I’m a list maker. I know it’s not glamorous but I make lists for all sorts of things, from short-term plans to long-term life goals. Most of these are pitched towards the future: what I want to achieve, what I want to read, what I want to see. None of them look back at the past, so when I received a new notebook as a gift, I thought I’d christen it with 10 things that would make me proud when I came to the end of my life.
I decided that the 10 things should be achievements or activities that stretched me mentally, emotionally, physically or financially, but that were fulfilling or enriching in some shape or form.
Spoiler: I couldn’t think of 10.
I managed six solid ones and a seventh that should probably be filed under ‘might bump if I manage to do better things before I die’.
The seven things:
- Publishing Take It Back with a Big 5 publisher
- Writing for the New York Times
- Writing a Java debugger at university and getting a First
- Growing Atlas & Boots to 250,000 monthly readers
- Travelling to 60 countries
- Buying a property in London without help from family
- Passing my PADI Open Water Diver course
I did initially complete the top 10 with three more items (namely helping my sister get hearing aids, learning to ride a bike at the age of 28 and working for Penguin Random House), but to be honest, they were filler. I don’t think I’d lie on my deathbed and be especially proud that “Hey! I worked for Penguin Random House” and so I left the list at seven items and figured I’d have something to work towards for the remainder of my life.
What did strike me after writing the list is that none of the items involved doing something for someone else. There was no charitable donation, no campaign work, no activism. I’ve mentioned before that I’m trying to be more proactive with issues that I care about (i.e. take some form of concrete action rather than simply tweeting my feelings), but none of this amounts to anything notable.
It is said that true meaning lies in enriching life for others. I do this to a degree – as do we all with the people we love – but it doesn’t stretch beyond friends and family. For many people, taking care of loved ones warrants a place on the list, but to me it seems like the bare minimum. Of course we treat our family well. Of course we care about them. Of course we do things to enrich their lives and while that is something we should be proud of, I don’t know if what I have given is particularly remarkable. Perhaps it would be different if I had raised a great child or helped a parent through serious illness, but as it stands, I feel like being nice to the people you love is kind of par for the course. So where does that leave me and my list?
I’m not going to lie and say that it has sent me on a path of soul searching. Honestly, the closest I’ve since come to anything charitable was to consider applying to the board of the Sutton Trust, then quickly backing out when I saw that you have to make a significant financial investment too, which I can’t afford.
If I’m to be totally honest, charitable activity doesn’t matter to me as much as writing my next book and keeping Atlas & Boots going, but neither do I want to reach the end of my life and find that the 10 things that make me most proud were all about me.
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