Doing the improbable

After conducting a highly unscientific survey, I have come to the conclusion that new year’s resolutions are dying out.  Noboby seems to be making them any more, with the exception of actress Marva Hicks who said recently that she resolved last year "Not to stab anyone," and it worked so well she was renewing it.

The people I polled seemed to feel that if something is important enough to resolve, it ought to be attended to immediately rather than waiting around for Dick Clark — now sounding like Boris Karloff since his stroke — to confer legitimacy upon it.

However, I did come across an interesting piece in the January Outside magazine which raises the issue not of resolutions, but of remorse.

"Go Big," says the headline. "Because every second you’re not living life to the fullest is an opportunity missed – and the clock is ticking."

Outside’s list of 50 "no-regets, full-throttle, see-the-world…things to do before you die" range from climbing an 8,000-meter peak (note: that’s meters, not feet) to learning the constellations to swimming in a bioluminescent sea to climbing Kilimanjaro without losing your lunch.

Others include climbing El Capitan; planting a tree each year on your birthday; keeping bees; driving the great coastal highways in the U.S., Australia and South Africa; sailing across the Atlantic; racing in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii; making a perfect martini; and buying a one-way ticket to a country where you don’t speak the language, and staying until you learn it.

Obviously, this is a take-no-prisoners approach, and requires a spirit of adventure – along with the time and the drachmas – to check even 10 or 15 off that list.

But what I like is that it defies conventional notions of what is reasonable and rational. It puts a face on the idea of living large, of doing the improbable and embracing the memorable. And it challenges the comfortable, barstool wisdom that few of us on our deathbeds will wish we’d spent more time in the office.

Really? Then DO something.

When I graduated from college, I had a wife and two kids. Rather than going to graduate school, I took a job at a newspaper, secretly regretting that I couldn’t pack a bag and go to Europe. (I was reading a lot of Hemingway in those days.)

I made it to Europe later – three times, in fact – and Japan, Canada, Hong Kong, Mexico, Bermuda and the Virgin Islands, too. I’ve been to 47 states and lived in paradise – Hawaii – for 10 years, so I can’t complain.

Still, Outside’s list reminds me of roads not taken. My spirit of adventure has been buried for years, but it is not dead, and after reading Outside I made my own list.

It begins with a trip to Italy, something I’d planned to do in 2001. But I got laid off in January of that year and rather than go while I was still on severance – which would have been the smart thing to do – I vowed there would be no such frivolity until I assured myself of new sources of income.

Five years later, my income is even more unpredictable now than it was then. The only vacations I’ve taken have been visits with my family which, while rewarding, are not the free-spirited experiences my soul aches for. 

My list also includes: going on a meditation retreat; writing a book; medicating my cat single-handed (which is like trying to floss an alligator); overcoming a fear; practicing a chi kung pose called the Tree; taking up painting; and finish cleaning out the emotional rubbish from my past. Also, I am reserving the right to change my European destination to Paris, a city I’ve sworn not to visit until I have a partner.

Reviewing the list, I can also see that it is incomplete. Other things will arise, and some will disappear. In fact, I’ve already accomplished one of my goals. Just this week, I finished giving my cat 14 doses of clavamox, and our relationship does not seem to have suffered.

Ultimately, I think, the issue is about saying "yes" to life rather than "no." It’s about creating a sturdy reality out of thin air. In my current circumstances, for example, it is unrealistic in the extreme to think about a trip to Europe. But what if I focus on what I want rather than what I do not have or think I cannot do? What happens if I invest my energy in optimism and faith rather than doubt and negativity?

I don’t know, but I intend to find out.

Happy New Year.

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2 thoughts on “Doing the improbable

  1. Kirk Kittell

    Hey John,

    This is a name from the distant past (70’s in Ky & HI), Roby told me about your website and I have been reading your postings periodically and find them insightful and in many ways relevant to my current life situation


  2. John Christensen

    It’s great to hear from you, and kind of amazing. It’s been, what, 25-30 years? Fond memories aside, what I marvel at is that despite time, distance and absence of communication, we have the same concerns. If I’m not careful, I’ll start ruminating on how we’re all connected — of which I have no doubt — and singing "We Are the World." Anyway, thanks for taking the time to write, and please stay in touch.



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