Before I started The Cheezburger Network, I’ve kept a public Life Goals list. I published it on my personal site on a whim more than a decade ago, and to my surprise, people have been continuously drawn to it.
The kind of things on my list are not groundbreaking. For example: Graduating from college, paying off my mortgage, writing a book, etc.
When I ask people why they are so surprised to see my Life Goals list, there are three repeating themes:
- I was able to create a list,
- I was brave enough to publish it, and
- I actually crossed — and continue to cross — items off the list with dates added.
Here’s how I did it.
Publishing the List
This is the easiest part. In 2005, I had just moved to Seattle. I was a random guy living in a new city. I didn’t know many people and no one visited my website but my friends, so I posted it. I had nothing to lose. Who would see this thing? Reporters? Potential employees? Cat-lovers? No way!
It reminds me that of all the things I’ve said, the simple, considered, honest moments have the longest positive impact in my and other people’s lives.
If you don’t want to post it publicly, it just needs to be somewhere visible. It’s a low bar, I promise.
Crossing Items Off the List
This is supposed to be the hardest part. It’s not. It’s not easy, but it’s also not that hard. You are not graded on the list of items you cross off. There is no judge or jury to tell you that you have failed. There is no cheering crowd to celebrate you drawing a line through the list.
Each item on the list requires months or years of preparation, dedication to a cause, focus. But if you are certain in your cause, there is no obstacle big enough to stop you from trying. Once I realized I wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle, I picked a class and spent a miserable weekend alternating between being sweaty and being drenched in the rain. Uncomfortable? Yes. Hard? No. Dealing with my mother after I told her I bought a motorcycle? Very hard. Oy vay.
The only person who gets to decide whether you are allowed to cross anything off your list is — you. For example, in 2011, The Cheezburger Network changed its majority ownership from a group of Seattle investors to a group of venture capitalists led by Brad Feld of the Foundry Group. While I kept my role as founder and CEO, the acquisition of more than 80% of the company by a new controlling ownership group fit the practical and legal definition of “Sell a company for a profit.” I mulled over checking this items off my list for many reasons, but ultimately, I decided to do so.
I’ll also share a scandalous little secret. When I wrote my Life Goals list, I added 3 items that I had already accomplished. I made a short To-Do list and the first thing I did was check them off. And by doing so, I already had momentum on my side.
It’s your fucking list. You own it. You run it. You control it. Not the other way around. And that little truth leads to the hardest part of a Life Goals list is creating one in the first place.
How to Write a Life Goals List.
It’s not easy when you’re faced with a blank piece of paper to distill down your life’s goals. It was difficult for me to see into my future to find the evergreen shoots I will cultivate for the rest of my life. Most people find this part very difficult too.
Writing a list of Life Goals is not a trial. A poorly written list is not evidence of an intent to live life cheaply. A list dedicated to vacations and self-indulgement is not an intent to live life wrongly. A list dedicated to the service of others is not an intent to live life superior to others.
Before you can believe that you can live the life that you have dreamt of living, you must stop judging your dreams regardless of now trashy, how pedestrian, how difficult, or how mundane those dreams are.
Know that it’s okay to change your life. You may find that the things you valued 10 years ago no longer mean as much to you. You may find that life has opened up opportunities to dream bigger. A few years prior to me dreaming up my Life Goals list, I was deeply depressed and struggling with thoughts of suicide. In that moment, I would have gladly traded all the things on my list I have now for one thing: to walk out my front door. My life has changed a lot since then. So has my list.
Start by writing down the top 3 accomplishments you are the most proud of, and immediately cross them off. Before you go to bed, write down the next 3 items you’d like to accomplish in your life. Then, simply, go to sleep.
People change, and people’s lives change. Your list can too — as long as you have one in the first place.