Over the holidays, my best friend Katie was in town and I got to spend TWO WHOLE DAYS with her. This is a big deal because for the past few years, she’s lived in on the west coast so Shona/Katie times are too far and few between. Katie has been my best friend for nearly 10 years, since we met on the first day of Freshman orientation at McGill. (he was from New York State, I was from New York State, and neither of us was into the debaucherous frosh week...aaaaand our friendship was forever sealed.)
When Katie and I get to spend the day together, there’s always some existentialist questions that we need to confer with each other. Whether it’s the fate of a relationship, confusion about jobs, or frustrations with the people around us, we usually have some pretty intense conversations. Katie is the friend who will tell me when my bad ideas are terrible, ask me the questions I don’t want to ask myself, and be my biggest supporter to follow my dreams. I can confidently say that she has influenced several of my big life decisions, including...suggesting to start my own sustainability consulting business! (thanks, Katie!)
So when she sent me an article about us both independently doing a Life Audit, I knew I should listen. Her friend Ximena Vengoechea had written a great article on How and Why to do a Life Audit, which is basically brainstorming your goals and seeing if they match up with what you are currently working toward. I would highly recommend the article – check it out!
It took me a few hours, but I settled in with some tea, turned up the heat in my very chilly apartment, and I began to audit my life.
First, you’re supposed to take a stack of Post-It notes and write a goal on each one until you get to 100. According to the article, most people can come up with around 30-40, and the author came up with 121. I thought that coming up with 100 would be easy for me since generally there are lots of things I want to do in life. And I wanted to think of more than 121 because...well I don’t know why, I guess I was just being competitive. (I know, trying to compete with someone you’ve never met about who can think of more life goals is totally ridiculous. One of my goals is not to compare myself to others as much).
I came up with 60 goals. I could have made more small goals or more lofty goals, but I figured unrealistic ones like “become fabulously wealthy” and “stop climate change” are not that useful for the purpose of this exercise. My bed ended up covered in Post-Its.
I had to meet someone for dinner by that point so I left my goals scattered around. For the next few hours, I contemplated what exactly I would do with all these Post-It notes. I felt good about my goals. Although sometimes I have struggled with balancing everything I care about, my goals all seemed pretty reasonable and achievable one day.
I reread the article to see what Ximena did next. She classified her goals by theme, then determined each one’s priority and timeline. She graphed the patterns and then compared the amount of time she wanted to spend on her priorities vs. what she actually spent her time on. I don’t really feel like I waste a lot of time, so my question for myself was how to prioritize all of my goals. There are lots of things I want to do, but I often feel torn or guilty for not completing them on time (or ever). For example, once a week, I really want to reconnect in person with someone in my network. I also really want to go to the gym after work. And I want to spend quality time with the person I’m dating. And I want to hang out my friends during the week. And I want to have a clean apartment and cook all my own meals. So...maybe all of these things can’t magically all happen 5:30-8:30pm Monday-Friday. I could use some guidance.
Against my better judgement, I let the cats into my room. Annoyed that the Post-Its kept getting stuck to her, Nova started eating my goals.
I kicked the cats out.
With my 65 goals (I had thought of a few more during my break), I decided to group them together. I came up with a bunch of different categories:
Then, I scrutinized my goals, adding stars and doodles.
I tried to be honest and ruthless with my goals. I felt that “Keep in touch with old friends and make new ones” should be a higher priority, and I felt guilty giving it one star. But I reminded myself that it doesn’t help if I’m not truthful about what I actually want. “Be a good friend to my good friends” was a very high priority, which makes sense.
One thing that surprised me were that there were trends in each of the categories. For example, I came up with 6 time management goals (like “spend less time on Facebook”) but they were all low priorities. The goals about “how I treat myself” had many high priority goals that I would like to implement daily, like “be kind to myself”.
I decided to make a table to further analyze these trends (you can tell I have a science background, right?)
Turns out, the most important categories for me to improve on are: romantic relationships, finance, how I treat myself, physical health, and my TinyHomestead business. This surprised me a bit, since I wouldn’t have predicted that these are the most important themes to me.
Lastly, I picked out all the goals that I wanted to complete in 2015, and wrote them in my notebook. I had already guessed that some would be my most important 2015 goals (like “get my chubster cat down to a healthy weight”) but others like like “feel fully comfortable in French” surprised me that this was what was truly most important to me.
I spent a few hours doing this, even though I promised myself I would dedicate the evening to working on my paid work. I felt guilty that I had procrastinated my work again (one of my goals is “don’t feel guilty about not completing goals on time”). I realized that having time to reflect (a high priority goal) was more important than completing my paid work two weeks early (not even a goal).
So...what did I learn from this? First of all, always listen to your best friend, even when you don’t think you need to do a life audit. Secondly, I thought my priorities would be different. But in a way, the results shouldn’t have surprised me much. Some things, like eating healthy food and making time for family, are important to me and I already prioritize them. The audit was reassuring because it made me feel like I was on the right path, and have been for a little while now. It also gave me some concrete personal and business goals for 2015.
For sure, I’d recommend doing a life audit. The process might go faster if you don’t have cats.
I'm an eco-conscious girl from Montreal, Quebec. I'm currently an adjunct science professor at Champlain College of Vermont (Montreal Campus). I'm interested in any opportunities to expand my experience with grassroots activism, climate change legislation, or environmental education.