Several months ago I described in this blog the exploits of a group of friends who have woven our lives together for over a decade. Although we all live in different parts of the country now, we still make an effort to get together once or twice a year in order to do the kind of work we do best: create a future for ourselves. Because the beginning of the year is a natural time for such reflection, we’ve often tried to organise several days together in December or January. Last year we spent New Year’s Eve in (this may make you doubt our sanity) Darwin, where Ken and Sue live. This year just before Christmas we roamed Mitchells Island and stayed a few days in a luxurious B&B in the hills, inland from Port Macquarie.
True to tradition, these are very social times, but always intermingled with earnest conversations about finance, health and vitality, and travel. And, of course: envisioning our futures.
Sue, the founder of the FLAFFs, is the scheduling queen, so she picked out the spots in our itinerary when we might have our various conversations. The one that lodged in my throat was a mid-morning session on Wednesday December 18th when we’d be sharing our plans for the coming year.
Although I’ve done this exercise many many times in my life, I can’t say I ever approach it with enthusiasm. Like squabbling crows on my shoulder, voices crowd in: “But what if something happens with my health?….What if Mum needs me urgently?…What if war breaks out?…” There’s bound to be something to invalidate all this careful planning and bring me to my knees with disappointment.
Sue, my role model in these matters, tolerates no such nonsense on her shoulders. She swats the crows off and just says what she intends to do and accomplish this year. “The last week in February we’ll be at the Bridge Tournament,” she says. “In June we’ll be in England and I’ll go on holidays with my sister on the weekend of the 14th.” “I will finish my book and it will be published.” Of course, Sue knows just as well as I do that circumstances could intervene and calamity could strike, but she just doesn’t let that distract her.
She’s worked out that the more committedly she approaches her life, the more she designs what she wants, the less likely she is to waste time, drift, and lose track of the important things. She knows that with her goals and her calendar in front of her, she will stay focused and accomplish what makes her life worthwhile.
I actually do know these things too, and so it was that I sat down a day or two before our scheduled conversation, pencil behind my ear, to mind-map what 2014 might look like in my life.
I trolled through the important areas (family, my communities, writing, the gardens, singing, enterprise, travel…) looking for accomplishments that might come my way. A few things came to mind but it was definitely not a very powerful approach.
That’s when I invented the blue dress.
I know that the more tangible and tactile I get, the more things come alive, so I said to myself: How about trying to look back from December 31, 2014 and see what’s happened over the year? The challenge became one of how to drop myself into a time a year from now. What, for example, I asked myself, am I wearing? Hmmmm. As this thought-game isn’t going to cost me anything, it might as well be something new. So right there on the spot I designed a strappy electric blue sundress, quite unlike anything I have in my wardrobe. That distracted me for a minute or two, but it did succeed in grounding me in the future. I could picture walking through the house in my blue sundress. As I did so, I noticed my piano keyboard. I “realised” that throughout 2014 I’d spent hours and hours re-learning piano and getting to the point where I could sight-read again. All right, then! That meant I’d found a piano teacher, on the Island, by the end of January, and started lessons as soon as…well, as soon as we got back from our February trip to Canada. This was getting better all the time, and thinking of Canada opened up the domain of travel. So where had we travelled in 2014? Well, obviously, to Canada a couple of times. And then there was that long-awaited trip to the island of Niue, where I snorkelled to my heart’s content. (Remembering that got my heart thumping happily under the bodice of the blue sundress.) And speaking of snorkelling, didn’t we do another bareboat sailing trip in the Whitsundays?—of course we did, this time with friends Kerry and Gordon and Canadian cousins Ed and Jackie. Fuelled by how delighted they’d be to recall this unexpected event in their lives, I invented a new caravan, a couple dozen little fruit trees for our gardens, a revamped ocean-side fishpond at my mother’s and a formidable exercise program.
I won’t go into further detail, but you get the drift. In the course of less than half an hour, I had shifted myself from something bordering on apathy to a joyful engagement, with the help of an imaginary blue dress and the sure knowledge that Rick and my friends would listen to my creation with warmth, empathy and a certain amount of committed partnership.
Suffice it to say, the conversation about our coming year went well.
This year end process is a longstanding Shedder tradition as well. Sometimes it’s been hard to squeeze in among all the visitors and activities, but this year we got in right on time. On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve we spent a couple of hours reviewing the old year, each of us in turn sharing about the highlights, victories and learnings of the year that we had just survived. I would have said there wasn’t a thing I didn’t know about my housemates’ lives, and yet there were insights and surprises.
Even better was the following day, January 1st, when I recreated the visioning exercise with the Shedders. I shared the 2014 I had designed (omitting the influence of the blue sundress), and listened in turn to the things my housemates intend to get up to over the next twelve months. I heard about extraordinary travel plans, bold contributions, big learning goals, inspiring creative outlets, and interesting work and money-making ventures. As people spoke, I felt in awe of how engaged everyone is in their future.
So it was a powerful exercise to imagine a future for myself, and to hear what my housemates are up to. But even more remarkable were the synergies that started to emerge. Like little bursts of popping corn, we spotted areas where we could support one another, where travel plans might overlap, where we could be resources for each another. “I wonder if I could fit in with that project”…”I might like to go on that trip as well”…”That’s just given me another idea…”.
The whole exercise, while requiring considerable courage, was contagious fun. Perhaps we were a little braver in our aspirations because we were providing a safety net for one another. At any rate, the process added to our mutual respect and intimacy.
As we sat in our spacious living room laughing, complimenting one another and sharing deeply, I thought back to a day exactly twelve years ago. Amidst coloured pens, magazine clippings and glitter, the six of us first began dreaming of a future where we might live together in semi-retirement, in the country, near the ocean, in a beautiful home surrounded by gardens and friends. And today here we were, reaping the rewards of those first fantasies.
This visioning process is very powerful—perhaps that’s why it fills me with apprehension every time. Something is bound to happen as a result. And when you share your castles in the air with a number of other people present who love you and want you to fulfil what you’re up to in life—well, that’s a recipe for living your dreams.
I would love to hear about a time in your life when you daydreamed something into existence. What springs to mind?