Write those toasts (an exercise from Juliet’s School of Possibilities)

If you want to know what matters to you, sometimes it helps to look to the future.

In Juliet’s School of Possibilities, my time management fable, the heroine sees two possible visions of her future while she walks on the beach during a weekend retreat.

One is bleak. Not horrible, but just the result of shuttling through life with a lack of impact. Riley works hard, but never with any direction. So she feels burned out and disappointed.

The second vision is different. Riley, two decades in the future, attends a dinner given in her honor. Her best friend stands up to talk about Riley’s impact on the world, and her impact on her, too. She is surrounded by a family that is thrilled to support her.

The words of her friend’s toast cover the nature of this impact. These are all projects Riley has talked about supporting, but she’s convinced herself that she has no time. This vision is about what might happen if she found (made!) the time. Basically, she is wildly successful, professionally and personally, and this vision of future success gives her clues about what she needs to focus on now.

I like this visualization so much that I put it in the back of Juliet’s School of Possibilities as an exercise for readers to do. Like Riley, you can picture yourself a few years (or decades) in the future. You are at a dinner being given in your honor. Professional and personal friends are standing up to toast you.

What are they saying?

Fair is fair, so I have done this exercise. In my case, what I see is people standing up to say that my books (and however words are shared decades in the future!) have changed their lives. While I see both women and men saying this, probably my favorite toasts are from women who say that I helped them see that they could have the families they wanted while throwing themselves fully into careers they love. There is no contradiction here. People tell me they’ve changed their perception of time — from never having enough to having more than enough for what matters to them. Then there’s my fiction, which people also talk about, because it creates the impact of pleasure, which is a good in its own right.

Somebody reads from my book of sonnets, which I finally got around to writing.

As they are giving their toasts, I’m sitting with my husband and grown children. The children are all still close to me and each other. I don’t know what they’re doing professionally, because I don’t care. They are their own people. I want them to be doing something they enjoy and find meaningful. What matters to me is that they are interesting people, and in between toasts we have great conversations: about the future, and our myriad adventures from the past.

Speeches get boring (future me hasn’t actually developed a longer attention span), so I’d like there to be music. Maybe a choir sings something celebratory — music I commissioned. The audience is filled with my friends, of course, but many of the guests are founders of companies that I invested in during the early stages. Other guests have been involved in the policy/advocacy/thought leadership work I funded (seems the angel investing paid off!) after discovering that my brand of free market feminism is not well-represented out there.

We are all having a grand old time. The food is amazing, because one of the women who decided she could have a big Career with a capital C has a Michelin star at her restaurant and she’s catering.

In any case, this is my vision. It reminds me — as I think about how I spend my hours each week — to make sure some of my hours are spent in ways that align with this vision.

(Like…maybe I should get around to writing those sonnets!)

I challenge you to try this. Picture yourself at a celebratory dinner some number of years from now. What are people saying about you? This is a way to hone in on what you care about. Once you know this, you can shape your current schedule to contain more of what you care about…and a lot less of what you don’t.

Maybe some of the toasts you envision will be surprising. If they are, let me know about it! Or do this exercise and post it on your own blog, and send me a link!

In other news: Sarah and I had several requests for Emily Oster as a Best of Both Worlds podcast guest, and we may be able to deliver. So what would you like to ask her? Please let me know!

14 thoughts on “Write those toasts (an exercise from Juliet’s School of Possibilities)

  1. The toast-writing exercise is an interesting one. I really need to do some reflection before I could figure out what I would want said about me in a toast. I know I’d want my devotion to my children/family highlighted but behind that, I have to do some deep thinking!

    I’m one of the people who requested Emily Oster so I am glad that you may be able to have her as a guest on the podcast. I haven’t read her book yet but I heard her on another podcast recently. I know one area she has researched is the decision to work outside the home. I think she has research that shows that whether or not you work outside the home has little to no bearing on your child. So I’d like her to discuss that in more length (always looking for data to assuage mom guilt!). I think she’s also done research on optimal child care decisions. So those are 2 topics that would be interesting to hear more about.

    1. @Lisa – we will definitely cover those questions! Yes, her new book does look at them. As with many things in parenting, it pretty much makes no difference what you do as long as you’re within the normal range. Like don’t put your kid in a daycare where they lock kids in the closet. Other than that, it probably doesn’t make a huge difference in the long run.

  2. Hi Laura,
    I think this was one of my favorite blog posts of all time. It sounds like you’re well on your way to making that toast a reality! I’m inspired to give it a try myself.

    1. @Amy – thank you so much! I hope to make the toast a reality, and I hope that you do the exercise and make your toast a reality too!

  3. I would love if you had Emily Oster as a guest! In addition to hearing more about her research, I would like to learn more about her home life and how she manages everything. Given that she’s an economist raised by economists (her dad was one of my macro professors in college!), I imagine that she may have an interesting perspective on outsourcing, given that she’s more likely to actually consider comparative advantage and opportunity cost than the average person.

  4. I’ve found that a helpful question as I think about transitioning back to work full-time in the next couple years. There’s a part of now-me that finds taking that step scary (and exciting, too, of course) but 20-years-in-the-future me finds a lot of satisfaction in having a meaningful career and doesn’t regret the decision at all. It makes me think of the Gretchen Rubin maxim to “choose the bigger life”.

