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carambolita is doing 42 things including…

keep faith in love, life and myself

11 cheers

 

carambolita has written 13 entries about this goal

Positive phrasing

For some years now, B has slowly been helping me reshape my vocabulary and, indirectly, my mindset. The changes are subtle and I doubt anyone besides him would notice them, but I find they do make a difference.

Instead of saying that I will become healthy, I say that I will become even healthier – because I want to think of myself as being healthy already, although there are plenty of things I want and need to work on. Instead of telling him I have been bad or irritable or impatient, I tell him that I have had trouble being as positive and patient as I would like. Instead of claiming to hate or even dislike something, I find softer phrases or avoid the topic entirely.

Mindset is important particularly when it comes to health. For most of my life, I have thought of my immune system as weak, have thought of myself as uncoordinated, and have focused on more things I could not do than things I could do.

That made it more challenging to pick up new physical activities because every time there was a hiccup – and hiccups are quite common when learning new skills – I would see that as an affirmation of everything I believed. Even a good friend who used to be positive about almost everything would say things like, “Geez, I thought you said you knew how to ride a bike!” Part of me would protest silently that I did, and that I really enjoyed riding on footpaths and dirt roads, but the other part of me would think, “Yeah, what sort of sheltered idiot would fail so miserably at jumping the bike up and down curbs on the road?”

B’s faith in me and my experiences over the last few years have changed that. I have all but weaned myself off reliance on medication and even supplements. I have climbed mountains, hiked in altitudes of over 5,000m and travelled to some very remote parts of the world. I have zoomed down mountains on a bike and scuba dived in an ocean still turbulent from a cyclone (three months before that, I did not even know how to swim). I fall ill from colds and flus less than most of my colleagues, and even when I do succumb to the bugs, I recover within a couple of days. And my rate of recovery only keeps improving.

Now, that is a good thing because I also have far more to recover from. I have long since forgotten what it feels like to walk without pain – it tends to be mild when I have hiking boots and orthotics on, but it flares up extremely quickly when I do much else. I have yet to come to a landing on what might be affecting my liver or kidneys. Arthritis in my fingers has deterred me from Bach for the past ten years, and my digestive and immune systems are still working hard to recover from my recent trip. My body spends each and every day trying its best to overcome all of that and a million other things else I am not aware of.

But somehow, it is doing that more quickly and more effectively than it ever used to. I have more to recover from, but I recover more quickly. Does that sound odd? One might argue that, if I really were stronger, I would not have as much to recover from in the first place, but the truth is that I am putting my body through more exertion and challenging conditions than I used to. The bar lifts higher and higher. Instead of going for a walk or a brief jog, I plan multi-day hikes up mountains. Instead of trying to wriggle out of swimming class, I can keep going for hours in the pool and enjoy the ocean even more. And that happens despite the strain – physical, mental, emotional – that work puts on me and my body.

These days, when I am confronted with another injury or a hiccup like having to turn back from a hike, I look at it as a stepping stone, a blip on the path that leads unmistakably towards a bright future. I accept that there may be a dozen reasons why I may need to try again, but that if I heap enough time and determination onto it, the obstacle will budge – and I will level up, growing mentally and physically stronger in the process. I focus on my successes – the dreams I have achieved – like they are badges of honour. I fill my walls with photos and canvas prints from my travels because they remind me every day of what I can achieve. And instead of saying I cannot do something, or that I want to do something, I simply say that I will do it. The question is not “if”, but “when”.

Thank you, B, for helping me realise that I can conquer the world.



To overcome

I love how effectively B and I work through misunderstandings, disagreements and rough patches. I love how much we both believe in our ability to get through them and grow through them together. And I love how, even in the heat of the moment, we manage to avoid resorting to hurtful barbs or personal attacks. Difficult situations are more likely to bring out the best in us than the worst, and we appreciate each other all the more for it.

I still have no idea what the longer term future holds for us, but it does not really worry me because what we share now is already quite wonderful.



Borrowing trouble

These days, I am trying to remember to live by the philosophy of not borrowing trouble. It is not a new concept and is really not rocket science, but I struggle with it a fair bit because it is so much more natural for me to project ahead into the future than to refrain from doing so.

