One year ago I did something a little audacious. I put together a list of items I wanted to accomplish, both mundane and adventurous, before I turned 40. Well, as of yesterday, 40 has arrived and with it the time has come to report back on how I did in completing the list. The list is made up of a series of life challenges and each one means something to me. Some were basic, like learning how to sew on a button, while others were lofty, like diving along the Great Barrier Reef. In tackling this list though I realized something along the way. I realized that I would never be able to completely finish the list before turning 40, but I actually preferred it that way. I wanted there to be some items left to do, to tackle in my 40s and to add to as I continue to get older. But in the interest of transparency, I thought I’d take some time to share with everyone exactly what I was able to accomplish over the last 12 months.
I also have to thank all of the kind people who helped me with this list. I couldn’t have done it alone and I’m eternally in their debt.
The post that started it all: My Personal 40 Before 40 Challenge
1. Learn yoga
Not usually a flexible person, I wanted to try yoga as a low-impact way to stay fit. I have issues with my knee and moving forward it will be difficult to keep up with the cardio exercises that I normally do. My first real experience with yoga was a private lesson on the beach while I was staying along the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. I was nervous at first, unsure what to do and afraid to look silly, but the instructor was amazing and before long I was right there with her, managing even the most complicated of poses. I want to make this a regular part of my life; I just need to find the appropriate place and instructor at home to make that happen.
2. Go on an epic solo journey
While I haven’t gone on the ‘epic’ journey I had in mind, I have had several opportunities to travel alone, from North Carolina to Norway and even Alberta. While I do enjoy traveling with others, especially my partner, I think it’s important to travel by yourself once in a while. Not only is it fun to figure everything out on your own, gaining confidence along the way, but the time alone is important for self-reflection. I’m not sure why it is, but the travel experience lends itself to this preoccupation with evaluating our lives, where we are and where we are going. It’s important to have this time alone, not just to enjoy a trip, but to figure out where the direction your life is headed as well.
3. Speak at more conferences
I love public speaking in a way that is probably rare. Instead of shrinking from the experience, getting up in front of a crowd is an adrenaline rush for me and something I really enjoy doing. When I was working full time I spoke at a lot of conferences and as a blogger I’ve even presented a few times, but over the last couple of years I’ve been too busy to apply for the spots. In order to keep my public speaking skills up I listed this as a goal and I’m happy to say that I’ve achieved it. In 2015 I gave several presentations, including one at SoMeT2015 (Social Media Tourism Symposium) in New Orleans. This is something I need to always be doing though, I think it’s important not only for self-promotion, but as a way to make sure I don’t lose that love of public speaking through atrophy.
4. Learn basic automotive repair – change a tire, etc
I like driving, but that’s where my relationship with cars begins and ends. Anything that goes beyond the glove box isn’t just well beyond my comprehension, I also have very little interest in it. Then, last year while driving in the Australian Outback, my car broke down and I was faced with having to change a tire or essentially die. Seriously. Luckily, help came along in the form of a random passerby, probably the first in that part of the world in months, and I was saved. But it was a good reminder that it’s important to know at least a little bit about basic automotive repair. Earlier this year I spent some time with YouTube and my car’s instruction manual and now feel fairly confident that if need be, I could rescue myself the next time instead of waiting for someone else to come help me out.
7. Learn basic sewing, so I can quickly attach a button
An oddly important skill, it’s one I had avoided learning for a long time. I didn’t think this would be an early success story, but then I was surprised by assistance I received when I least expected it. Arriving at the Four Seasons Seattle for a brief stay, the staff there had read my post about the 40 things I want to do and decided to help me out. They purchased a short book on learning how to sew and left it for me along with a lovely card in my room. A simple gesture, it touched me beyond measure and I’m still so incredibly grateful for the thought that went into it. Thanks to them, and the helpful book, I have successfully learned how to sew on a button, but anything more advanced may just be well beyond my abilities.
9. Go to the North Pole
While I didn’t go to the geographic North Pole, I did spend plenty of time in the Arctic Circle and other points north. In March 2015, I journeyed to Alta, Norway, deep in the heart of the Arctic Circle. Even in early spring it was frigid and plenty of snow blanketed the ground, allowing opportunities for fun experiences like snowshoeing, fat-tire biking and of course seeing the beautiful Northern Lights. More recently I was in Finnish Lapland, another cold-weather destination famous for its amazing landscapes and fun activities like driving your own dogsled team and snowmobiling along the 100-kilometer Polar Bear Track.
