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The Three-Year Life Audit

Personal Perspective: We each have a personal narrative about our lives.

Source: PoprotskiyAlexey/Shutterstock

Three years ago this month, the world changed. We all lived it, so you don’t need a recap from me. We’ve seen think pieces and constant updates about how work is forever disrupted, cities have shifted, and education and travel have transformed—to name just a few categories and industries turned inside out these last few years.

But I’m not here to talk about those evolutions to daily life.

I’m more interested in you. And me. Us—the individual people still living their lives, amidst the societal changes.

We each have a narrative we tell about our lives when we speak about this strange period in time. Like you, I remember the last big social event I attended before “isolating” became the perpetual answer to “what are you doing tonight?” But in getting caught up in the communal binge-watching and cringe-inducing Zoom jokes, or in a heated analysis of what was or wasn’t handled well and by whom and why, the quiet, personal transformations often get lost.

At the end of 2021, over 20 months into this upended existence, I wrote about the value of life pivots: “Choosing growth over stagnancy in our everyday lives is the single greatest act of bravery we can exhibit.” I don’t have any tattoos, but if I wanted one, this seems like a worthy reminder to permanently etch onto my skin (albeit a bit wordy for most body parts).

Anna Akbari
Source: Anna Akbari

We’ve all been pushed to the brink since 2020. And, as often happens in the wake of chaos or trauma, you start to realize the old rules no longer apply. What once seemed satisfying or “enough,” no longer is. It’s equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. When the world you worked so hard to create ceases to exist, sometimes it’s more liberating to imagine and construct a new one than to fuss over the rubble.

My life looks markedly different than it did three years ago, in big and small ways alike. I’ve always been prone to taking big swings in how I live, but the last few years amplified the possibilities of that life approach. Many of the seismic shifts and small tweaks I made were not things I knew I wanted or needed three years ago. They were not part of some grand life plan. Rather, they unfolded incrementally through an organic, realtime commitment to interrogating everything that no longer felt right, then working to find a more satisfying alternative. That has not been an easy or comfortable process. At times, it’s completely broken me. And yet, when I think about the positive gains I’ve acquired as a result of that difficult work and the hard choices it necessitated, I would do it all over again.

When we’re adapting to so many changes at once, finding a moment for reflection can feel like an impossibility. We’re more likely to wake up three years later, astonished we survived and completely exhausted by it all. We have things and people to mourn, some more profound than others. We also have triumphs and breakthroughs to celebrate; some public, some more private in nature.

Does it seem like three lifetimes have been crammed into three years? You are not alone. Whatever path your life has followed these last three years, please accept this invitation to take a minute or a day to take stock of it:

  • How have your social ties evolved? Which connections do you miss—and what can you do about it? Take a moment to say hello.
  • What unsung heroic feats have you endured? The things that brought you to your knees—perhaps without anyone else knowing? Commit to celebrating those accomplishments through some gift you can give yourself.
  • What new elements have you welcomed into your life? Projects, geographies, habits, creative outlets—notice the new, be grateful you’ve found it.
  • What have you let go of? That thing you thought you’d never escape, but suddenly found a way to discard? Breathe in the joy of its absence.
  • What new seeds have you planted? Those once-impossible imaginings that are now starting to take root? Give yourself permission to talk about these nascent aspirations in all their uncertain imperfection.

Three years is an arbitrary time marker, but if we’ve learned anything, it’s “if not now, then when?” So let’s decide that now is the moment to reflect on it all. Write about it, talk about it, or just have a good laugh about it.

But whatever you do, focus the lens on you—not on the big-picture chaos of everything else you’re competing with. Don’t deflect. These were your three years. You starred in them.

Now, what will you do with the next three?

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