List Obsession

 

If I walked up to my 24-year old self and revealed that in 30 years, I would be obsessed with making lists, my youth reply would have been, “Did I get a brain injury somewhere along the way?” As far back as I can remember, I sought experiences for superficial reasons, especially if they would translate into stories I could tell to impress people. This (admittedly) selfish focus meant that I immersed myself in a chaotic world that stressed ego over character. Somewhere along the journey, that focus flipped upside-down.

What is vitally important to me now is order and kindness. Organization, neatness, routine, structure, service-all words that would have sent me running for the hills in the last few decades-I crave in a way I could have never predicted. I am not sure when the shift occurred; perhaps I morphed  gradually through the years after being married to a kind and selfless person like Kevin. I certainly was keenly more aware of the transformation in the months following our mutual job loss, and the recent pandemic likely contributed. After the massive life changes and extra quiet time, some self-refection and enhanced order was inevitable. And for me, order means making lists.

My new job as the administrative assistant to the director of the Georgia Cancer Center has locked in this list-making trend for good. Dr. Cortes is adamant about a high level of meticulousness and is accustomed to an exact process in his daily work. This trait is reasonable and expected of a successful Doctor and Scientist, and one that aligns with the environment I was seeking for myself when I made a career change. Any culture shock in the transition between the car business and the world of academic health care pursuits, while difficult, have been truly been suited to the new paradigm of my life.

My brain now works completely in terms of lists. As I work, I follow a checklist of activities I want to perform daily, even if I am only make small, incremental progress. The beauty of my day is that I am likely to be undertaking many different tasks from one moment to the next, but in a way that is ensconced in order. I methodically transition among tasks, documenting progress along the way, an obvious shift from the environment I cultivated in my past career, one I often compared to a juggling act, with plates crashing around me.

In addition to not wanting to forget a step in my day, I admit I also just enjoy the feeling of marking my progress on a list. A hugely daunting day, broken down into easy manageable chunks, becomes a pleasurable flow of one small victory to the next. I have daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, priority, pending, long-term lists and spreadsheets. I make lists for each day, lists for days off, weekend lists, grocery lists, lists of people I need to meet and lists of people I want to stay in touch with (a particularly important list right now).

Friends and family might not appreciate knowing that they are also part of a master list, but I would hope they see it as I do-that I care enough to want to make sure I don’t miss them in my ongoing communication. I strive to not let too much time pass without texting hello or letting them know I appreciate them or seeing how they are doing. When holidays approach, I am looking at the list constantly, making sure that everyone receives a small acknowledgement from me (including my friends at various businesses like the dry cleaners).

Finally, I enjoy thinking of my lists of favorite things. When I hear a song in my car, I consider including it on one of my many playlists. When I watch a movie that blows me away, I consider adding it to my preferred flicks. These lists are dynamic, subtly changing over time, but the core of them stays strong. Casablanca will always stay on the list of Angela’s fave films, Rick Springfield will always be considered one of the top musicians, David Sedaris is a permanent entry in my collection of treasured writers. Some others may fall off, join or re-join through the years, but for now, I have curated what I consider to be a Masterpiece List of Lists, and offer them here as much to have them documented for myself as for sharing with others. I am not sticking to just 10 anymore,  either. If I want to have 11 or 12 favorite songs, then so be it.  I consider them to be a significant statement about myself: as John Cusack says in High Fidelity: “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like…books, records, films..these things matter.” Yes, they do. And for that, as well as many other quotable lines and intelligent performances, Mr. John Cusack has made it into one of my lists.

You will notice in my list of favorite books, The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande. I reference this book often, and did even before working for a healthcare provider. Dr. Gawande presents a compelling case for checklists at work, explaining that while our egos don’t like to think that we need a list for work that we do every day, our brains need that safety net, especially when the stakes are high. Pilots who have been flying planes for years can still get careless and omit an essential pre-flight procedure. Surgeons performing a repair they have done countless times can easily skip a life-saving protocol. Our brains spin too fast, our egos distract us, and we do not always operate on all cylinders…the opportunities for error are endless. The one cure for these errors is the checklist.

If I have a favorite list in all these lists, however, it is the last one-my list of most important quotes. My current focus quote is by Ram Dass: ” I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion-and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies.” I suspect the shift from random adventures to thoughtful order is one of shifting priorities and general maturity. With clarity, I see the pages of my life’s story shift as I look back and realize the impact of my actions on others, and become less proud of my past and more hopeful for the chance to make amends and build character, seeking compassion for others and finding joy in kind gestures.

Let me know some of your favorite lists-do we share anything in common? The root of compassion is finding common ground and an easy place to start is finding things we all love the most. I would love to hear yours, and I here offer mine. Perhaps my 24-year old self should have learned to appreciate lists before madly chasing grand adventure. In the words of Gretchin Rubin: “Outer order contributes to inner calm”.