12. Learn how to fold shirts
I don’t know what’s wrong with me when it comes to folding shirts, but I have a mental block when it comes to organizing my clothes and presenting them in a neat and thoughtful way. It’s annoyed my partner for years and, more recently, it’s also started to annoy me. With some help from friends and family though I think I sort of accomplished this goal – at least my closet looks a lot better than it did before!
13. Epic road trip across America.
Route 66, the Mother Road as Steinbeck called it, has been calling my name for a long time. While I didn’t tackle this mega-drive in 2015, I am hopeful for 2016. I did enjoy other road trip adventures in 2015 though, including a solo road trip around North Carolina where I learned more about this beautiful state and along the way I did have those special, unplanned adventures I craved. Later in the summer I also found myself on a road trip in Alberta, exploring Jasper National Park – truly one of the most beautiful places in the world
14. Attend Highland Games in the Scottish Highlands
While I didn’t attend any Highland Games, I did spend some time exploring the Scottish Highlands in 2015, which I didn’t think I’d get a chance to do. The last time I was in this beautiful part of the world was way back in 1998, and reconnecting with what is one of my favorite parts of the world was more fun than I could have imagined. I need to go back for the Games though.
15. Go camping. Not glamping or gamping but old fashioned camping.
I’m a luxury traveler, one who likes nice hotels at that, so I knew that this one would be difficult but I managed to complete it just last week when I camped out in the middle of Finnish Lapland. There I joined an excursion with Bearhill Husky Farm during which I drove my own team of dogs over 60-kilometers before reaching a remote outpost for the night. While I certainly wasn’t out in the raw elements, it was an experience very much out of my comfort zone and will be as close to completing this task as I think possible.
16. Learn how to better use my camera
I love photography and have gotten better over the years, but there still remained features on my camera that intimidated me. Not at all professionally trained, through trial and error I have improved over the years, but probably not in the right way. So when I was in Norway I decided to do some research and learn how to take better night photos, in anticipation of the Northern Lights. More than just taking a shot in the dark (get it?) it’s about shutter speed and timing so that the brilliance of the lights can really be captured. While it’s not my best style of photography, I am proud to say that I managed to not only capture photos of the Northern Lights, but photos I’m actually proud of as well.
17. Go paragliding off of Table Mountain
I honestly thought that I would yet again visit South Africa in 2015, a country I have come to understand, appreciate and certainly love. That didn’t happen, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to try a paragliding or hang gliding experience for myself. I had the perfect opportunity while visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Kitty Hawk, the site of the Wright Brothers’ first attempt at human powered flight. The massive sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park are perfect for the first time hang glider like myself and with the expert help from the pros at Kitty Hawk Kites, I too found myself soaring through the air.
22. Go to Machu Picchu
There are certain places around the world that rest comfortably on almost everyone’s travel bucket lists, and the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu is one of them. I’ve wanted to visit this archaeological wonder ever since I was a little kid; my love of adventure and history coming together for this one experience. Working with Intrepid Travel, I spent a week in Peru including a day visiting (finally) this great wonder of man’s ingenuity. Was it worth the travel and hassle to get there? You bet, and Machu Picchu itself is just as beautiful as it seems in every postcard and on every travel calendar.
26. Dress more fashionably, more put together.
Even before I left my 9-5 job, I was a home-based employee, which means I’ve worked from home for around 8 years or so. While it’s not for everyone, I love it but it does come at a certain cost, especially in regards to fashion. I tend to wear either what is comfortable or suitable around three furry dogs instead of what looks good or is well composed. Since I’ve lost about 75 pounds over the last 3-years, I needed to buy a new wardrobe and decided to do so mindfully. The result is that when I leave the house, I feel as if I look much better, more put-together and that in turn has given me a lot more self-confidence.
30. See the Great Migration in Tanzania/Kenya
While I didn’t actually complete this task during the last year, I made plans to complete it so I’m counting it. In March, I am thrilled to be joining a very special Abercrombie & Kent safari in Tanzania where I will not only see the Great Migration, but enjoy for the first time the luxurious service and quality for which Abercrombie & Kent is so very well known.
34. Sit on a beach in the South Pacific/French Polynesia
Reading the works of Michener at an age entirely too young and probably inappropriate, visiting the tropical islands of the South Pacific has been #1 on my travel bucket list since well before the concept of bucket lists began. What I had in mind when I added this item was a trip to Tahiti or the like, resting in an overwater bungalow and floating in the crystal clear waters without a worry in the world. While a trip to what is classically defined as the South Pacific didn’t happen in 2015, I did indeed visit the South Pacific and I did sit on that tropical beach. The South Pacific can be defined as including Australia and in that case, Queensland is the country’s best place to enjoy moments of tropical perfection. My favorite beach experience was on the private and secluded Whitehaven beach, frequently named one of the best beaches in the world. Arriving by helicopter, I had a couple of hours on this amazing stretch of land, almost to myself, to bask in the sun, take a dip in the water and to enjoy those much anticipated moments of carefree relaxation. That doesn’t mean I’m abandoning my desire to see Tahiti and the surrounding islands, I just need to slightly alter the language in this wish-list item.
