I wrote about my ‘age theory‘ a year or so back. It comes up in conversation a lot, and people seem to like it.
I’ve been giving it some more thought today. A bunch of stuff has popped up on my Facebook timeline this morning about following your dreams. Inspirational quotes. In particular, a short video about what you would do with your life if money was no object. That sort of stuff.
And while that’s an opportunity for the cynic in me to roll his eyes, I was able to suppress that long enough to give the matter a little thought.
I had a conversation recently about how we can think about our lives as narrative. Your life is a story and you’re the main character in that story. Other people’s lives are stories too, and you may be an incidental character in those ones.
But all the things that you do and that happen to you – all the encounters with the other characters you have along the way – are part of your character development and story arc.
Some of the plot elements are things that happen to you, and some of them are the things you make happen in response to what’s going on. The sort of person you become is largely to do with the character development that comes as a result of that response.
Regardless of how random and disconnected those events might seem, all the bits make a lot of sense in retrospect. What you have done along the way so far (and why you did those things) is how your character got to this point in the story.
And if that’s true, then planning for where you want the story to go, rather than just letting life happen to you, makes a lot of sense.
So this morning, as I was doing my writing, I started to experiment with piecing together what I might consider to be an ideal life. What the ingredients would be – even what the schedule would be (more or less) – for each day, each evening, each weekend, each month and year. The routines and rituals I’d like to keep. The things I’d like to do and make. The context for that. What it looks and feels like. All that stuff.
It was an interesting exercise. A lot of the ingredients are already there. I have a long way to go. But I have something concrete to work towards now, and I feel like I’m going in the right direction. But importantly – this story has always been leading to this. I’ve always been going in this direction without knowing it. All the stuff that has been part of my story – all the people, all the influences, all the events, whether positive or negative – these have all led me here.
All the things that I’ve been interested in, passionate about and introduced to along the way – they all play a role in this vision. None of it works without the other pieces. Which is interesting – and the extent to which it’s true took me a little by surprise today.
I’ll be 50 in a few years time. I’m kind of looking forward to it. It would be great to be closer to that vision by the time I get there. I think that spending some time thinking about it makes it far more likely than simply doing what’s right in front of me all the time. My morning writing is such a great space for this sort of reflection and stepping back from the day to day.
I’m not an idealist – I’m a pragmatist. I don’t think that just doing whatever I like is a practical response to the world. But I do think that figuring out what it is I want to do, have, achieve and contribute is a useful thing to do.
And so if I manage to work towards this ideal then I can spend my 50s and 60s doing the things that are ‘what my life is all about’. I can decide to a large extent what the whole story has been leading up to – which is the aim of the exercise, as far as I’m concerned.
Put simply: the purpose of your character development is to become the author of your story.
Put even more simply: live deliberately.
I recommend that whole ‘stepping back for half an hour’ thing. Figuring out where it is you’d like to be going and what you’d like to be doing – seeing where your story is taking you, and deciding where you’d like to take it.