    1. @Chelsea – I’m a big fan of choosing the bigger life. And yes, transitioning back to full-time work is scary, but in twenty years you will no doubt look back on the wonderful things you’ve done and be very proud of taking that step.

  5. Laura, I’d love your thoughts on this:

    I’ve been pretty hardcore dedicated to my career since graduation. Didn’t pull back when the kids were born, secured a comfortable promotion, and provide well for my family. I like what I do (lawyer representing clients in a segment of the healthcare industry — quite intellectually engaging), but it’s not something that inspires deep passion and mission.

    So… in this exercise, I can’t imagine a single professional accolade I’d want anyone to mention in that hypothetical speech. I will never be a “lion of the bar” nor do I wish to be (the oft-used phrase makes me gag).

    What DOES come to mind: loving mother, wife, daughter, and riotously fun friend. Faithful Christian. Generous (with time and money) and principled. Instilled a strong work ethic in her children and helped them build fulfilling, rich, full lives.

    It feels like a “should” have something explicitly career-related in here, but… meh. Admittedly, the “hard work” is tangentially career-related, because it’s modeling it for the kids, and the generosity can’t happen without income, but 18 year old me would have been shocked that this exercise didn’t yield a long string of hoped-for professional accolades.

    Does this dearth of desire for specific career laurels seem odd? Short cited? Or the flip side? Would love your thoughts!

    1. @Kathleen – absolutely fascinating. (Yes, “lion of the bar” is a gag-inducing phrase!) I will have to mull this over some more. I would imagine there are things that you’ve done professionally that you’d be proud of — I could imagine a client standing up to mention how principled and hard-working you are, and what your advice has enabled them to do. I also imagine that you are a fierce mentor for younger lawyers in your field. Those are toast-worthy accomplishments. Or, it might be worth thinking about if there are things you would like to achieve in the next 10 years as the kids get older — things that do in fact matter to you, but you’ve put them aside during the busy years.

    2. Very interesting thought indeed.. i realised I was in that situation too as I was reading your comment! I also like my job but it’s not really making a direct impact on people’s lives so it makes it hard to imagine being credited for achievements there. Yet, when I quit my previous job, our head of departement (boss of my boss) organised a farewell dinner in my honour. I was already surprised she did that, I was even more when I saw how many colleagues showed up and I was blown away by the speech she gave. It felt like she was describing a completely different person! She highlighted many qualities I would have never used to describe myself and for those that I knew I had but did not think they mattered, she showed how it helped the team. From that day I realised that attitude matters too and it is not just about winning big cases, saving costs on a project or bringing new clients. Even if I am not a star in my field (and I don’t really care), I am recognised as a good colleague / team player / person and that’s already a lot!

      1. @Ellie- how cool that you have already lived through something like this exercise! I bet a lot of the high-achieving people reading this blog don’t give themselves nearly enough credit for all the impact they’ve had on people: clients, colleagues, community members, etc.

  6. LOVE this: “As they are giving their toasts, I’m sitting with my husband and grown children. The children are all still close to me and each other. I don’t know what they’re doing professionally, because I don’t care. They are their own people. I want them to be doing something they enjoy and find meaningful. What matters to me is that they are interesting people, and in between toasts we have great conversations: about the future, and our myriad adventures from the past.”

    I am both pregnant and managing some challenging toddler behavior and have found recently myself Googling Emily Oster’s findings on various issues I’ve confronted. I’d love to hear her on the podcast! Any thoughts she has on the ideal (or lack thereof) childcare set-up, child sleep, pregnancy prohibitions (coffee/wine, etc.), toddler behavior would be welcome.

    1. @Anne- we think you will like this episode then! For so much of this, there is no data whatsoever, and yet people say things with such authority. “All the research says kids turn out best if you do X.” There is so much that is problematic with this statement!

  7. I’m a little late to post, so hopefully the podcast hasn’t been recorded yet, but I would love to hear more about the breastfeeding research she discusses in Cribsheet. I struggled mightily with breastfeeding and even with lots of help from an IBCLC lactation consultant had low milk supply. I killed myself for five months, including pumping at various hours (two hellish three-day weekends of pumping every two hours around the clock stand out in particular), in order to try to up my supply to be able to exclusively breastfeed. It didn’t work, and now that my daughter is on formula and is a thriving eight-month-old (and I know that I was fed formula and am a healthy, intelligent adult), I am kind of enraged about the breastfeeding situation in this country. There is so much pressure to breastfeed and to do it for at least one year, from friends, family, doctors, and the general public, and yet there is a dearth of support that extends beyond lip service. I feel much better about it now and willing to clap back heartily at anyone who says anything (of course, all of those comments came in the vulnerable days of early motherhood, and no one has said anything since then). I hated most of the breastfeeding experience and I love the freedom that comes with formula feeding, but that isn’t really discussed anywhere, even though I don’t think I am alone in this. I suspected the benefits of breastfeeding had been overstated and was beyond thrilled to see that confirmed in Cribsheet. And yet…Oster herself breastfed for quite a while, and you and Sarah breastfed at least some of your children for quite a while. It takes a lot of time and mental and physical energy to breastfeed and pump, so I would be interested to know the reasons from all three of you for choosing this. Especially since there was the podcast episode where Sarah celebrated the end of pumping, and you asked her why she put herself through it and whether it was worth it, and I don’t think there was a very clear answer.

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