Five-year plans are a bad idea.

I’m a huge planner. I love sitting down to a blank page to dream up scenarios and make lists. I plan my week ahead. At the end of the year, I like to plan my year ahead. And I‌ love daydreaming about my future self and all the things she’ll have achieved and tried and experienced.

Problem is, it’s a bad idea to make plans based on what you’d like to achieve in five years.

The logic goes like this:‌‌ In five years, I want to be a traveling and performing musician. So then I‌ work backward and figure out what I‌ need to accomplish this year, and then break that down further and figure out what I‌ need to accomplish in the next quarter. Makes sense, right?

This is how I’ve always done it. But life doesn’t work like that.

The universe is really interesting. Some of the coolest opportunities that come to us are totally unexpected, things we could’ve never predicted. We meet new people. We receive a job offer out of left field. A friend tells us they’re working on a creative project that sounds fun, but is completely outside the realm of anything we’ve done. So why plan for a future you can’t predict?

I’m not saying don’t plan at all. And I’m certainly not saying to submit yourself to the whims of the universe, floating goallessly through life.

But there is an approach that makes more sense. It’s in two parts.

1) Take action now. If I‌ want to be a performing musician in five years, that means‌‌‌ I’m really interested in music right now, at this very moment. Therefore I should ride that wave, and take advantage of the energy that this interest in music creates. If I‌ write some music, maybe play with friends, maybe try an open mic night or other type of performance, then I’m already a performing musician. If I enjoy it and keep at it, perhaps I’ll end up a higher-level touring musician in five years. Or perhaps, after taking action on it for a little while, a totally unforeseen opportunity for something else comes up. Maybe I play a show, and meet with someone who’s making a film, and end up collaborating on a film score. You really never know.

But you need to take action on what seems fun and interesting. We often get stuck in research/analysis mode. There’s nothing wrong with research, but it can be a way to delay taking action. You spend three months reading about writing music instead of just writing and experimenting, and you’re no closer to being that performing musician. Whereas in the first example, maybe you’ve already gone up on stage in front of others.

2) Instead of making 5-year plans, consider your 5-year character. We can’t predict the things that will happen in five years. There are way too many wildcards, and life would be boring if you could. What IS worth thinking about, and working toward, is the kind of person you want to be. The character traits you’d like to develop.

Is your five-year-from-now self more courageous? More emotionally expressive? More organized? Honorable? Forthright? Energetic? Fun? Creative?‌ Intuitive? Self-sufficient? Loving?‌ Kind?

Sometimes opportunities arise that allow us to upgrade our character. Perhaps you go through a devastating experience that ends up making you a more compassionate person. Perhaps an experience with being swindled makes you develop more honesty in your own character.

Even though we can’t control the things that happen to us, we can control what happens within us. The kind of person we are right now, and the kind of person we become.

Taking action now on those crazy-exciting ideas is going to make your life immediately better – no waiting for five years. And thinking about how you might improve your character is also something that can happen today.

Who is the person you want to become, and how can you be more like that person right now?

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Too little, too late.

How many hot cups of coffee do I‌ have left to savor?‌ How many books will I‌ be able to read? How many gorgeous winter sunrises do I‌ have left to witness, driving on the highway, all the whites and blues and piercing cold sunlight?

Hopefully many.

How many times left to watch my daughter fall asleep, in this stage, so small, still a baby even though she’s no longer a baby? She was a baby, and then I blinked and she wasn’t. It goes by so fast.

How many songs left to write, ideas grasped out of nothingness, a tune from another world that becomes mine?

How many more plates of okonomiyaki, or mac and cheese with collard greens, cabbage rolls and perogies on the holidays with loved ones?‌ How many times will I‌ connect with my grandparents, my parents, aunties and uncles and all the rest?

How many more days like this one?

I‌ live like I‌ assume I’ll live forever. I take it for granted. There will be a million more, a million more.

I don’t want to forget to cherish you. To wake up in 50 years and realize it was wasted. It all went by and I‌ was blind to it. Like a dream, a life that evaporates.

I want to wake up tomorrow, and really wake up.

-Allysia

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Journaling expands your life.

I‌ was having a conversation with a friend this past weekend. I love talking about ideas; it’s a way to clarify thoughts I have in my head, to test them in the real world, to bounce them back and forth with someone who brings their own ideas and experiences, which elevates my own.

