Should I write you a list? Is that what writers are meant to do these days? Elaborate concoctions with rules and guidelines, the do’s and don’t’s. Should I pick a nice round number of ways to make it through your 20s? Should I just use bullet points mapped out clearly as if I’ve made it to the end of the journey and there’s only one single route? Should I lend my advice even though I wouldn’t have taken it 5 years ago? Should I set aside my mistakes and wrong turns and emotional break downs because they aren’t tidy or pretty and “tell it like it is” (or how I wish it had been)?
I like a good list. Things I can cross off so progress becomes tangible. I like using nice paper and pens to create my goals and put ink to my hopes. It’s a moment to sit and breathe and consider what you expect from yourself over the next few hours or days or weeks. It allows you to decide what is important and worth your time, what deserves your attention.
College was a time of lists. Homework and projects and deadlines that had to be organized. I would sit down at my desk
some every okay, some Sunday nights and use my best pens and classy notepads to map out my week. I would carve out my days carefully, making sure everything was accounted for. My paper would be finished on this night, my reading on this night, my presentation would have to wait our group met on that night. It was lovely and simple and pinned to my wall like a museum-ready masterpiece.
But life got in the way and things changed and schedules were altered and procrastination was a constant companion. By my second semester in college, I would discover that while I’m good at making lists, I’m horrid at actually following them. My intentions were good but did not always account for the messiness of reality. Those to do lists were the college experience you imagine you’ll have: simple, easy, step-by-step plans. Black and white. No room for exceptions.
Today when I remember my time in college, I never tell people about the lists. I don’t tell them about how I always got my homework done on the right days or how I studied for hours before every test. I don’t tell them I checked off every box on those lists every night before bed. Mostly because that would be a flock of lies, but also because when you sit across from your friend in a coffee shop and chat about the years you spent in a dorm on campus and the classes you took and people you met and the adventures you went on because in those days you were fearless, it’s not about those lists.
The lists can’t capture or condense your life without losing the beauty of experience and the pauses in between.
There’s no room between the bullet points for midnight food runs or spontaneous road trips or dance parties or friendships that changed you in ways you still can’t fathom. Those are the stories that you hold onto, tucked into the locket of your memory to bring out on the days that try to rob you of your spark.
The truth is I can’t give you a list that will get you through life unscathed. I can’t give you 3 secrets to success or a list of 20 things you should stop doing in your twenties. I can’t tell you 5 ways to be happier or 7 reasons to find a career before you’re 30. I don’t know 100 questions to ask your partner to make sure they’re the One, and I’m going to take a leap and say you don’t either.
And I’m tired: of lists, of bloggers and writers and journalists telling me what I should and shouldn’t do like life is black and white and they know the details of my story and people can be generalized into bullet points. I miss sitting with people on the couch or on the floor in a pile of blankets, talking and not talking, listening and understanding.
I long for the days when silence was comfortable and when we didn’t have know everything in order to be living a brave and beautiful life.
So I’m trading lists for stories. Bullet points for experiences. Numbers for your favorite memories. I’m crumpling up the lists I haven’t made or read yet because I know they won’t bring happiness or contentment. Let’s practice imperfection and spontaneity and showing grace to ourselves together. I’d like to walk through life with you rather than ahead of you, looking back and listing your mistakes like I know better even as I’m tripping over my own feet. I’d like to ask questions with you and drink a cup of coffee as we pause and consider. I’d like to bring wonder back into my life and to marvel at the unknown. Then I’d like to take your hand and explore it with you, living in the moments outside the lists.