35. Swim in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef & 32. Try SCUBA diving
Australia is one of my favorite countries to visit but throughout my travels in the Land Down Under, there was one key experience I had somehow skipped – visiting the Great Barrier Reef. That changed in May when, at the kind invitation of Queensland Tourism, I spent nearly a month in the state, including time along the Great Barrier Reef itself. Spending the night on a remarkable Reefsleep experience, I saw this natural wonder at every time of day and in every possible way, including through a scuba diving experience. I have snorkeled all over the world, but scuba scared me. My mind just doesn’t like the idea of breathing underwater and so I had somehow avoided it throughout the years. That changed in Queensland though as I cast aside my fears and joined an expert instructor under the water. While I was hesitant at first, I also know a once in a lifetime opportunity when I see one and I decided to just go for it. And wow, am I glad I did. The experience was remarkable and seeing the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef from a completely different point of view became a favorite moment of the trip.
40. See the Northern Lights
This was actually the first item I ticked off of my list, and since then I’ve been fortunate enough to see them twice. In February, my partner and I took a quick vacation to Iceland, one of our favorite countries, where we stayed at a beautiful farm-hotel on the West Coast. It was a great experience and the best part was seeing the heavens come alive at night, absent any nearby city the skies were as dark as can be. The forecast wasn’t great for the Northern Lights, but on my last night there I saw small wisps of them peeking from around the nearby mountains. The real show came in Norway though, while visiting the so-called Northern Lights Capital of the World – Alta. I went on a Northern Lights tour and sure enough, we saw a great display of them over the bay. But it was the next night, standing all alone on a frozen lake that I saw what was probably the best Northern Lights demonstration that I’ll ever see. I stood there in the freezing cold for more than an hour as the colors shifted from green to pink, dancing around the skies, behind mountains and at one point all around me. It was spectacular and I know is an evening that I will never forget.
Completed items: 19
Items NOT completed:
- Pick up on my genealogical research to pursue my British roots.
- Go bungee jumping.
- Fly in First Class. Not Business or Business/First, but a full-fledged First Class experience. (I was SO close, but it didn’t happen)
- Learn to play guitar.
- Paddle in a Dragon Boat
- Start teaching blogging classes and/or giving tours. (It almost happened, but the company I was partnering with decided they no longer wanted to be in this kind of business)
- Volunteer with a local charity. (Donated plenty of money, but not yet my time)
- Take swimming lessons. I can swim, but not really effectively; I just splash around.
- Attend a major sporting event.
- Drive a race car.
- Attend an epic festival or event, such as Mardi Gras, Holi, Running of the Bulls, etc.
- Learn a new language. (I’ve learned snippets of new ones, but not enough for a conversation)
- Hug a panda.
- Go skydiving. (I was very close to completing this, but other factors came into play and it was cancelled.)
- Learn how to make macarons in France. (I didn’t do this, but I did learn how to make Black Forest Cake in the Black Forest of Germany.)
- Read 5 books I don’t want to read. (I’m always reading something, but didn’t tackle the books I’ve been dreading for decades.)
- Meet Dolly Parton.
- Write a book. (No book, but 260 blog posts a year should count for something.)
- Play Baccarat in Monte Carlo while wearing a tux.
- Visit remaining 9 U.S. states I haven’t been to.
Wrapping up and looking ahead
As I said at the outset of this post, I’m happy that I wasn’t able to finish all 40 items. I think it would have been fairly depressing actually to have completed the entire list, it would have meant that there was nothing left for me to do. Along the way I also realized that we all have these lists no matter what age we are and that they’re always in flux. Whether we put pen to paper or just have them floating around in our heads, we all have lists of personal challenges that we want to tackle and in the process, hopefully become better people. Completing the items on this list pushed and challenged me, some in fairly significant ways and that more than anything is what I enjoyed most about this list. In fact, I so enjoyed the process of doing things I didn’t think possible, that I decided to add a few more to what remains left unfinished and will post them all in a new piece next week. I hope you’ll follow along with that personal journey with as much attention as you did this one.
Thank you everyone for the incredible support I received as I sought to complete my 40 before 40 Challenge!