How long is one human life?
On average, the answer is: 72.6 years.
72.6 years is approximately 26,500 days.
26,500 is a pretty big number. It’s a lot of time.
So, why does it feel like there’s never quite enough?
Once upon a time, a friend of mine confessed that she desperately wanted to take 30 days off work. She’d never taken this type of break before. Not ever. She had worked tirelessly for decades. She had built great things. Served thousands. Raised millions. Raised kids, too. She was tired and long over-due for a sabbatical.
She longed for this break. She fantasized about it. Thought about it daily.
She yearned to shut down her computer, sleep deeply, wake up naturally without a blaring alarm clock, read actual books, travel, walk, wander, make memories with her children, and experience life away from a digital screen. Maybe she would use this break to write a book. Maybe not. Mostly, she just wanted to rest. Recharge. Reconnect with the parts of herself that have nothing to do with her professional identity.
She had some savings. Financially, she could afford to take a month off work. It was doable. But emotionally, she felt reluctant. Something kept stopping her.
To her, 30 days felt like “so much time.” She worried everything would “fall apart” in her absence. The business. The emails. All the logistical strands. She felt as though she couldn’t possibly take 30 days away from her office. Something would surely shatter. The whole notion seemed almost…dangerous.
We talked for awhile about life, work, death, and time. As we spoke, I was struck with a different perspective. One I hadn’t considered before. I told her:
“You know, it’s just 30 days out of 26,500 days. If you think about it that way, it’s actually not much time at all. If your heart is aching to take a break, give it to yourself. It’s not an eternity. It’s just 30 days. 30 days out of your whole life.
You can do this. The world will keep turning. Everything will be okay. And this will probably be one of the greatest gifts you give to yourself. Ever.”
What is your greatest wish?
Whatever it is, isn’t it worth 10, 20, or 30 days of your life?
A little sliver of your time on earth. A small and beautiful fraction.
Imagine what might happen if you took your deepest longing and gave it 30 days of your time. Or 30 hours. Or even just 30 minutes of your full, undivided attention.
All things considered, it’s really not much time.
A flash. The blink of an eye. So little time. But so much could happen.
And your only regret will be that you didn’t take the time…a lot sooner.
. . .
How long is one human life?
Not long enough.
How much time do you have left?
Hopefully a great deal. But nobody knows.
What happens now?
Whatever you choose.
Oh hey! To celebrate the release of my new book—The Checklist Book: Set Realistic Goals, Celebrate Tiny Wins, Reduce Stress and Overwhelm, and Feel Calmer Every Day—I have a cool assignment for you.
This assignment is really simple. All you need to do is make a checklist. That’s it. Instructions below.
*Fun news: the deadline to enter has been extended.*
If you complete this assignment by January 30, 2020, you’ll be eligible to win some wonderful prizes—including a trip to Hawaii. For real.
Make a checklist. Any kind of checklist. Type it. Print it. Or write it by hand.
A few ideas. You could make…
– A simple checklist with things you want to do (and experience) today.
– A seasonal checklist with things you want to do (and experience) this spring, summer, autumn, or winter.
– A get-it-done checklist with a list of things you need to do to complete an important project.
– A loose-end checklist with lots of miscellaneous bits you want to finish up and clear out of your brain.
– A self-care checklist with various ways you can take care of your mind/body/spirit this week.
– A birthday checklist with all the beautiful experiences you definitely want to have on your b-day.
– A before-I-die checklist with important things you want to do (or say) before you transition into the next world.
– A final-24 checklist with all the things you’d want to experience if this was your last day on earth–your final 24 hours of life.
– A house-upgrade checklist with exciting steps to breathe fresh energy into your home.
– A visionary checklist. For instance: a checklist of steps to end bullying. A checklist for running for President. A checklist for healing the oceans. A checklist for bringing more love into your community, country, and/or the world.
– A quirky, silly, creative checklist. For instance: a checklist for transforming into a mermaid. A checklist for building a time machine. A checklist for your first stand-up comedy open mic show.
– Or any kind of checklist you want to make.
1. Make your checklist. It can be simple and elegant. Creative and whimsical. Short or long. Typed or handwritten. Whatever style you want.
2. Share your checklist somewhere in the world. Online, offline, or both.
For instance, you could post a photo of your checklist on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest. You could post your checklist on your blog and encourage your readers to make their own checklists, too. You could share your checklist in your email newsletter. Pin your checklist to a bulletin board inside your local coffee shop. Paint your checklist as a mural on the side of your house. Email your checklist to your five closest friends. Basically: post your checklist somewhere in the world where other people can see it. Anywhere you want.
3. Wherever you share your checklist, please include this phrase:
This list was inspired by THE CHECKLIST BOOK by Alexandra Franzen. Get the book at your local bookstore, local public library, or order it online: http://bit.ly/the-checklist-book
You can use that exact phrase or something similar. Thank you!
4. Important final step. To be eligible to win a prize, please fill out this quick form to officially submit you contest entry.