In terms of work, that means I am trying to break out of the mentality of thinking, “Wow, there are a few very busy days / weeks / months up ahead.” Sure, that might be the reality, and it might be what my schedule or bookings show, but it should not matter. The important thing is the present moment – how is work or how was work today, and how do I feel now regardless of the craziness the future may hold?

In reality, I should be familiar by now with the rapid changes that happen each and every day; I rarely have any certainty about what I am doing the next day, let alone the next week or the next month. Even if busy times ahead were 100% confirmed, the important fact is that they are not impacting me yet – otherwise I would be speaking of the present, not the future, and I do believe it is okay to respond to the present freely and honestly. The future, however, should wait its turn, and I want to get better about asking it to do so.

In terms of my personal life, it is a similar story. Relationships and friendships have a fair few ups and downs in general, and relationships in particular are prone to changes over time. There are times when people may be closer, more chatty, more affectionate, more attuned and of the same mindset. There are also times when the trend heads the opposite way.

Back in the day, shifts in those trends – particularly towards the “cooler” end of the spectrum – would make me anxious about the future of the relationship (or friendship). Are we drifting apart? Are we losing touch? Have we gotten bored with each other? Have we outgrown each other? Is there someone else? What is happening to us? Oftentimes, I find that the other person reacts similarly as well, at least after a while if not immediately.

B and I are going through a bit of a more distant phase right now for a whole range of reasons, and I am fighting not to overreact or overthink the situation but to just ride it out. That part can be tricky because my mind jumps right into searching for patterns, for reasons, for predictions. It tries insistently and repeatedly to extrapolate, often towards negative conclusions. My logical side, however, says that shifts are perfectly normal and not particularly predictable, so I should just calm down, accept and enjoy the present moment, and let the future bring whatever it does.

Luckily for me, B is not a big panicker, so we are not pressuring ourselves to “fix” or change anything – or at least, we are trying not to pressure ourselves. I am telling myself not to look at is as a problem but as a current state and the reality is that it is not a problem unless I start thinking, “If we continue heading in this direction…” We are both fine as we are in the here and the now. The “what if” is what gets to me, and that, of course, is a projection again, and another attempt to borrow trouble.

So I try to refrain from that mindset and to focus on clarifying our current needs, preferences and situations to give each other a bit more guidance about where we stand, acknowledging that it constitutes a bit of a change but giving things a bit more time to settle. It may turn out that we decide, at some point, that we no longer make each other happy or fulfil each other’s needs – but that is not now, and I want to avoid bringing it into the now. For now, we are just living more independent lives and chatting a bit less. Life moves on, as do our travel plans, and the reality is that things may shift again overnight.

Sticking to a “now-focused” mindset is not easy. It completely contradicts several decades of habit and instinct, and I feel like I am struggling upstream against the current on a constant basis. Every day, there are dozens of moments when I find myself slipping into the forward-extrapolation mindset – in terms of work, in terms of health, in terms of people. But I want to get better at staying grounded in the present, and I will keep trying because I believe it is the healthier and more sensible approach to living life. Sure, I might be lose the fight more often than not, but practice makes perfect, right?



Piano

Not many of my colleagues know this, simply because it never really comes up, but I spend my Saturday afternoons teaching piano to young girls. It is fun and it lets my brain switch off corporate mode for a while, which I think is a healthy thing.

My students have one thing in common – their parents want them to be able to enjoy music, and do not want to push them to take exams. That is my “acceptance criteria” for students, so to speak. It is not that musical enjoyment and formal exams have to be mutually exclusive, but oftentimes, it ends up being so because of the nature of music exams and I would rather not go down the exam teaching route myself. There are enough exam-focused teachers out there.

If you take the AMEB syllabus as an example, the first grade exam involves playing three pieces on piano (along with learning some scales, aural, sightreading, general knowledge and so forth). It typically takes a child half a year or so of practice to polish the pieces up to an acceptable level for the exam. The number of exam pieces increase throughout the years, but the most one has is six pieces (in the higher grades) and it usually takes around a year to prepare for anything fifth grade and above. Some people are quicker, but usually only those who are particularly gifted or dedicated.

