On January 4th, 2006, a Wednesday, I wrote this in my LiveJournal (long live LiveJournal!):
This weekend I was walking to a bar or something with a friend and we walked along this big guy (sort of a down-and-out kind of guy, but probably not homeless) who had a giant boom box on his shoulder and it was playing The Impossible Dream loudly and he was singing along and walking so slowly, swaying. We started singing too, and it was a moment. It was the most beautiful, sad, awesome, terrible, beautiful, terrible, horrible, awesome, sad, and beautiful thing… I spontaneously burst out in tears and started laughing. I have been listening to the song over and over since… something about the whole scene just tears me apart.
Yeah, it’s a bit dramatic, but the moment has stuck with me for the last 6 years partially because of it. We’re so accustomed to being practical these days. Living within the realm of the doable and the possible. Constraining ourselves to that which is so lean, so agile, so hedged, so data-driven and user-tested and over-funded that it cannot fail. So… safe.
At the time, it sent me off on a slight obsession with impossible dreams, and their fragmented, imperfect, usually ill-appreciated manifestations in real life. Especially artful things like:
- Jane McGonigal’s Cookie Rolling project
- Jamie Livingston’s polaroid project
- Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus
There’s a bit of a celebration of the imperfect in the impossible dream. Of wabi-sabi.
On May 22nd, 2008, a few days before my 32nd birthday, I stumbled upon my own version of an impossible dream, inspired heavily by Jamie Livingston’s polaroid project and a tweet from a friend.
The goal: Take a photo every day at 8:36 p.m. and share it with a caption of what I’m doing. The twist, however, is that I started it with the goal of never stopping. To do it every day for the rest of my life. The complete opposite strategy recommended by anyone who knows anything about how to form habits (which is my line of work).
And yet, against all odds, it seems to be sticking (crossing fingers). That was approximately 1,464 days ago. 4.01 years. Happy birthday, us!
Since I started, I’ve posted photos and tweets at or around 8:36pm 1,448 times. I’ve missed only 16 days, or 1.09 percent of the days.
During that time, my relationship with Kellianne and arrival of my son has made it into some of the more memorable photos:
- October 4th, 2008, the day I Kellianne and I got married.
- August 14th, 2009, the night Kellianne probably got pregnant.
- May 15th, 2010, the day our son was born.
There are a lot of other things going on as well: snow, east coast friends, Italy, family, sunsets,weddings, more weddings, and more weddings,birthdays, more birthdays, camping, holidays, live shows, and many more!
Make no mistake about it. 99 percent of the photos posted at 8:36 p.m. are BORING. You can look and verify this for yourself here. I am often working, or walking home from work. A lot of dinner–eating happens for me around then. And cats.
And in the last couple years, a lot of bath time and story time is happening. Lots of photos where it’s too dark to see anything, or where I look for something in my living room that I haven’t taken a photo of yet.
The boring factor, however, is absolutely central to the vision of the project.
Life is mostly boring, with spikes of excitement and drama.
What I’ve learned after doing this for 4.01 years
I’ve learned that there is beauty in the impossible, in the unfinishable, in the imperfect. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be boring, and to let other people know you’re boring.
I’ve learned that having something that I consciously commit to doing every day for the rest of my life is rewarding and fulfilling to a part of my subconscious brain that doesn’t often get rewarded. It was hungry for this, and is thankful that I’ve given it something to chew on. I’ve learned that every day, the accumulation of mostly meaningless, uncurated life feels a tiny bit more beautiful.
To celebrate the beginning of year 5 of the project, I’m interested in helping other people recognize and enjoy this a bit more in their own lives. A bunch of friends and strangers have already joined in on the 8:36 p.m. project, which has no central repository or community, and which is definitely open to any one else to join. But you may want to do something else.
Buster Benson is a Seattle entrepreneur who currently serves as CEO of Habit Labs. This post originally appeared on TheBestThingThisYear.com, an email newsletter that allows members to post just one piece to the distribution list each year.