Part 1: The Rationale
On October 28th, I turn 29 years old and begin my final year on this side of 30. Some might tell us it’s the right side and that it’ll all be downhill from there. Others, the cool, optimistic ones, will tell us things only get better from there on out. Either way, it’s a big one. So big in fact, that I’ve decided that it’s high time for a reappraisal; an analysis exactly of who I am, what I’ve done with my life and how exactly, I believe, the final year of my 20’s should be spent. It’s a kind of pre-emptive therapy, a preventative measure against the possibility of waking up one morning with the realisation (or, rather, the misguided belief) that I have been wasting my life [i]. Over the next year I want to share the journey and my approach to leaving the 20’s behind with a bang and starting the 30’s with an even bigger one. After all, they also say life begins at 30. Right?
Before I begin, I think that it’s important to state, categorically, that #project20nine is not indicative of any sense of unhappiness. I am happy, I have a beautiful family and have few genuine worries in life. For this I am absolutely grateful. This project is about embracing opportunity, pushing myself in as many different ways as I desire, learning, growing and, most essentially, continuing to make the most of life in the fullest way I can. It’s also about asking myself exactly who I want to be, what I want to do, how I’m going to do it, where I want to be and, perhaps most importantly, why I want these things. These aren’t questions that I necessarily have the answers to right now, but one year from now I’ll either have new answers or reaffirmed old ones.
In 2017 there is a firmly established mindset, certainly among millennials, that places an emphasis on self-dependency, finding one’s passion and making a living from it, travel, real-world experience, not settling for second best and entrepreneurialism. Is it idealism? Is it a pragmatic belief that we can have all these things? Or is it the paradox of social media?
We live in an age with more opportunity to do what we find fulfilling than ever before and with a 24/7 window that overlooks everyone else doing just that it’s perhaps not entirely unreasonable to realise that a certain amount of envy, no matter how artificial those things our envy is based on are, is inevitable. What’s more, to assume oneself to be immune to such influence is naïve. I don’t feel affected but I have no doubts at all that the things I see, read, engage with and have even a fleeting interest in have a degree of impact on my desires and decisions. That said, as a starting block, #project20nine is as honest and as sincere to my own needs as I can make it. The variety of items are not there superficially: I am not concerned if one, some or all of them are impressive. What matters to me and should matter, I believe, to anyone looking to do something similar for any year of their life, is that the list reflects me, and not how I wish to be perceived.
Over the last several years I’ve routinely sought to achieve the things that I felt bettered me, stimulated me and/or offered an opportunity to open more doors and, generally speaking, and to my own standards, I have. Of course, those choices have never been infinite and any one of the them could quite easily have been replaced by another, but I own these choices and some of the highlights from the last decade include:
- Age 21– I graduated for the first time with a scholarship-funded First Class honours BA degree with Distinction in Media Production.
- Age 22 – I took my first solo overseas trip to a non-English-speaking country (Hallo, Deutschland!).
- Age 23 – I became a teacher.
- Age 24 – I graduated for the second time, this time in teaching.
- Age 25 – I went back to university on another full scholarship, got a motorcycle license and fell in love with riding one.
- Age 26 – I graduated for the third time (MA in Film and Television) and ran my first half marathon.
- Age 27 – I moved to London from a small town in the UK and then travelled 3,500km around Japan.
- Age 28 – I qualified as a PT, started learning Lithuanian, got a promotion, moved in with my partner, Vita, travelled around India and Sri Lanka, became a lecturer at Imperial College London, did my first muscle up and launched TwoFit.
During this time I also became an uncle 5-times over, saw one sister get married, saw the other come out and realise that I’ve got a lot of work to do to catch up my old man who just asked my mother to marry him again. Next year he’d like me to give her away and then stand beside him as his best man. What a romantic.
The above doesn’t make me any more or any less special than anyone else; any better nor any worse. Would I have done anything differently? Absolutely, but do I regret the decisions I made? Absolutely not, because there’s nothing to regret and it wouldn’t get me anywhere even if I did. I can’t change the past but I can affect the future by continuing to make choices and continuing to learn from them too. One of the ways that I plan on doing this is with this blog. It’s my evidence portfolio, my record of achievement and the chief means with which I’ll be able to look back on this year and see exactly where it’s gone. I keep plenty of notebooks but I’ve never kept any sort of diary. #project20nine is the most extensive diary I’ll have ever kept.
