Tony Leighton is a Canadian writer happily retired and attempting to help others feel the same.

Lists for Living Larger

Leaping directly from my recent post about the More|Less List, I want to talk about using lists to prepare for retirement.

In the cold vacuum of dread that some people feel about the years after full-time work — or for those not in dread but merely wondering — lists are a way to remind ourselves of possibility. They are also a way to reveal, call forth, and declare intentions.

Lists help me see, think, and often, when needed, fortify my will.

Listing has obvious power. Here’s a list of six things a good list can do:

1. Build a convincing argument in favor, against, or just as an accumulation of evidence. Reasons to act or not.

2. Stack vital information without adornment in one easy-to-grasp format.

3. Prompt the mind to dig deeper.

4. Prioritize. Show the weighting of importance.

5. Make a body of thought malleable, so it can flex with changing conditions.

6. Help us not forget to pack extra underwear.

There are more. Those are pretty good.

Carl Sagan once said, “Dreams are maps.” Lists are like dreams deconstructed for easier ingestion, or like maps read in chunks, like those trip booklets the automobile associations used to provide, a kind of step-by-step guidance that in aggregate illustrated the entire journey.

We are drawn to lists because they are easy to comprehend. They show a big picture yet cut to the chase. They sort things out. And they are fun to read, especially when numbered.

Composing a paragraph and marshaling an argument in writing is beyond many people. Lists are not. If you can write a grocery list, you can probably write a list of ideas that could affect the rest of your life.

Which brings me back to retirement.

In preparing for retirement, or being there without a rudder, certain lists can be useful for mapping the not-well-understood territory ahead. It doesn’t have to be a definitive map, like scheduling. The lists I’m thinking of are more like points of light, inspirations, and wishes. They are both wish lists and do-lists.

These lists come to mind for me (in no specific order):

1. Unfulfilled yearnings and dreams

2. Regrets to avoid if you were to die tomorrow

3. Passions inadequately tended

4. Fun in short supply or in need of reclamation

5. Things to release and be done with

6. Things to learn and ways to be educated

7. Ways to be a better human

8. Ways to apply your skills to good for others

9. Experiences to have

10. Places you’ve always wanted to visit

11. Habits to form or break

12. People to know better

13. Ways to get healthier and stronger

14. Worthwhile risks to take for a larger life

15. Neuroses to reduce or eliminate

16. Fears to confront and shrink through exposure

17. Things that keep calling

18. Tasks and projects long overdue that might finally get done

19. Ways to prepare for the future

20. What you stand for — your values — and would like to be reminded of periodically by a list so you can stand a little taller

Of course, that’s not all. There’s also the not-do list and a list of things to avoid that have too often snared your time without adequate emotional compensation.

If you are seeking ideas for retirement, many are likely within you. Lists can help tease them out. Ongoing, they are handy reference tools that can be redesigned as your preferences shift and you check off some of the boxes.

You’ve seen some of mine. What are yours?

What lists would you make to help map the rest of your life if you suddenly had more time, more choice, and more freedom?

Which, in retirement, you do.


[Postscript: In 1726, at the age of 20, Benjamin Franklin created a system to develop his character. It was a list of 13 virtues he scored himself against daily in a notebook. I read about the 13 virtues in Franklin’s autobiography — which was written in his fifties even though he died at 84 — and was always fascinated by the idea, although not enough to do it. Here are the virtues, in case you feel like another retirement project.]


Rolling On

Vocabuteria: fissiparous