Sunday, February 5, 2017

My Before-30 To Do List

Almost a decade ago, I wrote a list of things I wanted to do before I turned 30. Recently, I pulled out the journal I'd written it in and decided to have a cry-laugh over the goals I set at 21. I'm not sure whether to celebrate the successes, bemoan the failures, or feel ashamed over some of the items on that list. Since feeling ashamed of myself isn't really my thing, I decided to go with Secret Option D: Share List Publicly on My Blog, complete with annotations!

My 30th birthday was spent at a winery and the Nixon Presidential Library. You can probably guess where this photo was taken.

1) Return to Japan

Taken at the Nagasaki Gaidai festival, Fall 2005. There was a fashion show.

My semester in Japan was truly the formative experience of my 20s. Without taking that trip, I'm not sure I would've had the confidence to move across the country for graduate school. While I failed miserably at going back before my 30th birthday, I'm not giving up hope that someday I'll go back. I suppose this'll have to go on my 'things to do before I turn 40' list.

2) Go to Europe, already!

I fared slightly better with goal #2, only missing the mark by a little over a year. My trip to England last fall was a dream come true, though I'd still like to journey to the Continent and test out my somewhat-rusty German. Berlin dreams might have to wait a while, though, as I'm now saving up for a trip to Wales! (In the past month or so, I've developed a minor obsession with Wales. It just looks like a paradise of lush green hills, gorgeous seasides, and words I cannot pronounce, and is the home to the world's cutest bunny!)

3) Have a dog

Sadly, this one was always going to be a pipe dream. A decade of apartment living, combined with my lifelong tendency to develop allergies if I so much as look at something furry for too long, has kept me from the dachshund of my dreams.

4) Lose 20 pounds.

When this photo was taken, I still wanted to lose about 15 pounds.

This is the one that I want to go back in time and punch myself over, to save myself several more years of feeling bad about my body. I suppose that's not quite fair to Younger Me, though. I couldn't have known back then that a far better goal would've been to learn to accept my body as it is. I'm quite thankful that over the past year or so, I've made enormous progress toward a healthier view of caring for my body. Nowadays, I focus on healthy behaviors for the sake of Future Old Lady Me, rather than doing whatever I can to move the needle on the scale. It's made me much happier, and helped me define what I see as the truly important uses of my time and energy.

5) Run a marathon

This photo was taken about a month before I stopped running for good. I don't remember why I was wearing a boa and matching hat.

Well, I started out strong with this one, and was up to about 10 miles at a clip when I blew out my knee at 24. Almost seven years later, I'm fairly certain that I'll never run again (aside from sprinting to make the bus every now and again.)

While I would've loved to complete a marathon, I did actually learn two important lessons from this. First, I learned to listen to my body, and give it time to heal. I sprained my ankle about six months before I wrecked my knee, and rather than sensibly rehabbing my ankle and then slowly regaining my running strength, I ran through the pain until I could barely walk. It's pointless to lament that I'd still be running if I'd just taken the time to heal back then, but the whole sorry affair taught me that health is precious and taking the time to heal is more important that any short-term fitness goals.

Second, I learned a lesson about the dangers of 1) working out for the wrong reasons and 2) not being honest to myself about my motivations. Sure, I wanted to complete a marathon, but mostly I wanted to stay on track for my weight-loss goals. I told myself it was all about strengthening my body, but in retrospect, I wasn't willing to stop training because I didn't want to regain any of the weight I'd lost. I genuinely loved running, though. Losing something I loved in pursuit of some number on the scale really put the whole weight-loss thing into better perspective, and has helped me redefine my view of health and fitness.

6) Finish my PhD

Me in my Hogwarts robes academic regalia

Finally, a success! I got my PhD at 28, so I even had a little time to spare. I'd been told that only about a third of people who start a PhD eventually complete them, and there was no way I'd let myself be part of the two-thirds that dropped out. In retrospect, my view of the 'quitters' was a bit naive and foolish, since there are plenty of good reasons not to complete a PhD, but I'm still quite glad I finished mine. The six-year journey to my PhD proved that I could buckle down and attain a goal that required disciplined, singleminded devotion to a long-term goal, more hard work than I've ever put into anything before, and a surprising amount of emotional development. While I've since left academia, I'll always be glad I chased and achieved that dream.

7) Go to Canada

The US-Canadian border, viewed from Canada.

Another success! I took a cruise with my grandma and her sister immediately before moving to LA, and went back to Canada four more times before my thirtieth birthday. Montreal is one of my favorite cities, and I'd love to go back yet again.

8) Make genuine progress with my anxiety

Not sure how to score this one. Six months ago, I would've said I'd nailed this one. Over the course of my twenties, my anxiety went from paralyzing to well-managed. Unfortunately, the election of an orange-hued, race-baiting stinkbug to the highest office in the land threw a major spanner in the works. I've been trying to use some of the tools I learned after my move to Los Angeles nine years ago to go on living well in the face of new terrors each day, though, and it's working a bit better now than it did in the initial month or two after the election. I'd call this a partial victory, with much more work still to come.

