Site moved to, redirecting in 2 seconds!

« Post your shadows | Main | I need your help, dear reader! »

29 March 2007

Make your list

Playdoh5_2As I prepare for the creation of a 37days book, a publisher interested in the project suggested that the book become a guidebook of sorts, a map for living, a suggestion I liked. How to make it so?

One idea is to make the challenges more concrete, something do-able. As is, many are mighty metaphoric (not that there's anything wrong with metaphor, mind you. I happen to love metaphor, but some of us need more concreteness in our daily lives).

And so, in printing out a compilation of all my 37days essays to date - in order to plough throw them and choose 37 for the book - I see that some are easier to "concretize" than others. In a conversation with my friend Ron this morning, it emerged that he and his wife had been "concretizing" the challenges for quite a while now, reading the essays, journaling their responses, and creating action around them. And here I thought only my mother was paying attention - thanks, Ron, for letting me know. I'm so glad they've been catalysts for thought and action.

Playdoh2During our conversation, Ron asked me to consider serving on a volunteer committee.

It's really, really hard for me to say no to things people ask of me, particularly things that I care about and requests from people I care about and respect, both of which were true in this case. I said no. In part because of a recent comment on a 37days essay from someone I don't know that has made me really pause and think hard (thank you, Bill) and in part because of a 37days essay posted two years ago.

"I appreciate the invitation, Ron, but I just can't commit to any more volunteer activities or committees at the moment. I hope you'll understand." He did. Not only did he understand, but he surprised me by referencing that 2005 essay. "After we read it," he said, "we sat down and created our criteria for saying yes, as you suggested. We carry our lists around with us--when someone asks us to do something, the answer to six of the 10 criteria has to be positive before we'll say 'yes.'"

I asked if he would send his list for me to post; he did. You'll find it at the close of this reprinted essay, "Decide how to decide":


"It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets

Every summer, I used to disappear from the association management scene to indulge my secret life as an artist. For most of August, you could find me at the Penland School of Crafts in the mountains of North Carolina, surrounded by people who aren’t closet artists like me but bold ones. Sometimes I studied hand bookbinding; other times, I learned to use antique printing presses or carve woodblock prints.

There, I’m surrounded by jewelers, blacksmiths, ceramicists, book artists, weavers — passionate people, all of them. They know what they need to do in life, and they do it with great energy and unique vision. I venture into that world much like a child, ecstatic to be showered by the creative sparks of those around me.

But one year I was troubled. At dinner the first night, people start describing what they do. "I’m a potter," one says. "Sculptor," announces the next. "I’m a management consultant focusing on diversity and structural inequality." Silence.

By breakfast, I had revised my statement. "Writer," I say, and everyone nods appreciatively. I recognize the moment I say it that it’s also a definition that gives me greater clarity, passion, and unique vision.

I always learn a lot about beauty and art at Penland, but I learned much more that year from faculty member Ken Bova. One day, he pulled from his wallet a piece of old, well-folded paper. On it, Bova had listed goals he had developed while considering an earlier career change:

  1. Have Fun;
  2. Make Money;
  3. Provide for the Future;
  4. Contribute to the Field;
  5. Meet New People;
  6. Travel;
  7. Have Leisure Time;
  8. Learn; and
  9. Teach What I Learn.

Playdoh4_3"What I’ve learned is that if some project or opportunity meets four or more of these criteria, it is always successful in some way. Three or less and it’s usually a bust," he explains. "For example, if some event allows me to make money, travel, and learn, but that’s all, I come home feeling ‘so what?’ I made no new friends, didn’t have fun, didn’t contribute anything, and just spent four days traveling to someplace I didn’t really get to know. I feel my energy was misplaced."

The clarity I had found at Penland made me think about how I was — or wasn’t — tying together vision, goals, and action, so once home, I created my own criteria for making decisions:

1. Gut — Do I physically feel good about doing this? Do I feel heaviness or lightness when I think about saying yes?

2. Fun — Will doing this help me consciously enjoy life, savor it, and live it fully? Will it help me approach my work, family, friends, problems, and difficulties from the most positive direction possible?

3. Learn and Teach What I Learn — Will I grow intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually? Will I pass on my experience, repay the gift my teachers have given me, and leave a legacy?

4. Relationships — Will I be aware and alert to the opportunity to make new friends? Will I value the knowledge and experience that others have? Will doing this help remind me of the value of my current and long-term relationships?