We were talking about journaling and writing. “Why,”‌ I‌ said, “should I‌ even bother with blogging every day, the way I have been for a week?” I told her that I didn’t have a goal with it. It wasn’t for any reason, except perhaps my own pleasure. I find writing fun. I find journaling fun.

She said that writing is a way to expand your life. How when you write about your life, it causes you to think about your life like a story. You crystallize ordinary moments in your memory. Having sharper memories gives you the experience of time moving more slowly. Instead of a week, a month, a year racing by with you saying, “Where did the time go?”, you know where the time went, because you’ve been thinking about it and observing it all along.

You start to notice recurring themes. You start to pay attention to the small things. You notice what’s happening in your daily experience. The beautiful lighting just before sundown, the perfect blue sky, the funny thing your daughter did, the strand of an idea you have. It all starts to mean more.

When it means more, you pay more attention. Life expands.

I don’t journal so that I‌ have an artifact to look back on, though that’s a nice side-effect. I do it for the immediate and long-term benefits of improving my memory and having more richness and depth in my days.

Once you start to see your life like a story, with you as the main character, you start to think about moving in more interesting directions. About making more interesting choices. Taking more risks. Pushing yourself further. Because after all, do you want a boring life story?

I’ve been journaling 40,000 words or more every year since 2015, and it’s one of my favorite habits. Before that, I‌ would handwrite in notebooks, but I‌ find the process too slow now. Some people love writing by hand, but I’d much rather type my journals. I reserve handwriting for lyrics and poetry, which by default require slow thinking.

Some of my earlier years are distinct and memorable. 2004, 2005, 2009. These years stand out to me clearly, with obvious themes that I‌ can recall in great detail. Other years blend together, with nothing of significance standing out.

Since 2015, I can easily identify themes. Some of them are based around life milestones – getting married in 2017 and having a baby in 2018, say – but others are more inward-focused, such as 2016, where my theme for the year was‌ “zest” and I made a point to start wandering outside my comfort zone in work, friendships and hobbies.

Sometimes my journal entries are just a couple of sentences. Sometimes they’re long and sprawling. Sometimes they’re anecdotes, other times detailing plans, goals and dreams. Anything goes. I‌ treasure it all. I want to live my life fully, and journaling is one important piece of that puzzle.

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On getting a personal trainer.

Today I went to the gym and had a session with a personal trainer. He showed me how to improve my squat form, made me realize that my lower core strength is abominable, and that my hips are strong.

Most importantly, though – having a fitness trainer was fun!

All of the pressure of knowing what to do was taken off my shoulders. I just needed to show up and do the work. Hard work, I‌ might add. Harder than I would’ve worked if I was on my own.

As a piano teacher, I understand the reasons having a personal coach can 10x your results. It’s so nice to rely on someone else’s expertise instead of having to figure everything out for yourself, unsure of if you’re even doing it right. Both in fitness and piano, for example, it’s difficult to self-correct posture, but doing so can make a night-and-day difference in your results, not to mention avoiding injury.

All my life, I’ve considered the expense of a personal trainer to be frivolous. That’s why I’ve never had one before. I can use free resources and figure it out on my own, so why not just do that?

But there’s something about the social element – someone expecting you to be there at a certain time – and the accountability element – do the work!‌ – that makes having a trainer so effective. It’s expensive, yes. But there’s the reward of a fun gym session, a social experience, pushing myself harder than I would’ve otherwise, and not having to plan anything. That makes it worth the cost to me.

It makes me think about what other areas of my life I could 10x with some individual sessions. Wouldn’t it be great to have personal trainers in other aspects of life? You could have someone come to your house and teach you how to cook great meals. You could have an artist show you how to paint with watercolors. A fashion designer help you choose your wardrobe. A‌ hair stylist help you with your everyday looks. A personal development coach to help you dream big. A psychologist to help you untangle your past. And on, and on, and on.

Not all at once, unless that’s how you prefer to live your life. 🙂

I’m going to start leaning in this direction. Instead of trying to rely on myself to do everything, why not outsource to others, saving myself time to focus on what I do best?

There’s value in being thrifty and resourceful, in being able to learn new things. Those are qualities I’ve already developed. Now I’m ready for a different adventure. Outsourcing as a way to grow faster.