List of Favorite Movies

  1. Casablanca
  2. Shakespeare in Love
  3. A Little Chaos
  4. Beauty and the Beast (Disney version)
  5. XXX
  6. Moulin Rouge
  7. Darjeeling Ltd
  8. High Fidelity
  9. The Invention of Lying
  10. Grosse Pointe Blank
  11. The Longest Week
  12. Mulan
  13. Now, Voyager
  14. Truman Show
  15. Pleasantville

Favorite Songs

  1. Show Must Go On by Queen
  2. Show Must Go On (Moulin Rouge Soundtrack)
  3. Life is Beautiful by Sixx AM
  4. It’s My Life (ballad version) by Bon Jovi
  5. Northside by Tim Brantley
  6. Hold On To Your Dream by Rick Springfield
  7. 50 Ways to Say Goodbye by Train
  8. And So I Pray by Jem
  9. I’m Not Ok by My Chemical Romance
  10. Still Got the Blues by Gary Moore
  11. A Song for You by Ray Charles
  12. Comfortable by John Mayer
  13. Sonata in G Minor by Tom Barabas
  14. American Tune by Paul Simon
  15. Song for the Road by David Ford

Favorite Places to spend money

  1. Target
  2. Clinique
  3. Publix
  4. Hallmark
  5. Michael’s
  6. Stein Mart
  7. Dillard’s
  8. Art on Broad
  9. Book Tavern
  10. Barnes and Noble

Favorite Causes

  1. Miller Theater
  2. Georgia Cancer Center
  3. Golden Harvest Food Bank
  4. Augusta Symphony
  5. Leadership Augusta
  6. Child Enrichment
  7. Leukemia Lymphoma Society
  8. Friends of Augusta Animal Services
  9. Salvation Army
  10. Safehomes
  11. Heritage Academy

Favorite Writers

  1. David Sedaris
  2. Will Schwalbe
  3. Fr. Gregory Boyle
  4. Adam Grant
  5. DH Lawrence
  6. Atul Gawande
  7. Russell Brand
  8. Elizabeth Gilbert
  9. Joan Didion
  10. Anais Nin

Favorite Bands

  1. Queen
  2. Sixx AM
  3. Linkin Park
  4. Bon Jovi
  5. REM
  6. Matchbox Twenty
  7. Edison Project
  8. Styx
  9. Journey
  10. No Doubt

Favorite Singers

  1. Rick Springfield
  2. Jem
  3. George Michael
  4. Russ Taff
  5. John Mayer
  6. Stevie Wonder
  7. Tim Brantley
  8. David Ford
  9. David Owen
  10. Sade
  11. Edith Piaf
  12. Gary Moore
  13. Johnny Cash
  14. Babyface

Favorite Hotels

  1. Charleston Place
  2. Chateau Elan
  3. Margaritaville Nashville
  4. Vendue Charleston
  5. Hermitage Nashville
  6. Proximity Greensboro NC
  7. Ritz Lodge Lake Oconee
  8. Studio 154 Nashville
  9. Shamrock Ocala
  10. Four Seasons Whistler

Favorite Foods to Eat

  1. Cinnabon
  2. Shells and Cheese
  3. Takosushi Kevin’s Roll
  4. Guacamole and Chips from Caesar at Poblano’s
  5. Fluff (mine)
  6. Pancakes (mine)
  7. French Toast
  8. Lefse (Dad)
  9. Egg Breakfast Food (Mom)
  10. Lasagne
  11. Birthday cake

Favorite Books

  1. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  2. Tattoos on the Heart by Fr. Gregory Boyle
  3. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
  4. Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
  5. Selected Poetry of Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell
  6. Everybody Always by Bob Goff
  7. Everything that Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
  8. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
  9. Naked by David Sedaris
  10. Give and Take by Adam Grant
  11. Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Favorite Songwriters

  1. Rick Springfield
  2. David Ford
  3. Paul Simon
  4. Richard Marx
  5. Billy Joel
  6. Jon Bon Jovi
  7. Elton John/Bernie Taupin
  8. Mike Shinoda
  9. Tim Brantley
  10. George Michael
  11. John Mayer
  12. Lyle Lovett

Favorite Actors/Actresses:

  1. Jason Bateman
  2. John Cusack
  3. Jane Fonda
  4. Judi Dench
  5. Morgan Freeman
  6. Emma Thompson
  7. Jim Carrey
  8. Nicole Kidman
  9. Ewan McGregor
  10. Renee Zellweger
  11. Adam Driver
  12. Adrian Brody
  13. Mark Ruffalo

Favorite Quotes:

  1. Choose being kind over being right, and you will be right every time. -Richard Carlson
  2. I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion-and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies. -Ram Dass.
  3. May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears. -Nelson Mandela
  4. Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. -Martin Luther King Jr.
  5. The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life. -Rabindranath Tagore
  6. Don’t just ask whether you are proud of what you’ve achieved. Ask whether you’re proud of how you achieved it. -Adam Grant
  7. It takes grace to remain kind in cruel situations. -Unknown
  8. The past from intensity to greatness passes through sacrifice.-Kassner
  9. Perhaps everything terrible is something in its deepest being something that needs our love. -Rilke
  10. The more simple we are, the more complete we become. -Auguste Rodin
  11. The objective of cleaning is not just to clean but to feel happiness within that environment- Marie Kondo
  12. The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, honorable, compassionate, to have made a difference. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

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