I wanted in a husband, a few years before I met a man with every single one of those traits. (He’s now my husband, if that wasn’t clear.) The exercise of writing a list forced me to refine what I was really looking for and what was important to me, and it kept me from getting distracted by close-but-not-quite options.

    Thanks for this post! I needed the reminder to continue to examine my goals (not husband-wise, but life-wise and especially career-wise).

    • Good to know I wasn’t the only person to do this. And my fiancee meets all my requirements as well.

  • I am such a list person too. People may laugh at my lists, but they help me keep my eye on what I’m doing.

    And being married means there’s now someone else to help boost me up when I need it and keep me from thinking a temporary trip up is a permanent fall.

  • cat

    I was 27 and prone to wandering around my apartment muttering, “So much potential, wasted.”

    THIS IS ME, RIGHT NOW. I was actually sitting on my kitchen counter last night after being turned down for a job I really wanted (a ‘lack of real world experience’, stupidest excuse ever thanks) complaining about being 27 and having wasted years of potential career building time being stuck in corporate nowhere.

    I love these posts. They have actually properly kicked my ass into changing my life. One just after my wedding convinced me that waiting until I can ‘afford grad school’ was a ridiculous idea because I was miserable for putting it off. One of the Mighty Summit ones convinced me to transfer into a Masters in a creative arts field I love that I was too scared of being broke to apply for initially. This one might have convinced me that I might need to stop whinging and go back to fighting now.

    In summary, I make a lot of safe decisions that I don’t love, and Im really glad team practical are here to remind me that being safe won’t make me happier most of the time and it will probably all be ok.

    • Sarah

      Exactly! I have made so many safe decisions that weren’t really the right ones for me. Now I just have to invest some time in working out what decisions would be right.

  • Meg,

    I love you… and you’ve read my mind as I’ve been thinking about this type of stuff recently.

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  • Sarah

    This post is exactly what I need at the moment, thank you. I’m 29 and just married, and I spent my twenties getting the career I thought I should want only to find it didn’t make me happy, or at least not in the way I thought it would. Now I’ve put it on hold to follow my husband’s job halfway across the world and I really need to spend some time working out what I want now, and trying that out to see if it suits me better.

    Even though I know I’m really fortunate to have this adventure of living somewhere new, and to have the opportunity to rethink things, it is so scary and difficult. All I know for now is that I sometimes felt a bit like my twenties lived me, and I really want to live the f*ck out of my thirties! Thanks for the inspiration, I’m going to get started now.

  • Teagan

    Thank you for a wonderful post, and such wonderful open comments.
    You have giving me the kick up the ass to get motivated. I have been procrastinating recently putting off finishing my thesis, and I couldn’t work out why. Reading this post made it clear. I was putting off the next stage of my life, because it is so damn scary. Now that I see this, I will kick my ass into gear and meet this new life head on.

  • angela

    For me, at my 34 year of life, to gown up means to enjoy every other minute in your life, those ones goods and also those really awful, because even when you think you have all sort it out, life makes a flip, and your world got upside down and you need to struggle AGAIN to find the vertical.
    But also, i learn to not worry, or at least not too much, because when you worried, you lost something memorable, marvelous, that is happen at the same time…you are wasting life moments…
    So please, don´t get pre-occupied by whatever…let´s get occupied when needed but not before.

  • love this, meg. i really seriously want to make a list with my husband.

    as for goal setting, for me one of the hard things is knowing that sometimes i may set a huge goal and then down the road i may discover that it’s not what i want to work towards afterall. does that happen to you? i’ve spent years and years setting goals and then no longer finding them relevant (i abandoned my phd six years in when i realized i knew how to finish my dissertation but had no desire to be in academia, for example) and it’s starting to make me want to stop setting goals already.

    but that can’t be the answer!

  • I think I will start writing lists of goals. This post really hit close to home, as a drama major who decided not to pursue the career, figuring out what else to do with my life has been a matter of choices and luck and chance and just going for what feels right. I’d love to be able to write a bucket list and then get the satisfaction, like you had, of crossing things off.

    loved this post.

  • Great post! Goals are good! I also believe in vision boards which are just an arts and crafts version of the lists. Several of my girlfriends got together earlier in the year to make vision boards and it is amazing how much of mine has come true. I quit my “cubicle” job to launch my own business full-time, which clearly can be seen in the board. I practiced my skills, getting them more in line with my future. Heck, I even went to New Mexico and there is a random “New Mexico” ad on the board! I have a photo of snow; my husband got a job working for a ski company. My point is that a lot of the visuals are way more connected to my current life than they were back in the beginning of 2011. If you had told me then where I would be today, I don’t think I would have believed you. I can’t wait to come up with more lists and vision boards.

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