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It’s okay.

I’ve been thinking about acceptance. How, in difficult situations, my tendency is to fight the difficulty, to reject it. Like I’m saying to the experience, “this is not okay”.

But sometimes things are difficult. Why reject an inevitable part of life?

This isn’t the same thing as passivity, of sitting back and being punished. The attitude of, “things suck, so why try?”

Rejecting a part of life is like rejecting a part of yourself. This life, it’s full-spectrum.

It’s okay when things are difficult. It’s okay to be lost, to not know the next steps.

It’s okay to live in your heart. Feel it all. Let in the light with the dark. Let in the sun with the storm.

That’s where the love is.

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Good Taste.

Probably everyone thinks they have good taste. Most people would describe themselves as kind, generous, thoughtful and reasonably intelligent. These aren’t objective measurements.

But you might look at someone and think they have terrible taste. The food they eat, or the clothes they wear, or the music they listen to.

Part of this is a judgement based on your own subjective set of standards. I listen to Tool, so therefore if you listen to Taylor Swift, you must have bad taste.

Another part of this is based on societal ideas of what constitutes good taste. If you have nice shoes, or listen to an acclaimed album, or eat at a fine dining restaurant, then you have good taste.

But just because a bunch of people agree on something doesn’t make it true. We used to agree that parachute pants were cool. That adding a half cup of blueberries to a muffin recipe made them healthy. That white blonde women were the most beautiful.

If you’re at a party with 12 people, and 11 of them say you have ugly shoes, does that mean you have ugly shoes?‌‌ If that happened, you might want to get nicer friends.

Maybe you could say, objectively, that your shoes have a big hole in the toe and are caked in mud. Therefore, they’re ugly. That isn’t an issue of taste anymore, but an issue of quality.

Let’s pretend, then, that your shoes are clean and cared for. But 11 of your friends say they’re ugly. What criteria are they judging this on?‌‌ What they see on Reddit?‌ What other people are wearing?‌ Are the 9th, 10th and 11th people saying they’re ugly because the first 7 people did?

Is popular opinion worth more than your personal vote?

Ultimately it doesn’t matter if anyone else thinks you have good or bad taste, since it’s mostly a subjective measurement. What matters is if you think you have good taste.

How do you develop good taste?

Asked another way:‌ What tastes good to you?

We shovel food in our mouth without tasting it. We turn on Spotify without really hearing it. We wear clothes that are fast and convenient to put on.

If you flip these ideas, doesn’t that mean you’ll have to invest a lot of time and effort to develop good taste?

Cooking a nice meal takes time. Really listening to a song requires focus, not multi-tasking. Wearing clothes you love means taking time to let yourself be open and captivated at the store.

One thing I‌ find interesting in life:‌ Oftentimes, the more energy you put into something, the more you enjoy it. Cooking becomes much more enjoyable once you take the time to try recipes and build basic skills. It’s a serious drag when you don’t know what you’re doing, or if you feel unskillful.

Sure, developing good taste takes time. But invite the possibility that you’ll deeply enjoy that time.

Another aspect of developing good taste is allowing yourself to be curious. If you eat the same eight meals over and over again, allow yourself to be curious about something new. Maybe it’s a type of cuisine, or something you saw in a magazine. What would that taste like? This requires approaching the subject with an element of adventurousness.

Being adventurous takes more effort than falling into default patterns, but going outside your comfort zone is exactly what’s needed if you want to create interesting memories. We remember novelty with the most clarity. Perhaps that curry experiment ends up tasting awful. But I‌ guarantee you’ll remember it, and that means something.

A final component of building good taste?‌ Know the rules, and then gleefully break them. As a musician, I’m passionate about music theory because it helps me make sense of the chaos of sound. Learning the rules is only a first step, though. Music theory can be stifling. It can keep you in a box.

I might start a song idea within a box. But if I‌ hear something I like, if my taste is pulling in a different direction, I follow that. Knowing theory is like a light in the dark. It gives me a sense of where I’m going, and how far out of orbit I am.

It takes adventurousness and curiosity to follow an idea outside the box. It takes courage to go against the grain, against the 11 people telling you you’re wrong.

And once you’re there – the meal is made, the outfit’s on – it takes the desire for immersion, for an experience, for a memory, for love, to savor the taste.

