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Sam Cook column: Your calendar is the life you choose

Sam Cook

You might call it simply reflecting on the year just passed. I call it "The Annual Report."

Sometime early in the new year, I think it's valuable to look back on the past year and see how it went.

This isn't an exercise to get ready for tax filing — the tedious gathering of receipts and other pertinent data. For me, the Annual Report is a way to evaluate how I spent my most valuable commodity — time.

It's pretty simple. I just sit down and page through the days, weeks and months of my planning calendar to see what I did all year — the meetings, appointments, the work trips, public appearances, weddings, funerals, vacations.

A wise friend of mine said years ago, "Your calendar represents your priorities." I had never thought of it that way, but he's right. What you commit to do — what you put on your calendar — represents the choices you're making in life. And nothing drives that home more clearly than seeing a just-completed year at a glance. You can look back at some stretches — two weeks, a month — and think, "How did I get through that?" In retrospect, it seems to have been too much.

Not everything we put on our calendars is of our own choice, of course. Always, some commitments will be required of us — traveling for work or family obligations, simply being available when someone needs you. But most of what we do in a year comes down to our own priorities.

Because I value time spent in the outdoors, I always track my "SOG" days. That's "Slept on Ground." I realize that few others would consider sleeping on the ground a priority. To me, it simply means I spent those nights in wild or semi-wild places. I managed 34 last year — a personal high — from the canoe country to the Apostle Islands to Teddy Roosevelt National Park's backcountry to the Montana prairies where we hunt sharp-tailed grouse.

(Yes, it helps to be retired.)

Those nights and days fill my soul — waking up to loon calls and coyotes yipping and sharptails dancing and waves lapping. Or taking in the Milky Way on a midnight ramble. Or listening to the Little Missouri River slide by over a bed of cobblestones.

Maybe you'd rather tally NACs (Nights at Cabin) or NOBs (Nights on Boat) or DSFs (Days Spent Fishing) or MRRs (Marathon Races Run). Go for it. The point is, those totals define the amount of time we all spend in our happy places, nurturing our souls. If you didn't get enough last year, it isn't too late to make some changes this year.

Your Annual Report also lets you reflect on vacations, time spent with your spouse or kids, time spent with good friends. If you're not getting enough meaningful days or weeks in your year, then you might have more incentive to turn down opportunities that could clutter your calendar.

Saying "no" to something optional allows you to say "yes" down the road to something that might feed your soul.

And you'll be happier with next year's Annual Report.

Sam Cook is a freelance columnist for the Duluth News Tribune. Reach him at cooksam48@gmail.com or find his Facebook page at facebook.com/SamCook.