Now, imagine practicing a handful of pieces every day for half a year or longer. Then imagine trying to do it is a young child. Even if you start off loving a piece of music, the reality is that by the time the exam rolls around, you have become tired of it due to endless repetition or continuous tweaking of tiny details, day after day after day. I think I personally rather liked the tweaking, especially as I grew older, but I am a bit of a perfectionist and I started learning piano to acquire a skill rather than because I loved music. My favourite composer was Bach because of the level of technical precision required. For a seven-year old who began learning music for enjoyment, however, I can hardly think of many things less enjoyable. The worst part is that due to the amount of practice required for the exam, there are few chances to learn other pieces of music which sit outside the exam syllabus.

I have seen so many people lose interest in music due to the exam-based teaching structure over the years – my friends and classmates, their younger siblings, family friends, fellow piano students – and I have always found it a bit of a shame. Even in my own case, I never started liking music until after a health condition that meant I could not continue taking exams. I passed eight grade when I was fourteen then closed my exam books once and for all, knowing I had damaged my fingers and probably beyond repair. It was unlikely that I would ever continue on to the performance and professional grades.

After that, several things happened. For one, I met my best friend G, and she introduced me to a whole realm of music which I fell more deeply enough with than I ever thought possible. It was music outside of the exam space, music my teachers and parents would never even have heard of, and it was soul-wrenchingly beautiful in its emotional and musical power. For another, the problems with the joints – particularly in my fingers – meant that I could not practice the same way as I used to. Even half an hour once a week would be painful and difficult. Music I justed to enjoy playing for the technical challenge were absolutely beyond me, and my fingers would quite literally collapse a couple of bars into some of my favourite Bach pieces. If I wanted anything at all to do with the piano, I would need to change.

And so, out of necessity more than anything else, I switched from learning and practicing piano pieces – and polishing them to the point of perfection – to sightreading, improvising, making do with ad-hoc changes to parts I simply had not learnt or could not learn. I would play a different style and genre of music altogether, focusing on pieces that demanded musical expessiveness over technical precision, and that would not only forgive but embrace more freedom in rhythm and technique. I learnt to make do with the amount I could practice and wing the rest. And in the process, I learnt to not only hear what I was playing, but to feel what I was playing.

It has been more than a decade now, and I still cannot play a fraction of what I used to be able to – and while I miss that sometimes, I find I enjoy it more when I can and do play. There are a few instruments I wish to learn that I may never be able to, but we will see. The world works in unexpected ways sometimes. In the meantime, I teach a little, mostly to young beginners, because I enjoy it and so do they – and also because I think my experiences are advantageous rather than detrimental.

With my kids, I try to teach them in a way that keeps music “fun”, so instead of perfecting one challenging piece that requires them to learn a dozen new techniques, they cycle through a dozen simpler pieces with a few of the techniques each, and we keep doing that until they have absorbed the techniques without realising it. Instead of aiming for perfection, I go by the 80/20 rule, so once they have more ore less gotten the gist of some skills or techniques in one piece (i.e. the 80% mark), I move them onto another piece requiring similar skills or techniques instead of demanding that they work on the same piece over and over until they hit the elusive 100%.

They have “lesson” pieces following a more structured learning curve to build their skills and capabilities, “reward” pieces – often simplified adaptations of popular songs – which are well within their skill level and which they get to enjoy learning (quite quickly and easily) when they have practiced their lessons, and short supplementary exercises for building finger strength and particular techniques. Since I never follow the same progression for two students due to their varying their strengths, weaknesses and interests, I always enjoy browsing the music stores and trying to find the perfect combination of teaching materials for each student. It is fun for me, and it seems to work for them too.

And so, that is how I spend my Saturday afternoons. Then I relax with a cup of tea and lose myself in the joys of a good book and a surround sound system.



Rest and recovery

I am in the middle of a self-imposed “social break”, and after a week of keeping mostly to myself, I am slowly feeling a little more grounded and relaxed. There is still a need to network and interact with people at work, of course, but in my free time, I am mostly just curled up on my bed with a book or ten. I am not even online all that much; more often than not, I just flick through my emails on my phone and leave the PC off. It is doing wonders for my sleeping habits.

For someone as strongly introverted as I am, this is a much needed recovery period after the pre-Christmas bustle, the travel over Christmas / New Years, the fairly abrupt return to work, and the full week of training we had down the coast with everyone in our service line across Oceania. I enjoy social activities but get quickly worn out by them if I do not have breaks in between, and that can leave me edgy or prone to irritation or irrationality when I do interact with people. The ten or twelve hours of work per day do not help, mainly because I have a very people-oriented role which tends to tire me more quickly when I am already feeling somewhat reclusive. It is nothing a bit of time to myself does not cure, but I do need to make sure I take that time out before I get too uncomfortable in my own skin.