If you complete this assignment by Midnight on January 30, 2020, you’ll be eligible to win some cool prizes.
* 10 winners receive signed copies of The Checklist Book.
* 1 winner receives a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii (value: $3500). Three days and three nights. Accommodation and meals included, plus a $500 credit that you can apply towards your airfare. Spend a few days in paradise making beautiful checklists, working on creative projects, swimming, sunbathing, hiking, relaxing in a hammock, feeling invigorated and inspired.
Winners will be announced in this newsletter in February 2020. Winners will also be notified personally via email.
To sum this up:
* Make a checklist.
* Share your checklist somewhere. Online, offline, or both.
* Include some links and stuff to help support The Checklist Book: Set Realistic Goals, Celebrate Tiny Wins, Reduce Stress and Overwhelm, and Feel Calmer Every Day. (Thank you!)
* Fill out this form to officially enter to win.
* Enjoy the experience.
Have fun with this assignment.
I can’t wait to see your beautiful checklist!
PS. Share this contest info with anyone you want! Here’s a link you can share: http://bit.ly/checklist-contest
PPS. You’re awesome. Thanks for doing weird challenges and completing tiny projects and making art with me.
I attended a training program in Arizona—getting certified to teach fast-paced, energizing yoga/dance/fitness fusion classes.
Why? Purely just for fun. I wanted to take a break from my usual routine (writing deadlines, lengthy documents, publishing commitments, computer, emails x infinity) and try something completely different. Shake things up. Rocket-blast out of my comfort zone.
It was five days of sweat, creativity, kind people, and great vibes. I loved it.
And…I noticed something interesting.
The company that runs the program is an international, multi-million dollar brand with over 5,000 certified instructors to date—and now me, that makes it 5,001—and a loyal fanbase. A prosperous, thriving company.
On day one of the program, they handed us a big workbook with all the class materials.
The workbook had several errors. A few typos here and there. A missing word. One photo caption wasn’t correct. One sequence was out of date, as the trainer explained (“We don’t teach it that way anymore. I’ll show you the updated way…”).
The workbook wasn’t “perfect.”
It didn’t matter. Not even a tiny bit. The training program was fantastic. The curriculum was excellent. Lifelong friendships were formed. People literally cried when it was over and didn’t want to say goodbye.
Nobody cared about the typos.
This is the thing about perfectionism. It’s a pesky little monster. And it’s a liar. Perfectionism tries to convince you that your work isn’t “good enough” to be shared publicly—unless it is “perfect.” And yet, 1. Perfection is an aspirational destination that doesn’t actually exist, and cannot be achieved unless you are, I dunno, God. 2. Nobody cares about the little blunders as much as you do.
People feel the intention behind your work. They feel the big message. They feel the heart and spirit. They feel the vulnerability and courage. That’s what they remember. Not the fact that you spelled “the” as “teh” on page 42.
Best-selling books are released, all the time, containing typos. My friend Lindsey wrote an award-winning cookbook that’s missing the final steps for one of the recipes. Whoops.
Broadway shows roll nightly, even when actors occasionally flub their lines.
Barack Obama’s re-election team once released an important media campaign that misspelled the word “Congrssional.” Oops. He got re-elected anyway.
Oh, and Mayor Cory Booker (now a US Senator) took out a full-page ad, urging his constituents to “re-elect President Barak Obama.” First name, misspelled. Doh.
Even world leaders bungle things up. The globe keeps turning. The sun continues to rise and set. Life goes on. Love still blooms. Babies get born. Big goals still get achieved.
I once watched a world-famous researcher go completely blank onstage and forget the next part of her speech. There was an awkward moment of silence as she stared out into the crowd, mental wheels churning, mouth half-open. Then she chuckled at herself and strode across the stage—back to the podium—to grab her notes.
“Uh, give me a sec,” she told the audience, laughing at herself, shuffling through her papers. The crowd laughed along with her—kindly, not mockingly. I would bet $1000 that everyone in the room loved her even more than before, and felt even more connected to her, because of that “mistake” and how she handled it. Because of her imperfections.
Whatever you’ve been working on?
* That very-important email you’ve been hesitant to send out.
* The inspirational speech that you worry “isn’t inspirational enough.”
* The book. The song. The screenplay. The letter asking people to donate to your cause.
It’s probably good enough. It’s probably great. And, let’s be honest, if you spend another 10 hours pecking at it, fussing over it, double-checking, and mentally gnawing at it, will it become significantly “better” due to your efforts? Probably not. It’s probably as good as it’s gonna get. So, get it out there. Imperfections included. It doesn’t matter.
Don’t hold back, waiting for perfection. It will never arrive.
You are lovable, valuable, and powerful with all of your “typos” included—and so is your wrk. Oops, I mean work. Whatever. You get it.
“So, this is where I can store my luggage for a couple hours? Until the bus arrives?”
The man nodded. Yup.