5. Commitment to Family — Can I minimize time away from home or take my family with me?

6. Contribute to the Field — Do I believe this project adds to the general knowledge of my art and chosen discipline?

7. Meaningful — Will doing this make a difference in my life or in the lives of others?

8. Make Money and Provide for the Future — Does this fill a real financial need and help me be financially responsible? Does it allow me to value my work, time, and energy, and market it accordingly? Will it enable me to save and work with the end in mind?

9. Real — Will I be saying things that need to be said and that I truly believe?

10. Kindness — Will doing this truly help someone else?

Now, I make sure a potential project meets at least four, hopefully six, of these criteria. You'll have your own criteria; write them down. If a project, job, or opportunity doesn’t meet your criteria, perhaps you should save your energy, vision, and passion for creating another kind of art. 

~*~ 37 Days: Do it Now Challenge ~*~

Playdoh3_2We're all asked to do a lot of things. And we probably say yes to things that we wish we hadn't. Here's your four part challenge this week: 1) Create your list. 2) Fold it up into a tiny square. 3) Put it in your wallet. 4) When someone calls and asks you to embroider 400 handkerchiefs with a full-color flag of Albania or make 900 brownies in the shape of bookmobiles for a librarian convention, put them on hold, pull out your list to decide if those activities meet your criteria...and enjoy having more spare time for the things that do pass the test.

Here's Ron's list:

  1. Does this align with God's will for my life (as I understand it)?
  2. Do I feel good about this?     
  3. Am I balanced right now (work & play; solitude & relationship)?
  4. Do I make connections with God and with others in this?
  5. Is it meaningful and significant (including small steps toward big things)?
  6. Will I contribute to my community, my church, or my profession?
  7. Will I learn and teach others what I learn?     
  8. Will I make money?     
  9. Am I contributing to something that is sustainable and ongoing?
  10. Is this fun?

What's yours?


[In the four days since Tess' fever began this week - four days of spiking fever, spilled and spat Motrin, and bodily functions we need not discuss - I have watched "Toy Story" no fever than 28 times, followed closely by "Babar," "101 Dalmations," "The Potty Song," "Iron Giant," and - there is a god - "Pirates of the Caribbean." In addition, we have made more than 50 small bowls and balls out of Play-doh--green, lilac, yellow, mauve, chartreuse, orange--the first of which illustrate this essay. They seemed fitting, somehow, what with the message of prioritization, putting the big rocks in our lives first, yada, yada, yada. I am stark raving mad at this point. Send reinforcements.]

[[What I was thinking last year this time: Look in the square]]


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Make your list:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Patti, this post is going up on the bulletin board above my desk, as a constant reminder that everything can stand re-evaluation from time to time. (And sorry, cannot help you along the Toy Store/Babar/101 Dalmations continuum, except to say, with a sly giggle: "this too shall pass.")

this is a fantastic idea and it relates to something i've been pondering. i read this quote at tori's blog (

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got”.
~Jackie "Moms" Mabley

and it' made me think about the choices i make with what i do with my time and if those choices are serving me well or hurting me, am i helping myself down the path or blocking the way? as someone who can be indecisive, i love the idea of having a list in place that will help me determine what's best for me. i've been practicing saying no, but sometimes i'm unsure and i think this would help. so i'll work on my list.

i think your book will be fabulous by the way. i like the idea of concrete tasks.


I think lists are helpful but I am a little "over-listed" right now. Feeling like a boat beginning to list and we are talking about someone who lives smack dab in the middle of Canada a couple of thousand miles to any ocean.

I kind of hope you don't make your book to do-able. Perhaps offer some invitations to readers without them becoming prescriptions that begin to create guilt when they are not done and now feel more impositional than helpful.

It is 37 days not 37 daze. Anyway, that's my little rant. I like how personal 37 days is and how you leave it to me to figure out what my next step is. I do believe there is a wisdom contained in purposeful ambiguity.


I can understand why the publisher wants to make the book more "self-help" and concrete but I do hope you can keep your lovely voice in there--guiding, suggesting, instead of putting forth too many specifics.

I loved this post (but then I always do).

i love your blog! and i love this idea. i'm going and making my list today. thank you for sharing all these ideas!

I have also made the list. its my my blog, LISTOMANIC.
thank you for this.

The comments to this entry are closed.