On the 11th of this month, I excitedly entered my third decade of life sharing loads of photos taken by a dear friend Melissa Lucas with the hashtag #ThrivingThirties.
As is my tradition, prior to birthdays and New Years’ the days leading up to the birthday were filled with a lot of introspection. The annual exercise of questioning who and where I am now vis a vis who and where I want to be, editing my vision board, re-writing my life purpose statement, etc. usually results in me making an upgraded version of a to-do/to-be list for ‘a fulfilled life’.
However, this year I paused mid that exercises and opted for something different. As I looked at the 7-year plan I made at the end of 2012, the goals I had outlined, the lists of ideals… my ideal physique/appearance, my ideal career, my ideal home, my ideal man, etc. I laughed. As per those outlined ambitions, I should have had my Ph.D. by now and published at least two academic papers.As per that list, I should have at least a million (FCFA) in savings which I can ‘forget about for emergencies only’…. and the lists literally go on. But as per that list, achieving those things would make me happy, more fulfilled, successful. I now know that is not true, those things are very valuable but why they matter let alone why I felt they should have been attained/ticked off by a certain age required some examination…
Goal-tracking across the years…
Ultimately, I decided I won’t be making any edits to the vision board or new to-do/be lists. I have yet to check off the things which I’d outlined at 23 so why bother?
Don’t get me wrong, I love that I made those plans. That I wrote them down. Above all, I love that going through my old journal, I can see that I do know what I want and why I want it. I am at the very least, someone who has examined their lives in spirit with Socrates’ famous quote “An unexamined life is not worth living’. It is clear I am on the right path. The timelines I made may have been crazy, but the goals and dreams were things I genuinely contemplated on, things close to heart and things I am still working on.
So if there’s nothing wrong with a to-do/be list, why did I shun it this time around?
Well, the answer goes back to the Socrates’ quote again. Upon examining my life, I didn’t think more goals to achieve was what I ought to prioritize. This year I am learning that what keeps me from fulfillment is as much what I am yet to unlearn/free myself from as the things I would like to achieve. My to-do/be lists had things like: Learn another language, lose X amount of weight, save this much money, apply to that program, bag that dream job, build that relationship etc. things I’d like to achieve/gain… These are not bad things, but as I am finding out, not necessarily the main things leading to happiness and fulfilment. So I am now a firm believer in the need for To-Undo/Unlearn lists. Rather than make goals for the next decade based on notions of what success means and what I need to be happy and fulfilled, I am contemplating on the things I would like to erase from my mind, the ways of thinking, learned behavior that I have realized keep me from living wholly and completely every day.
Author Victoria Dhal tweeted in 2018 “Women are raised from the cradle to be hyperconscious of what we say & wear, how we walk, talk & smile, how we give in or resist or flirt or ignore, who we talk to, where we are…”. The last two years have taught me that my greatest obstacles are things that I have been socialized with. In many ways, I am my own worst enemy because I have been cultured to be.
So here is an exercise I am sharing with you: rather than focus on what you feel you ought to achieve to be the ‘ideal you’, consider what you must undo/unlearn to be a better you… Make a ‘To-Undo/Unlearn List for yourself. A bucket list would have experiences we would like to have before dying, a vision board would illustrate ambitions and goals we would like to achieve or our version of a successful life, but a ‘To-Undo List’? That would outline chains we have recognized that restrict us, chains we must break to live our best lives, to live freely and true to ourselves.
Here is an excerpt from my own To-Undo list:
30 Things to Unlearn in My Third Decade
Unlearn unhealthy coping mechanisms
Unlearn fear of failure
Unlearn resistance to vulnerability.
Unlearn shame over all things sexual
Unlearn fear of being unlikeable/not being accepted.
Unlearn the habit of postponing living
Undo/free yourself from the need to be impressive.
Unlearn the idea that you must be ‘good enough’. You are enough, period.
Unlearn pre-defined conceptions of everything from art to beauty to knowledge to wealth. Learn to question what you’ve been taught these things are, be open to new conceptualisations of them and define them for yourself.
Unlearn the instinct to shrink yourself for fear of being perceived as ‘too much’… whether that means, apologizing prior to airing your concerns or wearing muted colors so you don’t stand out…
The to-undo/unlearn list goes on, but based on the above excerpt you can see how unlearning is just as empowering (if not more so) than acquiring. We typically strive for certain things based on our learned desires for them. You may want to be a wife because you’ve been socialized to see it as a status you must attain for social acceptance. You may want to lose weight because of learned ideas of beauty being a particular size and shape. I am not saying these things are bad goals, not at all. They are in my goals. But I see the importance of questioning how we have been socialized regarding these goals. How much are they inspired by what we have been raised to believe? How much of your discontent with who and what you are is a result of the world’s matrix and how much of it is truly of you, by you, for your own good? I believe a true examination of the whys behind the goals would result in us being better able to justify them, better able to plan and achieve them.
So, what would be on your to-undo list if you were to make one?