9) Buy a home


10) Go on a sailboat, instead of just staring at them

I sailed on this boat!

This one actually happened! I'm a huge fan of planes, boats, and spaceships, and while I'll probably never get to go into outer space (never say never!), I'd always wanted to try sailing. I happened to mention this goal to my dad about a month before my 30th birthday, when I was heading to New York for a visit. My dad told his former coworker, who has a sailboat, about this goal, and his coworker took us out for a day of sailing! It was even better than I'd dreamed, and now I want to take sailing lessons.

11) Present a paper at APSA [the American Political Science Association annual conference]

What a poster presentation looks like: awkwardness and poor graphic design

Does a poster session count? I applied to present papers at APSA for at least five consecutive years, and the closest I ever got was when I was accepted for a poster. Posters are a bit silly for political theorists, but I took the opportunity because 1) I'd made this goal, and 2) it was in Seattle that year, and I wanted to see Seattle. Whatever, APSA. Plenty of other conferences let me give papers!

12) Turn my dissertation into a book and have it published

*laugh emoji* *crying emoji*

In other words: nope!

13) Find a tenure-track job

2006 Emily, you were so naive and full of hope. You sweet summer child: there are no tenure-track jobs!

So there you have it: a brief overview of the successes and failures of my twenties. In writing this post, I realized that I don't regret the failures one bit. While I might not be a homeowner, or have the job I'd dreamed of and worked toward for almost a decade, or have my name on the spine of a book, I'm happy right where I am. Those successful failures helped to make me who I am right now: someone who sees the value in striving for a goal that you may never attain, and who keeps on dreaming big even though the dreams have changed.

Do you keep lists of long-term goals? If so, what's on your list?

Follow this blog on:


  1. This is such a good idea! I wish I had done something similar 10 years ago, but alas I didn't. I am tempted to do a post like this so that I could look back when I am 30!

    It looks like you did pretty good overall! I really can't wait to go to Japan...

    Lizzie Bee // hello lizzie bee

    1. Thank you! I rediscovered this list a little while back and spent a lot of time thinking about how different my life has turned out from what I'd expected.

      And yesss lists like this are so fun to make! I remember that doing this one helped me to sort out my priorities, and stay committed to my studies even when I wasn't feeling much like working.

      And YES you definitely need to go to Japan!! The shopping and food and EVERYTHING there is absolutely amazing!

  2. I laughed at the 'buy a home' one because I can relate SO HARD! Even with Cody and my plan to save for the next 2 years or so and buy a home in the next 2-3 years, I don't know HOW the heck anyone buys a home. HOWWWW!!!???? Ugh, someday, girl, someday!

    1. If you figure out the answer, let me know, ok? For us, it's also a matter of not knowing where we'll actually live permanently yet. Academia is tough like that. But yes -- someday!!

  3. I feel pretty much the same about the buy a home! It's going to be so hard and I don't think I'll get one before 30 either! Congrats on finishing your PhD x

  4. Love posts like this and I secretly think posting them pucblic pushes you more to do them haha you've done so well though!

    Jessica & James |

  5. Congratulations with your PhD! That's simply incredible! Also I too hope you can return to Japan, you and I both hold a lot of love for that country <3 Hope you get to Wales as well! Wales is stunning, the south of the country where the Brecon Beacons are, is the easiest to get to :)

    Congratulations on all of your achievements, I hope the rest you can achieve in future ~ we're all human and time restraints can be both super motivating and great and de motivating when we don't hit them, keep going! <3 xx

  6. Such a great post as always you've managed to do so much it's really inspiring 💖

  7. I see a lot of posts about what people want to do before 30, but this the first reflection post I've seen. I'm sure it must have been interesting to look back at what your younger self want to accomplish vs where life took you. This post has me actually wanting to make a list now.

    Breanna Catharina

  8. France is amazing in summer. Lyon, Bordeaux or Strasbourg are really nice. Paris is overrated. Trust me, I was born there! Italy is amazing too. So come to Europe ahah. Congrats for your PhD, i am sure you can make your thesis a book! It's a great list of things to do before 30.I should have one... yeah... xx Corinne from Corinne & Kirsty

  9. Lovely post, and congrats on all the achievements so far! I've been considering a PhD, but not sure I have the guts to do it! Got a while before I need to decide though... loved reading this post, might even starthough a to-do list of my own! P.s. love the Hogwarts robes 😂 xx

  10. This is such a good idea! I wrote a list of goals in a book when I was about 18ish, and stumbled across it decorating last year (5ish years later) and had the exact same range of emotions. I might steal this post idea and reflect a bit on them, if you don't mind!

    Maxine, xo

  11. I love 'get a dog' that's my goal haha

    Tasha x

  12. This is such a good idea! I can relate with you about anxiety, I sometime feel like I'm doing well and then all of a sudden it gets bad again! I hope yours continues to get better :)!

    L xo

  13. I love that you went with option D: Share List Publicly on My Blog ;) <3 Thank you for sharing these with us. It's so nice learning more about the person behind the blog <3

  14. Lady! You are far more accomplished that many people I know....high five!! I'm just happy I wake up some mornings LOL <3