When lists go bad

The List



Lists are great. Full of promise, opportunities, direction. They can help you sort out your day, plan a holiday, a wedding, a novel, even. They’re a chance to clear your head, identify your priorities, set goals.


The trouble comes when you start to use that list to set expectations on yourself. And, if the list is not realistic, then neither are the expectations. I fear I am stating the bleeding obvious. But, apparently it is a bleeding obvious that needs stating to myself as I inch towards my arbitrary 39 for 39 list deadline.


It all started so well – it was a list full of exciting, unusual, and yet not unachievable, ideas: it’s true that I have always fancied giving trapeze a whirl and I absolutely do intend to give blood. I have also watched some Oscar movies I've been meaning to see for ages, learned a few new words, read some new poems and even managed to take a picture every day for about three months.


However, I am nowhere near completing this list. I’m three months off the deadline and I can tell you, it ain’t happening. I actually realised this sometime before Christmas and told myself it was alright, the house extension just got in the way (which also happens to be the reason for the delay in draft two of the novel). It turns out deciding where to put plugs/water pipes/windows is quite time consuming and exhausting. In the words of Mr Incredible as he's chasing bad guys on the way to his wedding: 'I've still got time.'


But, here’s the thing – I never had a chance of completing the list, even without the distraction of new towels. Even just reading 39 books in a year is proving tricky. I’ve got through about 15 so far and am starting to feel like I did in my last year of university where I was panic reading, rather than enjoying.


This feeling of panic has continued to grow since Christmas. I started to worry what people will think of me. Will they judge me? Will my lovely cousins sigh and think ‘she said she was going to keep in touch but…’ Will others roll their eyes (behind my back, of course, because you’re all too polite to do it to my face) and declare this is ‘Lisa all over. All hot air and no action.’


I know people who swear by five-year plans. I had one once. It sat on my wardrobe door for three years being ignored. I’ve no doubt they can help keep people focused on their goals and aspirations. I don’t think I’m one of those people. Instead, they become sticks with which to beat myself. And, who needs that in their life? I am still bothered by the notion of time passing without putting it to the best use, but I fear I’ve become so focused on trying to achieve stuff that I forgot to just enjoy life and the experiences it throws up. After all, a house extension, getting shortlisted for a flash fiction prize and making plans to set up my own freelance business were not on the list and they’re all pretty cool things to have happened.


The control freak in me feels like I'm failing, but I suspect that is rather the problem. So, this is me now managing my own unwieldy expectations, or, for the more cynical among you, getting my excuses in early. It’s just a list, a set of nice-to-dos that may or may not happen over the next few years. In the meantime, I intend to make like Oasis and try to do a better job of just rolling with it.