Imagine You\’re Ninety
…By Prill Boyle
Several years ago, while teaching English at a community college, I
asked a group of students to write their obituaries. Initially, they
were shocked by the assignment, but when I explained that its purpose
was to inspire them to become bolder in their lives and braver with
their dreams, they warmed up to the idea. “Our most important creation
is ourselves,” I said. “Every moment our life stories are being written
whether we write them or not. So why not take up your pen? Why not make your story into the story you want?”
To begin, I told them to assume the persona of a journalist or loved
one, write in the third person (using “he” or “she,” rather than “I”),
and stick to the past tense. Then I gave them four ground rules:
1. IMAGINE THAT YOU LIVED TO BE AT LEAST NINETY. In your dream of
dreams, what would have done with your gifts? What kind of person would
you have become? When you allow yourself the possibility of living
almost a century, all sorts of things you thought you were too old to
do suddenly seem worth attempting. Just turned forty? Want to learn the
violin? By the time you\’re ninety, you\’ll have been playing fifty years!
2. GO FOR WHAT GIVES YOU JOY. No sense fantasizing you became a nuclear
physicist if you hate math. On the other hand, if you love wild
animals, why not envision having gone on an African safari?
3. THINK BIG: DON\’T SHY AWAY FROM PURSUITS THAT TAKE A LONG TIME TO PAY
OFF. Mastering a difficult skill or earning an advanced degree is not
as daunting as it sounds when you take it step by step. Even if you
have to pass several levels of remedial math and English before
enrolling in a single class for college credit, it\’s still only a
matter of putting one foot in front of the other. In other words, if
you think you\’d love to be a pediatrician, forget for a moment how much
time it will take to achieve that goal. Just pretend you did.
4. DON\’T LET A LACK OF MONEY COME BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR DREAMS. There
are all sorts of ways to raise cash or circumvent the need for it. You
can take a second job, get a loan from a bank, or barter your skills.
It\’s even possible that some distant relative will die and leave you
the exact amount necessary to fund your endeavor. Stranger things have
happened. Again, don\’t worry about being ridiculous. Just imagine that
you had all the money you needed.
This exercise comes with no guarantees; but it\’s fun and worth a try.
As poet Carl Sandburg once said, “Nothing happens unless first a
dream.” In doing the assignment myself, I awakened my desire to be a
writer. Four years later I published my first book.