Download links upgraded December 29, 2018
by EMILY ORTON
How Can You Glance at Your Life?
One day, I noticed an unusual chart my sister-in-law had taped to her refrigerator. It was a grid of squares. Each square was coded with different colored stripes.
She told me, “Each square represents a year of my life. These squares are the years before I had children. These squares are the years my children will be home full time. These squares show school days. These squares show the kids moving out.”
Brilliant! If you were enjoying parenting one day, you could see at a glance how short and precious your time together was. If not…well, you knew when it would end. There were decades before and several decades after in which to make all kinds of other choices.
I made my own grid not knowing precisely what life would bring, but knowing that it would surely come to an end.
Since then I’ve used this life-grid in various formats. My current template uses one-hundred squares. My grandmother will turn one-hundred in 2019. She’ll probably continue learning and loving well past her century milestone. But it’s a nice round number that I aspire to.
Last week, I gave this 10 x10 of blank squares to my kids. I asked them to write their birth year in the first square and then fill in every year after that up to their 100th birthdays. It opened a useful dialogue even though they’re barely entering their second decades. They aren’t looking to the last square, but the can see that there are only a handful of squares before they enter adulthood and that has them seriously thinking.
Get inside the box
Think outside the box.
Getting inside these little boxes can help you think outside of the box. This mortality mindset definitely helped us achieve some of our most audacious goals in the past few years —writing a book, climbing El Capitan, and road tripping Europe. It can bring focus and action to those dreams or ideas that are nagging at you. It can bring calm as you realize this is your life and all of it is real. This is not a dress rehearsal.
I recently listened to Marie Forelo interview Chris Guillebeau about his new book, The Happiness of Pursuit, which is filled with case studies of people who find more meaningful lives through setting big goals. Around minute 25, they discuss what Marie calls, “the reality of mortality.” Chris says all of these achievers (one woman is knitting 10,000 hats, one guy visits every country on the planet in 10 years) share in common an “emotional awareness of mortality.” Something in their life or the life of a loved one brought them face to face with the reality that, “not only everyone else in the world is going to die one day, but that I, too, will die.” That awareness emboldens them to break through their fears into a more purpose-driven life.
Potential Benefits of Seeing Your Life at a Glance
• Anchors me in my own mortality
• Makes what others think of me less compelling
• Brings my values and goals into focus
• Provides a sense of urgency
• Highlights room for patience
• Manages expectations
• Emotional steadiness amid circumstantial ups and downs
• Awareness of health habits that could affect the number of squares I get
• The courage to have difficult conversations
• The humility to heal relationships
• A self-check against the cancer of unfruitful busyness
• Comfort that there is most likely lots of personal evolution ahead
• Peace that even if my squares are cut short I’ve filled them deliberately
I agree. I experience the booster shot of mortality every time I check in with my little squares. These have been helpful for our family, so we made some to share with you in case you’re interested.
Happy New Year!!
If you have Excel, enter your birth year in the first square and it will fill itself out. You can color code it to track whatever you’re curious about.
Download Your Life at a Glance - PDF version
This tool will be most effective if you fill in your years by hand. It’s a good mental exercise. That’s how I did my own this year.
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