Those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook may know that about two months ago I bought a “Life Calendar” from the wonderful blog “Wait But Why” (and specifically, inspired by this blog post). After putting down $15 and waiting a few weeks, I had my very own 2 foot by 3 foot life calendar.
There are 52 boxes across the horizontal axis (one for every week of the year) and 90 rows down the vertical axis (one for every year of a 90 year life – above the average, but still a reasonably achievable goal). That’s it. Your entire life graphed on one piece of paper. I have to admit, unrolling it for the first time, tacking it to the wall, and stepping back and looking at it was an interesting mix of humility, inspiration, and terror.
Over the past month I have had some (unexpected) time for reflection and to work on a few projects that I have had kicking around, including this one. I decided to take a first crack at visualizing the contours of my life using the calendar as my canvas. I must admit that I underestimated how much time it would take to actually remember/research my life down to the granularity of week-by-week and convert it to calendar that starts on May 28th, decide what to include on the calendar and how to represent it in a meaningful way, and then put pen/marker to paper.
The fruits of my labours, what I am going to call the “beta version” of my Life Calendar, is below along with a rough legend to help you make a bit of sense of the colour scheme:
A few explanatory notes, followed by a some initial observations and questions. First, the legend should hopefully make at least a cursory review of the Life Calendar possible by anyone (those who know me well will probably have a bit easier of a time figuring out what exactly is what – I’ve admittedly done a lot of different things in the first 33 years of my life and kept the categories fairly general as a result). In each week’s box, only the top half is coloured in. This represents the “primary activity” I was doing that week (put another way, that week what was my most likely answer to the question “what do you do?”) – more on what, if anything, I will do with the bottom half of each square later. Along the far right side you will see city names. Those specify which city I lived in for the majority of that year of my life (every year had a pretty clear winner). I had considered colouring in the the gaps between boxes to indicate different cities lived, but I was not only running out of colours but also worried that it would make the whole calendar less legible. I did try the grey border around the two times I lived outside of Canada…not sure how well that worked in the end.
I’m still taking this in and what it means. It really is powerful to see one’s entire life graphically represented at a glance like this. A few initial things that jumped out at me:
- The sheer volume of my life to date that is taken up by formal education of some type is surprisingly large to me
- I was also surprised by how much of my professional life was spent working in politics in one form or another (perhaps because it feels like it was a long time ago) – it’s actually under-represented on this version; more on that later
- While 20 of my 33 years I have lived in Saskatoon, only 2 of those were as an adult, if we use the age of 18 as the definition of adulthood (debatable, I know). Of my 15 “adult” years, 10 of them have been in Ottawa, 2 in Saskatoon, 2 in Boston, 1 in Washington DC
- There are only two significant gaps in my Life Calendar in my adult life where there was no “primary” activity: 9 weeks in my 23rd year and 8 weeks in my 29th year (there was also a bit of a “slump” period of about 12 weeks in the later half of my 26th year, but using the methodology I’ve chosen it doesn’t really show up as such). I remember those gaps being filled with anxiety trying to answer the question “what’s next?”, and for the most part being not particularly pleasant periods of my life
In my mind this is not yet a finished product and I’d love some feedback to help get it there. Keeping the scope purely to my professional life, there are a few notable absences given the methodology I’m using that are significant parts of my life story (e.g. my work on Parliament Hill during all four years of my undergraduate degree, my work last year on getting my tech startup company off the ground). Should I use the bottom half of squares to colour in areas where there were important “secondary” activities in my life? Beyond that, should I try capture non-professional/educational aspects of my life? If so, how and which ones (e.g. significant trips, relationships, specific milestones)?
I hope this post doesn’t come across as too much naval-gazing but is taken in the spirit in which it is intended: a mix of geekish interest in effectively visualizing complex systems and personal self-reflection.