-Allysia

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Dress Like You’re in Love with Life

When I‌ was a teenager, I‌ was fearless. Insecure and a bit of an idiot, but fearless. Isn’t that true of most teenagers?‌‌ Isn’t that why it can be dangerous – you take unnecessary risks – but also why you have such clear, vivid memories of those days – because you were really alive?

I used to dress like I was fearless. It seems like such a small thing. They’re only clothes, after all. Who cares?

But how you present yourself to the world is a pretty accurate model for how you live in the world.

I went through a hat phase. Not ball-caps. More like old-school cloches, bucket and bowler hats. I‌ had a lovely Panama hat with a pink ribbon. I‌ wore a lot of pink back then.

I wore a bag was that was a gift from my friend, a talented seamstress and artist. One-half was pink, and the other half was a cloth-printed page of comic from my favorite manga series, Ranma 1/2. I stuck on a series of band pins for good measure.

My hair changed with the seasons. Each time my uncle would see me, he’d jokingly exclaim, “So this is the new flavor of the week?” Black, bleached, auburn, pink, short, long, bangs, it was all an open playing field.

I liked tights. Standard stockings like fishnets, but also multicolored or neon ones. The weirder the better. I loved to wear them under a simple skirt, or my cut-off jean shorts (which I cut off myself).

Not a nail-painter then, since I always chewed them off. Nails need to be short when you’re a piano player. Back in the early 2000s, when I‌ was in teenhood, the metalhead boys would paint their nails black, and wear black from head-to-toe. The baggier the clothes, the better. Band shirts, chains, dreadlocks, piercings. Of all the high school groups, they were the silliest and most fun to hang out with.

Why does any of this matter?‌ Who cares if I‌ wear a Panama hat, or mismatched clothes, or lots of pink?

It matters because of what happened when I became a “real adult”. Conformity, an idea I stood in diametric opposition to as a teen, became an attractive and useful concept in my twenties.

Some of it was fear. Fear of standing out and being noticed. It’s normal to be a weird kid. It’s weird to be a weird adult. Who’ll take you seriously?

Standing out can be problematic when you’re a young woman. You get unwanted attention. People say things. It can get scary. What better way to be left alone than to look like you’re on the frumpy side of bland?

I was a creative spirit as a teen. As an adult, I swapped out creativity with pragmatism. Bills, earning a living, being a role model for children (and not freaking out their parents), getting into serious relationships, all of those things required being practical and pragmatic and grounded and. Not. Weird.

My clothing choices reflected that. I donned the jeans and tee (or hoodie) uniform. Plain shoes, some plaid here and there, nothing too wild. Hats, but only toques and beanies to hide my floppy unstyled hair. I just didn’t care. I‌ was comfortable.

That’s exactly how some people would best express themselves. But it wasn’t me. I spent a decade not dressing like me.

I’m noticing something magical about being in my thirties, though.

I’m not insecure anymore. And I’m way less of an idiot (at least that’s what I‌ tell myself). I’ve got this adult thing figured out – I can pay the bills and do work I‌ enjoy and support and love my daughter. It’s easy.

So I don’t need to focus on that adult stuff so much anymore. It’s a learned skill. Put it in the bank, it’ll run on autopilot.

Time to put that focus toward something more fun. Discard the fear that’s been holding me back. And lean back into that creative spirit, the person I really am.

Maybe I’ll be dressing a little different in 2020.

x,

Allysia

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Happy 2020.

Have you made goals or resolutions? Ones that make your heart sing? Or ones that you think you “should” do, not out of any great love, but because of other people’s or society’s expectations?

2020 will be the final symmetrical year we’ll see in our lifetime. For yourself, make it count. Let’s make 2020 a year we’ll remember with clarity. A time we drew outside the lines, practiced bravery and self-acceptance, and pushed ourselves to go beyond limitations.

What’s holding you back? Is it insurmountable, or does it just seem that way?

What ignites the fire in your gut? Are you going to stoke the flames, fan them out, or allow them to slowly fade?

This life is so precious. Who will be there to high-five us on our deathbeds for sacrificing our deepest desires?

And maybe by sacrificing your deepest desires, you’re robbing the rest of us of your brilliant and beautiful light.

It’s a light I’d like to see.

-Allysia

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