June 26, 2011

Writing your way past “What have I been doing with my life?”

June 26, 2011 - Categories: blogging, kaizen, life, reflection, writing

One of my friends is dealing with a quarter-life crisis of the “what have I been doing with my life?” variety. Comparing himself to other people or to where he had hoped he’d be at this point, he feels like he comes up way short. I shared some advice, and here are some other thoughts that came along the way.

It’s a common feeling, right around birthdays and other yearly milestones. Where did the year go? Why does time fly so quickly? Look at all these people your age – or younger! – doing incredible things. What have you been doing with your life?

Here’s how I deal with it: I write.

That’s because no matter how good your memory is, your brain’s probably going to be bad at remembering the highlights, lowlights, goals and accomplishments of the previous year. You have to deal with a number of limitations. The recency bias means you remember the most recent items better. That leaves lots of fuzzy areas. And because the brain is optimized for associations, not linear access, you’ve got to have the right hooks to get back into some memories.

Photographs are good, but they can only take you so far. There are a lot of important moments you can’t take pictures of: you don’t have a camera handy, you don’t recognize it at the moment, it’s intangible… Writing – even just a quick sketch, a private note – might help you remember.

Write about your thoughts, your goals, your accomplishments, your experiences, your questions, your answers. This doesn’t have to be public. This doesn’t even have to be coherent, although it helps if you can read your writing afterwards. This gives you a record that you can review at the end of the year to see how far you’ve come.

You don’t even have to wait until the end of the year. Use your writing to remember why your goals mattered to you. Use your writing to celebrate the little victories as well as the big ones. Use your writing to make everything in life part of the story you’re becoming – and yes, that includes the tough parts.

Use your writing to slow down life – not all the way, just enough to make it livable. Not too much. Writing about life means standing at a little bit of a distance from it, so that you can turn it over and look at it from different angles. Might not work for everyone. But for the people it works for – maybe you! – it could turn the quicksilver in that hourglass into something you can work with.

Doesn’t matter if you haven’t been doing it before. Now’s as good a time as any to get started. Doesn’t matter if you keep stopping. Even a spotty trail of stones is better than breadcrumbs in the forest of Hansel and Gretel. Doesn’t matter if you feel inarticulate. Start somewhere.

Don’t like writing for yourself? Tell people stories through e-mail or text messages and keep a copy for your notes. After conversations, jot down notes to help you remember. Ask people to help you recall.

What have you been doing with your life? Probably more than you can remember. =) Make the most of each year, and that’ll help you make the most of your life.