40 — Mind the loops

Yearly review of my life

271 photos from the last year (view all)

This is my 11th year of yearly birthday reflections. Here are the previous 10:

Life by weeks

Every week of my life is represented as a colored box on busterbenson.com. The last green box is this week. The last white box is where (very roughly) my life is predicted to end. And there are 100 rows since my life goal is to ride a bike on my 100th birthday.

From busterbenson.com

Life moves fast, but it also moves slow. Every year (if I’m lucky) I get a new row. In the last few months, I’ve heard from a half dozen friends who are going through such difficult times (cancer, mental illness, unpredictable health incidents, etc) and right now especially, each box of this chart feels all the more tangible.

Today I turn 40. My father died when he was 41. This year, Niko is 6 and a new baby will be added to our family in a couple months.

Life is still just getting started. And yet, it is also at a point where the end doesn’t feel so far away.


Here’s a neat simulation of when my life might end, according to data from the CDC. A 2% chance of dying in the next 10 years, 9% chance in the next 20 years, and somewhere a bit over a 90% chance that I won’t make it to 100.

But how will I die? At this point, heart disease and external causes (like car accidents) are my most threatening factors. Cancer is creeping up though, and is probably a bit higher than represented here due to my family’s history with it.

Causes of death (try it)

Talking about death and appreciating life go hand in hand. Yeah, it’s all a bit morbid, but it’s all part of the story here, might as well acknowledge it.

Update to last year’s motto: make wiggle room

Last year, my birthday motto was to make wiggle room… which was my code word for finding the areas of my day, week, etc that could be turned into quality time. My commute was the biggest part of my day that had wiggle room potential, and I did a lot of writing on BART. In fact, near the end of that process, I began to realize that many of the things I was writing about were converging around an obsession with systems thinking, and I started planning a choose-your-own-adventure style book that would help teach systems thinking to Niko (and myself). Systems thinking is all about thinking about the loops: feedback loops, virtuous cycles, vicious cycles, karma, stock and flows, etc. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, this talk by Nicky Case does a fantastic job of explaining some of the most interesting bits of it.

Here’s a 3-slide summary of his talk:

The whole talk is great.

In short:

The world is not linear, it’s loopy!

In addition to my commute, I found some wiggle room in the time in the evenings when Kellianne usually watch television and relax from the day. I still enjoy spending time with Kellianne, and relaxing, but now I have started drawing and working on this book as well (which is just being posted to Instagram a page at a time with the #lifeofclodia tag).

This year’s motto: mind the loops

I will continue my obsession with systems and loops this year, as several different parts of my life all contribute to the next row in my life by weeks chart.

Years: Every year is one loop around the sun. I share a birthday with Ted Rheingold and his birthday post today expressed this thought in a deeply moving way.

Family: When this new baby is my age, I’ll be 80! I wonder what he’ll do on his 40th birthday. I’m trying to remember what my father did on his 40th birthday, but can’t and need to ask my sister and mom about it. These loops need to be traced!

People: I just want to appreciate the brief time we have with friends and family… whether you are healthy or sick, happy or sad, doing really well or struggling mightily, I am grateful for you and would love to spend some quality time with you this year. We are all looping through life, together.

Work: At work, the mission is to make the working lives of people simpler, more pleasant, and more productive. And a prerequisite to doing that is also caring about our own work lives in that same way. The attitude towards work makes the product, and the product makes the attitude towards work.

Interests: Choose your own adventure stories are loopy, not linear. My book won’t have any endings, every branch will return back into the book in some way. The reward here is really just sharing each page with Niko and Kellianne, getting feedback, and making new pages.

Codex: My core beliefs inform my actions, and my actions inform my core beliefs. Every year I revisit my list of beliefs and make sure they’re up-t0-date and capture all the things that I’ve recently been thinking about. Next weekend I’ll be spending a couple days with a few close friends and I want to discuss these beliefs in more detail… I’ll have a bigger update about that soon.


10 years ago, I had a polar bear, live interpretive painting, Reggie Watts and Daniel Spils playing weird music, embarrassing interviews on stage, a raffle for a hot air balloon ride, and lots of other absurdity:

Credit: Josh Santangelo

This year, I had a really nice long walk with Kellianne, a delicious brunch, and plan a relaxing weekend of napping, drawing, house-work, and writing.

Credit: Kellianne

And it is all good. Have a great year!