If I had a do-over, what would do in my life, that I have not done? Or what would I not do? This reflection is prompted by various threads I’ve appreciated lately in Deep Adaptation, SC-FIRE, Transformative Adventures, and other Facebook groups where I hang out for deep serious conversations about what’s up on the planet and how we face it.
What would I not have done? Well, plenty of things; most of us make mistakes. In my life I have committed some transgressions I consider to be quite grave. And I have made amends to the best of my ability and understanding. Some were sins of commission; many others were more sins of omission (not being there for the people I love most; not giving of my time; hiding my struggles which might have offered my loved ones a useful reference point for weathering hard times and coming out actually better off than if everything had always been easy; shrinking from difficult-but-needed conversations).
There is something I feel I have not finished making amends for, that I am still working on. Since I have done my “bucket list,” I guess I would call my not-yet-atoned-for sins of omission — things I should have done but did not do — to be sort of an “anti-matter bucket-list.”
I love my work (self-employed sustainability educator / climate communicator), and have no regrets about my career path though it has been challenging in many more ways than one. And I have fulfilled any other aspiration I had that might be described as a “bucket list” item.
One item was, crazy as it might sound to most people, to live in a little camper in an RV park. I got to do that starting back in 2000, when I lived in Austin and was getting divorced. I moved from the house I shared with my husband at the time to the coolest little urban RV park. And I lived there for 10 years, loving it the whole time til my Dad’s sudden passing, which prompted me to reflect on things, and in 2010 I moved to Daytona Beach. Dad’s passing made me realize I had been carrying around this intention that I was going to live by the ocean “someday” — and at almost 50 years old, I asked myself when the heck was “someday,” and what better time than now? So, I am now living what was my big main remaining bucket-list item, and I love it every day.
Bucket-list things I got to fulfill as a younger adult: Travel overseas. Live and work overseas. Learn other languages. More recently: Write a book.
My last item on the bucket list was learning to ride a motorcycle, which I have been doing over the past couple of months with a little 2006 Honda Rebel 250! It is so much fun! And is boosting my balance and coordination; and is imparting rich lessons about how joyfully rewarding diligence and persistence can be. A thing I have only caught onto relatively recently in life.
(Eco footprint note: My motorcycle rides have used about 2 gallons of gasoline since October, and I factor it in to my carbon budget.)
Well, I do aspire to write other books, definitely including some fiction, so I guess I still do have a bucket-list after all. So, I’ll just keep writing and painting and building community and trying to help more people navigate their own paths to inner peace and happiness.
What I would NOT do, that I did til it was too late, is put off difficult conversations with family members, mainly my Mom. Really I would have tried so much harder to communicate to her that I was (am) engaged in respectable work, which was and is: raising awareness of urgent planetary issues so we might have time to act before it’s too late for all of humanity; and showing people how they could live abundantly while also doing good in the world. That I was not, contrary to her perception, just bumming around haphazardly; not just following purely recreational whims just because I was out there in various places in the world, and because I was finding it most effective and rewarding to do my work thru a mix of channels (painting, writing, public speaking, teaching — solar cooking; a summer art camp on a farm, etc.) instead of having a “proper office job.”
I would have told her that my choice of career path was (is) a deep calling, had been incubating in me since really quite early childhood, was (is) absolutely non-optional to me, and was directly motivated by my love of fellow humans and our beautiful planet. And, that that love in turn was a direct reflection of the values that she and Dad imbued us kids with growing up. As was my pursuit of art, writing, and other supposedly “not secure” paths. My first art teacher was my own mother! And she was the one who first put into us kids’ heads that we should live our own lives and aim for the stars. I would have reminded her of that, and thanked her so much.
I shirked other difficult conversations with her too. Basically what it all boils down to is that I would NOT have given up trying to communicate how much I loved her and valued her insights. One specific, I would have found a way to convey that I wanted her to please follow her doctors’ advice about self-care so we could have her with us for a much longer time; that I wanted to spend the rest of my life deepening my connection with her; that I wished she and I could talk more about real things and not just the weather.
Building on the lesson of what I would NOT have done, I’m doing my best to break the ice and wade into the waters of beyond-surface conversations with the people I love who are still here, while we are all still sharing this gift of our existence on earth together. And maybe this post will help some of you who might be navigating this kind of stuff too. Ah, how much we hang back in the safe zone when we think we have time!
• For having the “difficult conversations” with family members who are in serious, end-of-life-type medical situations: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, book by Atul Gawande. Dr. Gawande has written some excellent articles on this subject as well. I loved this book and encountered it at just the right time to have potentially helped my Mom live longer or have more peace or both, but I didn’t feel confident enough to bring things up to my Mom by myself. I tried enlisting another family member to help me by reading the book, but they were not receptive because I presented the book in a timid manner without enough explanation for why I wanted them to read it, and I gave up way too easily. It came down to not really feeling my opinion was valid. Don’t give up! If you feel something could really be for the good, go ahead and speak up; risk being thought of as offensive or crazy or flaky. What’s the worst that could happen?
• On holding your own, taking yourself seriously, not losing sight of the fact that your work is honorable and useful, your viewpoint is valid, etc.: I had studied and practiced all this stuff for decades, in countless hours of therapy, books, courses, etc., but maybe for some of us it’s a task that requires ongoing maintenance. I probably needed to just keep a notebook handy or something with a reminder of good stuff I had done, ways I was helping to make the world a better place. Ironically, even throughout this time I was out there doing things in my professional life: teaching classes, giving public talks, being asked to serve on boards, writing and self-publishing my book, and stuff. But deep down I think I still bought into some assessment of myself as “kooky” and not a real professional and not worth taking seriously. What can I say: Do as I say, my friends, not as I did! Here’s a short video I posted on my YouTube channel a couple weeks ago: Beware of Labels — Don’t Sell Yourself Short.