This is a year about living consciously. Achieving tangible, measurable things is fun and satisfying and practical but developing a mindset, that’s less immediately observable. I can’t take a photo of it, win a medal for it or take a video of its first steps. But I can develop it nonetheless. Like most of us I can sometimes be a big negligent of truly conscious mindfulness and so, alongside my intention to achieve the tangible, I also want to place the following questions at the forefront of this year:
- How can my approach to the next 364 days be more considered?
- What is the short and long-term value, and consequence(s), of my actions and decisions? Who will benefit from such choices?
- Am I living fully and with gratitude? Do I show appreciation to others; feel appreciation for the small things often enough; do things for others just because and without anticipation and expectation of reciprocation?
- Do I live each day confidently, with self-belief strong enough to really push myself
- Would my actions and/or decisions make my parents proud? Could I comfortably discuss them with them?
- Would my actions inspire my 19-year-old self?
- Would my actions make my 39-year-old self proud?
“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
Tim Ferriss, The Four Hour Work Week
#project20nine begins with looking backwards but continues with looking forwards. Over the next 364 days I have a number of personal endeavours that I intend to embark on, to accomplish and to enjoy and the most straightforward way setting up the year ahead is to itemise them.
However, it’s a year that isn’t just about ticking stuff off a list. That’s a bit superficial and a somewhat misguided use of time. There’s no real value in that, no emotional investment or sense of appreciation. The title of the project is a celebration of each year of my life to date and so with respect to that number I felt it fitting to fill the year with twenty-nine exciting things. #project20nine is about doing things that excite me because the question one should ask oneself on a regular basis is not ‘what are my goals’ but rather, ‘what excites me and what can I do about it?’.
In order to get there, #project20nine has a couple of criteria that automatically rules certain entries out. First, travel is not eligible. I travel a lot and fully intend to keep doing it. There are plenty of dream trips (one of them, a trip to Iceland to see the Aurora Borealis, starts on my birthday) but travelling is not a specific aim for the year. Second, anything to do with commercialism or item acquisition is also out. Material goods come and go and I believe that life aspirations should be free of anything so temporary. An expensive pair of shoes are nice, but they’ll wear out much quicker than memories.
That aside, one of the big considerations regarding the list is plausibility and so entries need to be considered in such a way that doesn’t render the list unrealistic and/or highly unlikely. All of the best intentions, positive energy and belief that the ‘if you‘re going to dream, dream big/ if you‘re going to fail, fail big‘ etc. mentality will make dreams come true isn’t a logical approach. It’s inspiring and optimistic, but the list entries should be evaluated in such a way that whilst yes, they might be lofty ambitions given the constraints (whether financial, time or otherwise), setting oneself up for failure is, frankly, a waste of time and opportunity. What’s more is that the success of each list item should be quantifiable. After the fact, to what degree was it achieved and how can that achievement be measured?
Simply put, any item on the list is eligible should it meet the following criteria:
- Does it excite me?
- Are they within the realm of possibility? [putting ‘get a PhD’ on the list has a very high degree of implausibility within a year, just as ‘become an A-list movie star’ has]
- Does the entry have a measurable result?
- Will I look back on the memory of the entry and be glad of the time, energy and/or financial resources that I spent on it?
- Does the entry have a low-to-zero chance of negatively impacting on anyone else’s life?
If the answer to all criteria is a resounding ‘Yes’, it’s game on. If not, how can the entry be amended to still fit the bill and if it can’t then great, there’s a new space for a new entry.
Either way, game on.
[i] For the record, we’ve all been living our lives the best that we can. Our motivations, our ambitions and our contentment of those years leading to the Now are intimately ours and no one else will ever have the right and liberty of judging them. If we get to the point where we think we could have done better that’s precisely the point at which we step back, reflect and step up our games. The most important person to strive to be is yourself in 5 or 10 years. That’s the hero to look up to and hope to be because the 5/10 year Future Self is the Self with the gift of time and all that that time has to offer us.