The Listmaker

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I’ve been thinking about becoming a runner pretty much all my life. At my age (46), isn’t it probably time to give up?

Like naturally talented singers, I think God gave runners a special extra “something…” discipline, maybe? When they’re born, they seem to have something equivalent to the drug addiction gene, only these lucky souls are addicted to something completely healthy. They’re born addicted to the “runner’s high.” What’s not to envy?!

Well, I didn’t get that gene. What I did get is a trait I call “Resolve.” I make lists and then I complete them, obsessively. I think up items for my list and then, sooner or later, I check them off. This can be as simple as get my car detailed, something more hobby-focused like learn to can vegetables, or it can be as intense as learn to speak Portuguese (all of these are actually real items on my List). Like the runner, I am addicted to checking items off this list, and it comes with a ‘high’ all its own. Some goals take longer than others, and some that I created way back in my past are taking a bit of an eternity, but I never give up on a goal once I resolve to reach it.

Resolving is the opposite of Quitting.

Quitting, for me, isn’t something I struggle with because I don’t quit anything, I just re-assess and retry. Do Over, Do Better. Reaching (and sometimes not reaching) goals is more esoteric than that, more cognitive, more obsessive… for the small number of people, like me, who are a tad OCD about, you guessed it, lists. Leaving an item undone on my mental to-do list drives me crazy, obsessively reminding me all the days of my life that I still have something I need to be working on. Once I set a goal, it remains an unchecked box on a self-inflicted mental list that won’t give me a moment’s peace until it is checked off. There are items on my list that I’ve had since I was in high school and college. For example,

Earn an 800 credit score, Stop chewing my nails, Fill up a passport, buy a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes, Organize 20 years worth of photographs into yearbooks, and one day (dammit!) I want my own swimming pool. Oh, and Be a runner.

My goals are timeless and evergreen. My list never gets finished or thrown away, it only gets tweaked and renovated over time. I never scratch items off unless I’ve accomplished them, but sometimes I do move items to the bottom if they feel unrealistic at the time. I keep working on it all the time, year after year, in slow, manageable strides. 2018 is the year I will finally live abroad, a goal I set when I was in my 20s.

Once I set my mind to something, I do what I say I am going to do. It might take a day or it might take a decade, but I will get it done.

Things I’ve scratched OFF my list in my lifetime include:

Finish college, for God’s sake. (Indeed, it took eight years)

Get a concealed carry permit. (that took five)

Own a Jeep. Wait. Make that Own a badass Jeep! (Double check!, and it took 20 years)

Write a book (which took six years to write, two years to edit and a year to publish) And now I’ve actually written two.

Live on the beach again (that was 30 years in the making, folks.)

But let’s talk again about the running.

A Runner is not something I will ever be, not in the traditional sense. I will never, in a million years, hear myself say, “I cannot wait to get up and go run in the morning.” At my age, and ten years out from a snow skiing accident, I really cannot run at all…not even if a serial killer were chasing me. I’ve made weak attempts to save my dog from getting run over by a car, but I struggled. Still, I want to run again, like I could when I was young, because knowing I can’t actually run now makes me feel really bad about myself, like a grandma with a bad hip. I think I can (will!) be someone who can (will!) relearn this skill again, by starting small and running short distances regularly, consistently, enough to be able to run down the street one day. But then comes the next part of setting real goals. I have to stick with it and make it real, make it permanent. Otherwise, I am lying to myself. To be a real goal-getter, marrying yourself with your accomplishments makes them valid. Accomplishments can’t come unless they’re  authentic and permanent. For example, losing 20 pounds only really counts if you can keep it off, in my opinion. Otherwise, that item goes back on the list. Being honest with yourself about your achievements is a whole other item to work towards, another box you constantly work at checking off. Or at least it should be. So it remains on my list. Be a Runner.

OK. And we keep working….

Every New Year, we regenerate our new personal goals. I am a participant in this silly ritual too, by being a person, like you, who thinks January 1 is as good a time as any to make a fresh start. By December, I have already crafted ways to improve myself or my life and I’ve added them to my ever-present mental list. The yearly goals I set augment the goals I already have for my life as a whole, the goals I’ve carried around for decades, and I simply have to re-numerate them by priority. I take my list of larger life goals and I pick a few of them that are achievable in that current new year. I prioritize them and say “LIVE ON THE BEACH>>>THIS IS YOUR YEAR!” Last year, in 2017, I did this. The planets had aligned for me and I made it happen.

This year, I put my broader, decades-long goal of “Live abroad” at the very top of my 2018 list, and now it is actually happening. And while I live abroad, I anticipate that I will finally have time to organize all my photographs. Check, check. It really is that simple. (On the contrary, Stop chewing my nails is not looking good for an Olympic year and a big move across the world, so that one goes to the bottom of the list for now). Make your list, make it reasonable, make sure you’re married to your goals for the long haul, then start checking them off.

Be obsessed about it.

There are few things to be more proud of than overcoming our personal obstacles. I am thankful for my Resolve in that regard. I am glad to be a person who is hyper-focused on organizing projects in my head. I am glad, really glad, my brain works that way. Do I wish I were born athletic? Absolutely. Do I wish I were gifted with a beautiful voice? Yes, everyday. But dealt the cards I was, I can’t complain that I was rewarded with a tendency to be an organized, focused, semi-control freak. I got a double dose of it in fact. If you are like this too, acknowledge the value in your list-making skills. I know so many of you; we are everywhere! Make peace with that list of yours, the one that will never go away, and focus on how wonderful it is to have such a list at all. It means you have a future to look forward to, things to hope for, dreams to see come true.

About Dawn Quarles

Dawn Quarles is a high school political science and American history teacher who moonlights as a blogger and writer. She lives on Pensacola Beach, Florida.

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