It helps that B understands my need for space and does not get at all bothered or concerned about it; when I bring it up, he just smiles, kisses me and tells me to take all the time I need. I love that we both have enough faith in ourselves and in us that we can just roll with these periods as they come, without giving in to paranoia or trying to read too much into the situation. With him, I do not feel a constant, guilt-ridden urge to apologise, reassure or explain, nor does he need any of that from me. We just continue with our lives, give the noise a while to settle, and see how things evolve from there.

Anyway, I am looking forward to something similar next week, and I am expecting that by the week after that, I will feel rejuvenated enough to return to more normal levels of interaction. Until then, my Kindle is calling me – and it has been amazing to be able to read a book or two a day again.



Together

Earlier this week, B bought his one-way plane ticket to Australia.



Without regret

Something happened on my recent trip that never really did before, or at least not quite as frequently within as short a span of time. It has been on my mind ever since.

Throughout the week, I would keep making mental notes of things I wanted to do or places I wanted to visit before the end of the trip, but ultimately, I found myself unable to do or visit most of those due to time constraints and other factors. There are at least twenty or so such cases that I can remember, and I have probably already forgotten a few.

Most of the things were along the lines of drinking another azuki-matcha frappucino or returning to a certain souvenir store – nothing major, and mostly things I had already done multiple times before when I lived in Japan. I was not particularly upset that I could not do or redo those things, and overall, I am still more than content with how the trip turned out.

Even so, the dozen or two little things made me wonder if I should live even more in the “now” than I currently do. I tend to end up doing the things I truly want to do, and I do tend to aim for sooner rather than later, but I still try to set timeframes that seem sensible and balanced to me. There is a time for everything under the sun, after all, and while there will be a time to quit my job, gather up my savings and just travel for a more extended period of time, that time is not now. A similar principle applies to the smaller matters; there are times for them and not for them too.

The recent experiences have gotten somewhat under my skin, though, and I find myself challenging my inner status quo more than I used to. Ever since around ten years ago, one of my key questions when I make decisions has been, “Will I regret doing or not doing this in ten, twenty, or fifty years’ time?” I think the question has become even more relevant. If a decision is minor enough that I would not remember it in a month, let alone a decade, then it is probably not worth spending too much energy overanalysing it beforehand or worse, dwelling on it afterwards (unless it forms part of a larger, negative pattern, but that is a separate discussion). On the other hand, with the more significant choices – holding onto love, living my dreams – I need to remember what truly matters.

As it happens, there are really no decisions I made during the trip that I can picture myself regretting, so while those incomplete to-do items do leave me with a pang at times – because oh, another slice of that aburi-mayo salmon sashimi would be so very good – I think I did okay. I cherished my time with B; I tried to do the right things by my friends even when it was difficult; I experienced and enjoyed almost all the things I was seeking to experience; and I laughed heartily and often. I hope I will be able to look back on my life and say similar words.


As an aside, this also made me think of this quote and how very true it is:


I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness I can show to any fellow human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

-Stephen Grellet



Capturing a smile

I love looking at photos taken of myself during my travels and thinking, “I really, truly was enjoying myself, wasn’t I?” And right now, I also love knowing that this trip will result in many more such photos.

The smiles and echoes of laughter in each snapshot help me believe that I can hold onto my love of life, and onto my ability to draw joy from its delightfully wondrous little moments.



Corinthians

Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited. It is never rude and never seeks its own advantage. It does not take offense or store up grievances.

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. Love never comes to an end.

- 1 Corinthians 13:4-8


I always used to think this was too idealistic, too good to be true, at least between two imperfect human beings. I wonder when that started to change?

There is a little voice in my head now that whispers, “But you’ve seen love in action, haven’t you? You’ve experienced it. No, it is not textbook-perfect, but isn’t that what makes it all the more beautiful? You can see how earnestly he tries, how determinedly he keeps trying, and how miraculous it is that he somehow keeps getting better and better at all the different aspects of it, each and every day. Even when it isn’t easy. Maybe especially when it isn’t easy. And you believe he will keep trying and keep improving, because that is the kind of person he is. Doesn’t that make it far more moving and meaningful than whatever so-called perfection might look like?”

