There is something quite sobering about lying in a hospital bed before life-saving cancer surgery and wondering if you’ll last the day - let alone the next decade.
In that bed, with just a gown, some paper knickers (if you could call them that) and the tightest stockings you will ever wear for company, I didn’t have an image. It didn’t matter if I had a career or a house or a nice handbag. In that moment, I had just one thing and one thing only: my memories.
Illness really does strip you bare and remind you of all the things that matter. Lying there, I remember thinking about all the times I’d stayed at home to make something for a friend (a cake, a knitted dishcloth, a chutney), when really what I should have been doing was making time for that friend.
So that’s why, when I was discharged from the hospital in my body corset (to help me walk after they used my tummy fat to reconstruct my right breast), I didn’t dig out the knitting needles. I went straight for the notebook.
And I wrote a list. A long list.
As far as lists go, the ‘Brighter Life' list – a distillation of all that you want to experience in life – is one of the best lists you will ever write.
This is no bucket list. This isn’t a list about death, but a pledge to live life and make memories as often as you can.
It’s not a finite list, but a work in progress. It started on my blog smallboobsbigsmiles.com and has evolved in a series of notebooks since then (it amuses me that I like stationery about as much as lists).
And it’s not an outrageously ambitious list (with Everest scaling and skydiving on the agenda), but one with a good smattering of quick wins and activities within my control as well as hopefully-soon-to-be lifetime achievements.
The Brighter Life list is one of my ‘make it happen’ lists, a group of lists designed to making achieving things a routine activity. You can either read the original list here or read the edit below (not doing too bad bearing in mind I started it two years ago:
Brighter Life list: the things I’ve achieved
- Make my own crumpets
- Travel to the Amalfi Coast
- Raise £10,000 for breast cancer charities
- Do an overnight walk through London
- Walk around Olympic Park (I missed out in 2012)
- Swim at the Aquatics Centre (50m of sheer joy)
- Get published
- Stand on a cliff with no hair on my head (niche, I appreciate)
- Make my own lip balm (stick to the bought stuff)
- Buy a new sofa
- Grow my own Gerberas
- Fill our garden with alliums
- Make a ferment
- Enjoy a carol service in the Capital
- Take a trip on the Orient Express
- Watch Shakespeare at The Globe
- Visit the Royal Albert Hall
- Win an award for me
- Make mulled wine
- Make a cake for Test Match Special (yes, but not quite ticked off thanks to a security guard)
- Visit Kew Gardens
- Make sausage rolls
- Watch Cats
- Carve a pumpkin
- Visit the HMS Belfast
- Go up The Shard
- Run a marathon
- Ride the Emirates line
- See Mona Lisa at The Louvre in Paris
Unfinished Brighter Life list business includes (won’t exhaust you with the whole list):
- Plan a wedding (ongoing)
- Make my own wedding cake
- Do the three peaks challenge
- Stay in a treehouse
- Travel to Lapland
- Write a book
- Make a piece of clothing from scratch
- Eat at The Fat Duck
- Stay at Center Parcs
- Make proper lemonade
- Watch The Lion King and Book of Mormon
- Buy a whole salmon at Christmas and fillet it
- Visit the Greenwich Planetarium
- Visit Wimbledon and watch a game on Centre Court
- Make wine
- Conquer the macaroon
- Learn to pipe icing properly
- Make piccalilli
- Complete a trek
- Gain >2000 Twitter followers
- Climb a mountain
- Be quoted in an article/on TV
- Deliver a TED talk or equivalent inspirational speech
- Go skiing
- Learn to dive
- Make breast screen part of cervical screening test
- Go to New York
- Travel business class on a plane
- Help improve data collection for those with secondary breast cancer
- Make almond croissants
- Spend New Year’s Eve in a different time zone
- Encourage young women to do more volunteering
- Plan and execute a big charity fundraiser
- Go abroad for lunch/dinner and back in a day
- Develop a signature bake
- Make jaffa cakes
- Wear a size 4 dress (not to be achieved at same time as 36) and 38)
- Make pork pies
- Watch a concert at the 02
- Enter poetry competition
- Become fluent in a language
- Learn chinese
- Make own cookbook
- Watch a live athletics event
What’s interesting about this list (other than reminding me I still have A LOT to do) is that if you craft your own and try to spot themes, you can work out what you really love to do. For me that’s:
- Health and exercise-related challenges
- Cooking (mainly baking) and eating good food
- Travel and adventure
- Learning and creativity (particularly writing)
This interestingly matches my earlier blog about nurturing a hobby. The only thing missing is the people with which I hope to tick them off.
So, get listing and, if you think you can help me achieve any of the above, please do get in touch.
Let’s raise a toast to the brighter life. May you find yours.