'Someday' is a word filled with promise and possibility. "Someday I want to ..." we say dreamily, finishing the sentence with a variety of specific or vague plans. There are books to read, trips to take, projects to start or finish.
But then clocks tick and calendar pages turn. Months and years go by, and "someday" never quite comes. Caught up in careers and families, duties and interruptions, we become masters of postponement.
For Carrie Tuhy, a former magazine editor in New York, that realization finally prompted action. After losing her job as editor of Real Simple magazine three years ago, she began considering her next step.
"I had always said I'll do certain things when I have time," says Ms. Tuhy, who is in her 50s. "Suddenly I had time, but I wasn't sure what these things were that I had been planning to do." Afraid she might squander this opportunity – "dribble it away on things that didn't seem significant" – she began compiling a "life list."
"We all have to-do lists," Tuhy says. "Pick up the dry cleaning or work out three times a week. They tend to be the kinds of things that aren't very nourishing. When I sat down to think about it, I made a list of things that were nourishing for me."
That list included nature, travel, spirituality, and friends. In addition to being nourishing, she says, those broad categories were "empowering."
Under each heading, she wrote specific activities. Her list grew to 25 goals. Some were big: "It wasn't just 'Take more trips.' It was 'Go to India.' " Explaining her desire to visit India and Turkey, she says, "I wanted to see the world through Muslim eyes."
Other destinations were more modest. After moving to New York as a young journalist, Tuhy stopped driving. But she still has a driver's license, and the open road beckoned. She wanted to take a driving trip.
Some items on the list were small and practical. She classifies them as "life skills" – things she wanted to know to feel competent. She enrolled in Spanish language classes, broadening her view of other cultures. She also mastered Microsoft Excel and learned to make her own business cards on the computer.
"The world requires different things of me than in the past, and I wanted to become proficient in them," Tuhy says. In the process she found pleasure, satisfaction, and accomplishment.
Making a life list is an idea gaining popularity and visibility. Ellen DeGeneres, host of a daytime talk show, encourages her celebrity guests and members of her audience to list things they'd like to accomplish.
In similar vein, novelist Stephen King recently told a New York Times reporter, "You get older, you find out time is shorter, and you read stuff you've missed before. You say, 'I can't wait forever anymore to read Eudora Welty.' I finally got to Eudora Welty."
Tuhy emphasizes that nothing about her list was done with the notion of mortality. "It was more about making the most of each day," she says.
In an achievement-oriented culture, she found that drawing up a list made her "more cognizant of the real achievements of being alive." She adds, "It made me recognize the things that will both feed your soul and engage your mind."
Today Tuhy has completed 23 of the goals on her list. But merely checking off each accomplishment isn't her point. "It wasn't just to do them, it was to dream bigger dreams." The result? "I'm much happier with the person I've become."
Ask friends and relatives what they'd like to do "someday," and the responses can be intriguing: Start painting again. Take piano lessons. Visit the Great Wall. Trace family genealogy. Attend an opera.
So many dreams, so little spare time.
Still, even the simple act of putting pen to paper and listing those dreams can spur hope that the simpler items, at least, could be carved out of moments that might otherwise be frittered away. From there, who knows? Even the grander goals might begin to take shape.
If it's never too early to start a life list, it may never be too late, either. Someday could come tomorrow, or even today.