Monday, August 18, 2008

Exercise of the Week: Imagine You're Ninety

I created this exercise in January of 2000 for a writing course I was teaching at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. I wanted to inspire my students to become bolder in their lives and braver with their dreams. "Our most important creation is ourselves," I said to them. "Each moment our stories are being written whether we write them or not. So why not take up your pen? Why not make your story the story you want?"


1. Imagine you've just died and lived the life of your dreams. Pretend you’re the journalist or loved one who is writing your obituary.

2. Describe your dream life in the past tense, as if it had already happened.

3. Using the 3rd person (“she” or "he" rather than “I”), recount what you achieved and what kind of person you became. Be as vivid and specific as possible.

4. Don’t worry about being ridiculous. Just let your imagination run free.

5. As you write, follow these four guidelines:
Imagine living to be at least 90. When you allow yourself the possibility of living almost a century, all sorts of things you thought you were too old to do suddenly seem worth attempting. Just turned forty? Want to learn the violin? By the time you’re ninety, you’ll have been playing fifty years!

Go for what gives you joy. No sense fantasizing you’re a nuclear physicist if you hate math. On the other hand, if you love wild animals, why not envision going on an African safari?

Don't shy away from pursuits that take a long time to pay off. Mastering a difficult skill or earning an advanced degree is not as daunting as it sounds when you take it step by step. Even if you have to pass several levels of remedial math and English before enrolling in a single class for college credit, it’s still only a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.

Don't let a lack of money (or anything!) come between you and your dreams. There are all sorts of ways to raise cash or circumvent the need for it. You can take a second job, get a loan from a bank, or barter your skills. It's even possible that some distant relative will die and leave you the exact amount necessary to fund your endeavor. Stranger things have happened.
Although this exercise comes with no guarantees, doing it myself (as a model for my students) awakened my desire to be a writer. Four years later I published my first book.

Note: I've previously published this exercise in the National Association of Baby Boomer Women's monthly newsletter as well as in For the Children, an annual publication edited by radio host Jordan Rich to raise money for Children's Hospital in Boston.


  1. Hello!

    Very practical and down to earth wisdom! I am sure many readers will benefit from this post!

    Best wishes!

  2. Hi again, Joseph!

    That's my hope. Over the past eight years I've heard from several people who have tried this and found it helpful in terms of disinterring their dreams.