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Your Whole Life at a Glance

On the many hikes after I just arrived here on Rødøy, I thought a lot about life. Perhaps it was because I had to walk by the graveyard at least twice a day. The nursing home is right next to the graveyard. I wondered what they were thinking, staring day-in and day-out at a destiny that sucks.

The hikes took me to the top of the peaks on Rødøy with panoramic views of the open sea. In the climax of the movie “Ratatouille”, the waiter asks a rude but important food critic, “Sir, what would like to have?” “Perspective,” he said. Then, the rat-chef makes a devastating ratatouille that sends the food critic tumbling down memory lane of his childhood in bucolic French countryside — an intensely moving scene. Perhaps, there is a way to get a perspective on my life, as if looking at it from a mountain top. And I came up with one.

First, there has to be a linear time line. Our brains play tricks with time in the past, so we have to force ourselves to look at time for what it is, a constant drumbeat. A year wasted in life is still a year that one could’ve spent writing if just one good sonnet.

Second, you have to layout what’s important to you across the linear time line scale. Is it family? Career? Romance? Friendship? Travel? Learning? Pets? And for each area, think about it either in milestones, or in periods of time, depending on if you’re journey-oriented or a goal oriented person.

Third, you have to lay this out on a A4 or Letter-sized sheet of paper. That means it’d force you only put down things that are important.

Last, this is for nobody else but me. I can’t get perspective on life unless I’m honest with myself. What do the people in that nursing home think when they look at a new grave with fresh flowers?

I call this tima-lina, time-line in Icelandic which is close to old Norse. Here’s what a tima-lina looks like, drawn with publicly available information about me:

Maybe you should do one, too? I promise it won’t be a waste of time.

By the way, if you’re a good programmer and have some spare cycles, would you please build this in a Web app?

  1. # does something a little like this based upon your linkedin data

    April 30, 2012
    • I’m sure between Linked-in and Facebook you can get most of the basic raw information. This format can definitely be used as a “visual resume.”

      So for 6 months your title was “World Traveller” working for a company named “Travel”? Love it. Data quality problems are usually created by inflexible data models.

      April 30, 2012
  2. Joe #

    I like this line of thought, Winston. I think it’s greatly neglected. One thing that I’ve been thinking about lately is how we tend to gravitate towards a steady-state. Of course, machines are more efficient when you set them at an optimal load/speed and just leave them alone. And, so we tend to do this with our lives. So, if you were to look at most peoples’ tima-linas, they would probably mostly settle out into long, constant bars, until the very end. Of course, picking up everything and moving to Norway is one great way of breaking this up–and an inspiration to the rest of us, of course. And, naturally, there are some parts of the time line you hope will remain constant (the “love” bar, in particular, and also perhaps the “home” bar as well).

    April 30, 2012
    • Right. You don’t want to do this you’re in a nursing home. In another era, educated people wrote diaries. That forces one to sit down and reflect. Now, I haven’t heard of too many people who deliberately sit down and think about, what is it that I want to do in life? What are my core values, to borrow a phrase? Am I happy with how I have lived? What should I do differently from here on?

      May 1, 2012
  3. Ellen Crocker #

    I have always tried to live with the full awareness of finitude, of death. Paradoxically, it helps me value, truly value, the present. Erik Erikson wrote about the last stage of life being a period either of serenity or of despair–depending on what what takes in with the retrospective view of one’s life choices.

    On a different note–Stuart and I have been thinking how marvelous this year is for all four of you. It has given you (literally) perspective. Love to all of you, Ellen

    April 30, 2012
    • Thanks Ellen! Totally agree. If we were all immortal, there wouldn’t be urgency any where.

      I read that people in my age (41) are generally the least happy. We have demands of families, full recognition of our mortality, need to accomplish given limited time, etc.. People generally get happier as they get older.

      May 1, 2012
  4. Winston,
    I like your tima-lina!


    April 30, 2012
  5. Linda B #

    Hi Winston. As always, you’ve got us all thinking! I’m a little confused though on what your purpose was for the tima lina? Did you use it as a jumping off point to determine what you’ve done with your life, or to try to understand the motivations behind the choices that you’ve made?

    I spent a lot of time recently detailing out the moves/changes I’ve made in location, love, work (and there have been a few as you know!), and drilling down into why I made those changes. I was brutally honest and it produced a series of patterns that were eye-opening. I like your tima lina, but does it go far enough?


    May 1, 2012
    • I think the purpose is to go through the exercise of coming up with the diagram, and doing it with complete honesty. You might discover some eye-opening patterns and learn something about yourself, as you did. Or you might change a few habits. Or decide to something different with your life. I’m afraid if you have a clear goal in mind when you start, this exercise may not be too helpful.

      May 1, 2012
      • Linda B #

        I think having a clear goal when you start could definitely be a problem with this, just because it would taint your responses. If you’re able to objectively put it to one side, though, then it could definitely work. Having never had a clear goal in my life I’m really not sure how difficult that would be! 🙂

        May 6, 2012
  6. RichardP #

    Puts it all into perspective for sure … I recall leaving HP after 16 years and taking the summer off – what a blessing it was to decompress and reset my life priorities before it was too late.

    This is such a great experience for you on so many levels – congratulations and enjoy the time you have remaining – I know you’ll make the most of it.

    May 4, 2012
    • Thanks Richard!

      May 13, 2012
  7. I think this could work – unless it makes you feel you haven’t ‘lived life to the fullest’ and it starts making you anxious. I’m not in a steady job and have never been (I’m 29 years old) because I graduated during a recession that’s still going on. What helps for me is just to take a step back and look at all the things I have achieved outside of work and uni (I do have an MA degree, but also dropped out of one MSc program): I have a wonderful husband, family and friends, and to me that’s one of the most important things in my life. Maybe friendships should be included in a timeline too?

    May 6, 2012
    • You can include any thing you deem important. Accepting that people have different priorities.

      May 13, 2012

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