The voice keeps getting stronger, and I find myself listening to it more often. It takes me by surprise sometimes to think about that and realise how deeply the belief has taken hold. I still have my doubts and fears, of course, but I am starting to think that maybe healthy long-term relationships are possible for me after all, despite all my flaws and my history. Yes, I will need his continued patience, acceptance and support, but is that not what relationships are about in the first place? Two people working together and keeping faith?

What makes it work so well is that he does not see the flaws the way I do; he just sees them as characteristics of the person he cares for, and he neither wants nor expects me to change anything except those areas I want to change for my own sake. When I have a bad day and thank him afterwards for putting up with me, he always responds, “My dear, that wasn’t about putting up with you. It was just about being with you, and I will always cherish that no matter what you are doing or feeling. If I were to only want to be with you at certain points and not others, I wouldn’t deserve you in the first place.”

And maybe it is the subtle softening of his Spanish accent when he says it, but I always believe him – though I do not always understand how he can feel that way. It is even more difficult to put that mindset into action on my part because I have spent so many years learning to judge and blame and keep score, but he understands that and has never expected reciprocation. Somehow, who I am and what I can manage is enough.

Day after day, he is slowly teaching me to love. Even more importantly, he is teaching me to love myself; I often find myself stumbling after him as he takes my hand and leads by example, always patient, always steady. I no longer question whether I deserve it because it is not about what I deserve but about what I have been offered as a blessing. It does nobody any good for me to reject his gift out of unworthiness, but in accepting it with gratitude and letting it slowly transform me, there is a chance that it may shine even more brightly someday. The gift itself is unconditional; but what I choose to do with it is up to me.

On my part, I am growing to love and believe in him more with each passing day. We laugh when we talk about this, because there have never really been fireworks between us; we have drifted together and apart a few times now, but although I still smile deep inside whenever I think of him, I never went through the giddy, euphoric roller-coaster of actually falling in love and neither did he. The flame is there, though, bright and warm and sustaining. I am beginning to be able to imagine myself curling up by that hearthside long into the distant future, and I am starting to look forward to learning how to to chop and add more wood to keep it burning. The image is still hazy,and it flickers much like the mesmerising dance of red and gold on crackling wood, but… it is more solid than it was yesterday, and I suspect it may be even more solid by tomorrow.

What does that mean? It means that by mid-next year, I might truly be ready for him to move here, and for us to try actually having a relationship in the same city without needing to set a deadline on it as we have in the past. We have been planning for June 2012, I know, but that was based on my gut instincts telling me that I might be ready by that time; if we had gotten to that point and either of us had not yet been ready, we would have chosen to wait. There is no rush with these things, after all – better to take the time and be sure, then to dive in too far too early. Besides, it is not as though such transitions (or surface-level relationship labels) really change the nature of what we share; they just signify the beginning of a new phase of the journey towards whatever the future holds.


恋した日の胸騒ぎを 何気ない週末を
幼さの残るその声を 気の強いまなざしを
あなたを彩る全てを抱きしめて ゆっくりと歩き出す
やわらかな風が吹く この場所で…



The Invitation - Part III

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

- Oriah Mountain Dreamer

I feel a little unqualified to speak of sorrow, sometimes, because it strikes me that my life has been so easy and comfortable compared to those of many people around me.

What I do know is that there are beautiful, brave souls, both in the world and in my life, who have been through so very much more than I have, and who have chosen time and time again to feel rather than deny their grief and pain so as to let their experiences forge them into people more capable of emotion, of compassion, and of humanity.

My closest friends have taught me so much in that sense – I was blessed enough to be part of their lives as they fought their way through some harrowing, painful times, and I have constantly felt humbled and inspired by their courage and inner strength. They have played such a huge role in shaping me into someone who believes that the ability to grow from such experiences is a gift to each of us as humans – and although the experiences themselves may be difficult, they help transform us into people we would not otherwise be able to become.

Part of me worries that I may offend someone with my views if I continue on this topic, though, so I will finish off here with a quote by Louise Erdrich that encapsulates why I think the way I do, and how I try to live my life. I remember sharing this with the people dearest to me when I first discovered it, almost a decade ago now, and it only grows more poignant and meaningful with each passing year.

...

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up.

And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.



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