A Young Woman's Priorities

Repost - written on 9/11/10:

On this anniversary of 9/11, instead of writing anything to do with careers, personal branding, success, or work-life balance, I want to share with you a list.

This list was found on the computer of a college friend, five years after she perished in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.  Her parents located it, and realized that it was her life list.  Ann Nelson was 30 years old, but her list is a lesson to all of us about priorities, values, and living life for the right reasons.

This is an exerpt from an article by Dan Barry — first printed by the New York Times and reprinted by the Star Tribune — a story shared by Ann’s parents about finding the list on her laptop and how it reflected the outstanding woman she was.

As you read, I hope you are reminded of all the good people in your life, and of the importance of loving them fully while they are with you.

1. Be healthy/ healthful. 2. Be a good friend. 3. Keep secrets. 4. Keep in touch with people I love and that love me. 5. Make a quilt.

Mrs. Nelson used to sew all the time, until it simply became too hard to guide a needle properly with a joyous little girl frolicking in her lap. Then, when Ann grew older, mother and daughter decided to sew a tablecloth.

“I don’t think we ever finished,” Mrs. Nelson says, laughing. “She had to be doing 100 things at a time, and consequently some of them didn’t get finished.”

As for this goal of making a quilt, she adds, “I’m sure that I would probably have been deeply involved in this process.”

6. Nepal. 7. Buy a home in North Dakota. 8. Get a graduate degree. 9. Learn a foreign language. 10. Kilimanjaro. 11. Never be ashamed of who I am.

“Ann was in many environments where being a girl from North Dakota may not have been the most sophisticated label to wear,” Mrs. Nelson says, recalling that her daughter had traveled to China and to Peru, and had worked in the high-powered environments of Chicago and New York.

Even so, Ann always conveyed pride in who she was, who her parents were and where they came from — though never in a boastful way. “It’s an important point about her personality,” her mother says.

12. Be a person to be proud of. 13. Always keep improving. 14. Read every day. 15. Be informed. 16. Knit a sweater. 17. Scuba-dive in the Barrier Reef. 18. Volunteer for a charity. 19. Learn to cook.

By her late 20’s, Ann had actually become a fairly decent cook. Still, her mother laughs in recalling late-night calls, like the one that began: “Mom, what’s drawn butter?”

20. Learn about art. 21. Get my C.F.A. 22. Grand Canyon. 23. Helicopter-ski with my dad.

Then Ann Nelson’s list repeats a number.

23. Spend more time with my family. 24. Remember birthdays!!!!

Birthdays loomed large in Ann’s life. She would celebrate her birthday not for a day, but for a week — in part because her father’s birthday came the very next day, in part because she was proud to have been born on Norwegian Independence Day — which is May 17, today.

“Ann would have been 35,” says Mr. Nelson, who turns 65 tomorrow.

25. Appreciate money, but don’t worship it. 26. Learn how to use a computer. 27. Visit the New York Public Library. 28. Maine. 29. Learn to write. 30. Walk — exercise but also see the world firsthand. 31. Learn about other cultures. 32. Be a good listener. 33. Take time for friends. 34. Kayak. 35. Drink water. 36. Learn about wine.

Ann was supposed to attend a wine class the evening of Sept. 11, in keeping with Nos. 13, 19, 31, 36 — the whole list, really.

After 36, there is a 37, but it is blank.