I’m sitting in Brooklyn Law School’s library scarcely noticing the deep roar of a firetruck as it rumbles by. After six weeks, we are ensconced in our Brooklyn lifestyle. The quiet beauty of Deer Isle seems very far away. We are used to the noise, the grit, and the diverse crowds clogging the sidewalks. And to spending loads of time with our three young granddaughters.
A week ago we attended five-year-old Dorothea’s Suzuki cello concert. Two dozen miniature cellists sawed away enthusiastically, heads nodding to the beat. They even played a few snippets of familiar Bach and Mozart. It was wonderful.
Before the concert started, the music school director made a few announcements and handed out trophies for unbroken daily practice. There was the 365-day award. A 1,000-day award. And even a 3,000-day prize.
(Note: we watch in awe as our son-in-law practices daily with Dorothea, gently cajoling her to focus. The credit for her achievement goes to him, even if she didn’t receive one of the “unbroken” awards.)
Evaluating a 1,000-day milestone
This got me to thinking. If you do the math, we are at about 913 days in our new, post D.C. life. In early 2016 we will crack 1,000 days. What does this milestone mean? Or does it mean anything?
This is the kind of thing I like to think about… and that drives Sam crazy. I showed him an early version of this post and he responded that I had not articulated a “purpose” for my first 1,000 days. And that without a purpose or a goal, the concept of a milestone doesn’t mean much.
He’s got a point.
It is easy to interpret the significance of the Suzuki milestone trophies. The goal is to learn how to play the cello. The purpose is to create a habit through consistent practice. The stronger the habit, the harder it is to break it. Daily practice is what achieves the longer-term goal.
I like this way of thinking about change. It’s made up of very small steps. You commit to taking them one at a time in the hopes that they will, cumulatively, bring about something new and different. But to measure change in a meaningful way you must have a purpose. You must be able to tie your daily actions to a bigger goal.
“Purpose” is the new, trendy word when it comes to retirees these days. There is a Purpose Prize for those over 60 who combine passion and experience for social good. Purposeful aging, meaning to focus on enriching lives, not just extending them, is another catchphrase.
For me, the purpose of our original gap year was to do something different, to step out of our accustomed life in D.C. and try something new. I felt I was “hungering for change” and was willing to “embrace uncertainty,” as our tagline says.
Our tagline is about process…
I see now that our tagline does not articulate a purpose. It’s about process and not about an end goal. It does not spell out how either Sam or I plan to make the world a better place through our combined talents and passions.
As we approach the milestone of 1,000 days, I am keenly aware that change for change sake is not enough. I continue to wrestle with a new and bigger “purpose.” I am trying to see beyond the day-to-day and to look below the surface of superficial change. We’re no longer in D.C. – so what? We’re living in two places (Stonington and Brooklyn) – so what?
Little things with purpose
But then there’s this: we are able to participate in three of our grandchildren’s lives on a daily basis. I think there is purpose in that. I have been able to meet face-to-face with more than a dozen clients (in both Stonington and Brooklyn) and help them knock down obstacles and unravel their books and writing challenges. There is purpose in that.
And a few small things that have purpose: I am a mentor to a high school student on Deer Isle. I love this commitment. This fall I have been working on communicating better with Sam (and several other family members). That is a good thing and has an excellent purpose.
Maybe the question for the 1,000-day milestone is whether lots of little purposes (to help, to comfort, to care) can add up to a bigger purpose.