A Life Manifesto. Or, as Oprah Would Say,

Live Your Best Life

For me the word manifesto has distinct political connotations. Wikipedia backs me up on this. Seeing it these days attached to “life” as in “life manifesto” has felt a bit funny, even for someone like me with a long history of political awareness and engagement. Am I supposed to nail my 95 political beliefs to the door somewhere? (Confirmed as a Lutheran in high school—can you tell? It didn’t stick though.)

But then hey, it’s the new year. Time for a fresh start and all that. Resolutions? Nah. Too trite, too frangible, too much effort followed by guilt. Manifesto? Hmmm.

Mousing around yesterday I encountered Gwen Bell’s piece on preparing your life manifesto. A lot of these pieces have you creating visions of the future life you want to lead, very specific goals (which have to have deadlines to count as goals), or the life list/bucket list of things to do before you die (the ultimate to-do list with the Grim Reaper running the timer).

Her article is no exception. It does have fun options from the artsy-craftsy magazine collage approach (Eldest Daughter is all over this one) to the techno-enabled Lululemon Goaltending free worksheet for goal-setting.

These all have a fatal flaw for me (plus Eldest Daughter has all the good magazines at her new apartment). They seem to be about doing rather than being. We are human beings, not human doings.

Rather than the to-do list approach I think it’s more useful to have a to-be list.

As in, what kind of person do I want to be? Then I will just be that person in whatever “doing” circumstances life happens to hand me or I develop myself (which, as I’ve pointed out here and here, I have a tendency to overdo).

Another way of describing this list is as a set of values.

My career and life pathways may explain my preference for this kind of manifesto. Setting out without any specific career goals beyond “I’d like to work in publishing” and “I think politics and public service matter” with my two bachelor’s degrees from Washington State University under my belt took me to some amazing and wonderful places: VP of a (really really) small publishing company, the Idaho state legislature, short-time history teacher and later chairman of the board at North Idaho College, grad student, and my current role of nearly 13 years heading up communications at WSU Spokane, where we’re building the health sciences/medical campus of the future despite the rocky economy.

I usually describe my career path as serendipitous. Then I go on to say that serendipity is what happens to people who are paying attention. The readiness is all, as Hamlet noted, whether your personal sparrow is falling today or next year.

If I had started out with a really specific career goal and focused only on that I might have missed some wonderful opportunities. Being open to the possibilities and saying yes when it scared me a bit has had tremendous value.

The key linkage between things I’ve loved doing—serving in public office, teaching, communicating, drumming up support for bike commuting and active transportation—is that all of them require that I master a body of specialized knowledge and information and communicate about that content persuasively to other people in an effort to convince them to support a specific action or direction. That’s me. So I’ve got the “doing” part of Barb Chamberlain pretty well nailed.

The upbringing I received from my parents is worth a post of its own. That and all I’ve learned from all this doing have shaped my to-be/values list. The kind of person I want to be—and on my best days am—will (for starters):
  • Pay attention and give time to the people I love. Every day.
  • Understand the impact of my actions and purchases on the environment and choose to live lightly.
  • Care about the living conditions, earning power and families of the people who make things I purchase and choose not to exploit people who aren’t lucky enough to live where I do.
  • Think about the well-being of my community and the ones around us and invest my time in organizations and efforts that make this a better place to live.
  • Treat every person with the dignity and respect we should accord each human being and create meaning in relationships.
  • Be kind.
  • Add value.
  • Breathe.

Or, as someone much wiser than I explained it, I will strive to live with right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration (the Buddhist Eightfold Path, for those who may not recognize it).

Note that you can’t cross these off and be done with them. A to-be list is much, much more challenging than a to-do list.

Your turn

What am I missing? What kind of person do you want to be, and how will that shape your doing?

Related posts:
Bonus item: A really relevant cartoon that is posted on Flickr (c) all rights reserved so I'm just linking, not embedding.

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