It was early morning on the Tahitian island of Moorea. Just a smidge after dawn. Already blazing hot. Sweat slithered down my top. I was woozy from 24 hours of nonstop travel—cramped airplane seats, ferries, vans. Like a time traveler. Body, here. Mind, elsewhere, lagging behind.
I tugged the zippers on my suitcase, backpack, and computer case, verifying that everything was secure. This is what I do when I’m anxious. I tug. And then tug again. I double-check things—straps tied, windows locked, candles blown out. Tiny compulsive tics, barely noticeable to others, confirming that I’m safe.
But in this moment, I could have tugged a thousand times and…I still wouldn’t have felt safe. Because nothing about my life felt secure. Everything felt chaotic.
Back home (did I even have a “home” anymore?) my partner was moving into his own apartment. Tenants moving into our house, the one we’d shared. Everything I owned was in boxes labeled “keep,” “donate,” and “sell.” He and I were still “together,” because we couldn’t bring ourselves to officially say, it’s over. Together, but not really. Sort of. Kind of. Who knows. TBD. The future of our relationship was unknown.
Everything had become so complicated. Problems with no solution. He wanted things that I couldn’t stomach, couldn’t agree to do, as much as I tried. And vice versa.
Hundreds of conversations with no resolution, spiraling back to the beginning, each one more discouraging and exhausting than the last. Could we find a way to stay together—without one of us withering and dying a little bit, every day? Could there be a solution that we just weren’t seeing clearly? How did this happen to me? To us? How is this my life?
Waves of anxiety consumed me. What was he doing in his new bachelor pad? Who was he seeing tonight—and was she prettier, more exciting, and more interesting than me? What happens after I get home, after this trip? What then?
I didn’t know. Anything.
And so, obviously, I really needed to confirm that my luggage would be securely stowed. The one fraction of my life that I could control.
“May I have a luggage tag, please?” I asked the man at the counter. “Like, with a number? Or my name? You know, so when I get back, I can get my stuff?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said kindly. “I’ll recognize you. I’ll be right here.”
This didn’t satisfy me.
“But my laptop…” I trailed off, by way of explanation. He continued to smile, unbothered, unworried.
I exhaled wearily. Pressed further.
“I would really like a luggage tag. Please.”
He looked me right in the eyes. The smallest smirk on his face. The tiniest chuckle. His expression said, wordlessly, “Okay, crazy lady. Sure. Fine. I’ll get you…your precious luggage tag.”
He rummaged inside a drawer that probably hadn’t been opened in decades. Found a tattered, stained scrap of paper. Found a pen. Wrote an X on it. No number. No name. Just X. Handed it to me.
I glanced down at this sorry excuse for a tag. A tag with no mate. So basically, just a random slip of paper. Completely meaningless.
Our eyes met. He grinned impishly, as if to say, “Are you happy now?” We both started laughing. Big, rolling, belly laughs. The first time I’d really laughed in who-even-knows-how-long.
“Thank you,” I said, wiping tears from my eyes. “So much.”
I keep that tag in my wallet, to this day. A symbol, reminding me to unclench my ass-cheeks, laugh more, and stop clinging to the illusion of control.
Reminding me to have a little faith.
Faith in myself. Faith in my fellow humans. Faith and trust.
Trust that the suitcase will be fine. And if it’s not? You won’t die.
Trust that the bus will arrive eventually. And if it doesn’t? You’ll walk.
Trust that the money will come in. If not? Worst case scenario, you’ll come up with a Plan B, C, D…and eventually a Plan Z. You’ll figure something else out. You’ll land on your feet. There’s always another way.
Trust that your heart will heal, with patience and time and action, too. Trust that you will love again, miraculously, even more than before. Trust that the best years of your life are not behind you. The best is still yet to come. Trust that you are strong enough. Trust that you will survive.
Most of all, trust the luggage guy.
My friend texted me a video.
Twenty-two seconds in a sunlit room. Dappled light through the window and white curtains. Her. Playing the piano. Hesitantly. Tentatively.
She said: “It’s been 26 years since my fingers even touched a piano.”
She played about ten keys. I stared into my phone, watching, and cried.
To me, those ten halting notes sounded just as beautiful as a professional pianist playing “Nocturnes, Op. 48: No. 1 in C Minor” by Chopin. Because those ten notes felt like the sound of optimism. The sound of renewal. The sound of trying again.
It’s never too late to try again.
Many times in my life, I have fallen into a slump. Tired and lethargic. Mentally clouded. Disconnected from my physical body, from the pulse of creativity, from God, from the wonder and awe that’s available all around, at every moment. Disconnected from hope.
And yet, to reconnect, all it takes is a quiet decision–the decision to begin again.
Play a few notes. Make a new checklist. Write a few words. Lace up those sneakers. Unroll that yoga mat for the first time in forever. Smile at someone from across the room and maybe even say hello. Rise again. Open again. Try again.
Today is not over yet.
This life is not over yet.
And it’s never too late.
Even after 26 years.