To Do

Story of the list

My name is Natalie and I’m a compulsive list maker. I have notebooks full of them. I write them on napkins, on the backs of receipts, on old envelopes. I type them out with my thumbs on my cell phone. I write them on my bathroom mirror with dry erase markers. Things to buy, things to do, things to remember, things to try, books to read, movies to watch, music to listen to, friends to call.

This list, though, is the ‘master list’ — a list of things to do before I die. It started as an assignment in high school. We had to list 50 things we wanted to do in our lifetimes. Even though I turned in an incomplete assignment at the time, I’ve kept it going, kept adding, copying it from a small notebook to a big one when it got too long, then moving it to the web a few years ago. It quickly became the most popular part of my web site. On job interviews people say, “Oh, right. You’re the one with the list.”

What is the list about?

A lot of things on my list are just places I want to visit. I love traveling and have always dreamed of traveling the world. I read a a lot, so I come across experiences people have had in other places that I want to try to.

Some things are just fun or silly. Meant to make me remember not to take life too seriously. Even though I’m optimistic and sunshine-y, I’m often take myself way too seriously. I’m easily embarrassed and don’t like to look foolish or silly.

Other things are challenges – I’m double-dog daring myself to try something I think is scary or risky. Things I wouldn’t normally try.

Then there are the kindnesses. I tend to be kind of a quiet person who keeps to herself, so I don’t always notice when someone needs a hand. I’m working on that.

Others are just things I yearn for. Big goals I want to achieve or successes I want to reach.

Put together, they make a picture of the kind of person I want to be – the person I’m growing into.

When do you check things off?

On Sex and the City, Enid said to Carrie, “That’s the key to having it all: stop expecting it to look like what you thought it was going to look like. It’s true of the fall lines, and it’s true of relationships.”

I’ve decided that it’s also true of my to do list. The key to getting it all done is to stop expecting it to look the way I thought it was going to look.

I started this to do list in high school, when one of my teacher’s assignments was to create a list of fifty things we wanted to accomplish in our lives. At the time, I had trouble coming up with fifty. I turned in an incomplete assignment. It seemed like so much. It didn’t seem possible that I would have enough time in my life to accomplish all those things.

But it bothered me that I couldn’t complete the list. I kept it and added to it as things occurred to me. By the time I got to college, I had completed the worksheet the teacher had given us and moved the list to a notebook so that I would have room to add more. I kept adding. I am still adding. I’m nearly to 600 things.

For a long time, I didn’t actually check anything off the list. I would accomplish something on my list, but because it didn’t look the way I expected, I didn’t think it counted. Squirrel can tell you about the time she and I raised $200 for a local food bank and I asked if she thought that was adequate enough to check #31, Organize a food drive for the needy, off the list. When I added that item to my list, I had this idea in my head of sitting at a neatly organized table, collecting up boxes and boxes full of canned and dry goods and delivering them in person to families in need. Delivering $200 in grocery store gift certificates to the director of a food bank seemed pale in comparison.

Close friends starting reading my list when I posted it to this Web site a couple years ago. “Hey, I was with you when you completed #42,” they’d say to me. “Why isn’t it checked of the list?”

And I’d say, “Do you think that counts?”

And so my real lesson in releasing expectations came from Sex and the City. It was one of those moments when something clicks into place and suddenly the world makes perfect sense. I’ve learned not to be picky about what it looks like – if I say it’s done, then it’s done.

Hey! I tried that too!

If there’s one thing you can say about writers, it’s that they all share a love of story. I love listening to people’s stories. I built the to do list to allow you to share your stories with me. If you see something you’ve done, attempted to do, or always wanted to do, share your story about it.