The art of lists and adulthood

So far, I have always kind of fallen into things. I work hard at things and try to be a good person and, in doing so, I trust that the universe will always work out as she’s meant to.

I have never ever been a list-writing, planning sort of person. In my head, the two have to go together. You write lists as part of a plan to make sure everything works out.


Until now.


In starting a new job in a new country, flying back and forth from Australia, I have started writing lists with gusto and making plans for the future. The notes app on my phone has never been used in such a systematic way before.

I’m using every section in my diary. Also – I’m using a diary.


It’s a little frightening in a way.

One of the reasons I’ve struggled with the idea of planning is that life can be deeply wonky. Things don’t turn out as you expected, for better or worse, and plans fall to the wayside. So why make them if you’ll just discard them when something unexpected happens? Why not just let life happen? I’ve watched other people become frozen in their planning, unable to move when things didn’t work as they expected. They’ve railed against it all and stuck to their plans as though that would change anything – they’ve just been yelling at the wind and the world has kept on turning. I’ve never wanted to be stuck like that.

But I’ve realized lately that my plans won’t necessarily be like that because I am not a person like that.

This discovery felt like a moment of proper grownup-ness.

This year, my lists and plans (because my lists are the stepping stones I need for my plans to make any sense) keep me focused on my goals. However, my lists and plans have been reshaped and even discarded depending on what has happened so far this year but it hasn’t meant my goals of changed or that I’m any less further away from achieving them – in fact, I’ve already achieved one goal a good month early. Lists and plans haven’t meant I’ve been less open to the universe but more ready in some ways to take leaps of faith.


In some ways, the universe seems to be encouraging me in my lists and plans.

My life in general requires significant organisation now that I move between two countries. There are lists for what to take back to Australia, and what needs to be done, just as there are equivalent lists for Nauru.

And working in Nauru gives me space to think outside the usual academic sphere. There is a little more time to sit with the articles I’m working on and think about them, rather than writing them in a mad rush during in-between space. This feels precious and a fear of wasting this time has also led to lists and plans of what to write and when, adding new ideas and pieces as they come in. In doing this, I’ve found that, all of a sudden, I have writing routines for different days. It hasn’t always worked beautifully, but I’ve still managed to sit with something most days and at least keep the work in my mind rather than have it under a pile of other papers forgotten for weeks at a time.

I’ve taken Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice of showing up to my desk and laptop and trusting that my creative genius will eventually show up as well. And in doing this, I’ve finished the first draft of my first fictional book. I’ve never followed an idea from beginning to end like that before so it feels exciting – and a relief to have actually done it. And I’m not sure it would have happened without making plans this year – it made me feel accountable to myself.


And given my previous fear of lists and plans, that’s the nicest things I’ve actually discovered so far this year. I don’t get stuck in plans so much as I’ve used them to leapfrog from one idea to another. It’s not about being perfect (that would frighten me and make me feel frozen anyway) but about becoming better – practicing writing as a serious craft, learning more and more how to be a better teacher, and giving myself the time and the space to have days where things don’t work and I feel deeply wonky. There is a deep satisfaction in crossing things off my list and listening to the universe (and my mentors) for what to do next.