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The Moments That Make Up Our Lives

Someone asked me yesterday to think about what the five most defining moments in my life have been.  My mind darted amongst a number of relatively benign events — boarding my first solo flight out of the U.S., leaving for college, being with my grandmother shortly before her death, falling in love with my (now) husband, becoming a mother — a set of moments I’m trying to let sit in my mind to see if any more interesting or surprising ones stick out as I continue to think through this question.  After all, maybe one of those moments should be nearly failing Calculus, sleeping in a train station in Venice, making a dear friend cry, sobbing over heartbreak, or going to a shrink.

I like the notion of defining moments as a way to think about our lives.  Ever since someone introduced me to the idea of making memories, I’ve thought it made good sense.  The idea is — it’s worth it to do things now that don’t bring immense joy or pleasure, but have the potential to create a memory for yourself or someone else that will endure over time.  Things that have the power to change our perspective, or even the course of our lives.  For me, this isn’t about seeking out events or experiences or risks or thrills solely for the sake of memory making; but rather, it’s about living life in a way that creates space for things to happen that stick out.

Author and entrepreneur Ben Casnocha recently published a piece on LinkedIn about this very question, asserting that “memories make your life more meaningful.”  I like his point of view, in part because he references Joan Didion, one of my favorite authors of all time: “We are the stories we tell ourselves, says Joan Didion. Yet, unless we’re on a strong diet of self-delusion, we can only tell stories about things we remember.”  His piece is worth a read if you’re interested in this topic; as a teaser, here are his tips for investing in memories:

  • Prize novelty. Novelty leads to memories.
  • Take on challenges; endure struggle; feel intense lows and highs.
  • Do things with people. And use people as a key variable.
  • Seek novelty, yes, except when novelty itself becomes routine.
  • Review and re-live memories soon after the fact.
  • If you consciously focus on creating a great memory in the moment, it sticks.

Ben’s piece talks more about creating memories about your own life, but I think there is another level of this to think about — creating memories for someone else.  I think about this a lot as a parent.

  • What rituals can we incorporate into our daily lives?
  • What traditions matter to our family?
  • What experiences can I give my kids that they’ll like take with them as they grow up?  For example, I have vivid memories of going skinny dipping as a kid and soaping up the slide at the end of the pier with dish soap (no suit + soap = fastest slide of all time); I think my parents gave us the soap and promised to keep the lights off.
  • What kind of trips can we take that might open our minds in a different way?
  • Who do we spend time with — people like us, or all sorts of people?

Every night before bed we lie down with our kids and talk about our days.  We do a blow-by-blow of what happened (what did we eat, who did we see, what books did we read), and I’ve learned to love this time and use it to reflect on what memories we’re creating.  Are we creating space for ourselves and our kids to do crazy things…to experiences joy and struggle without getting lost…or are we getting stuck in the day-to-day, maintaining a steady and almost unrecognizable hum?  Finding a balance between enough novelty and too much novelty is always a challenge for me, as a person and as a parent; but I think that striving for this balance is worth it.  After all, these are the seconds and minutes and hours and days that make up our lives.  They are the moments to savor in the present and come back to in the future — as time marches on.

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