32 intentions for 32 years

Renee Chen · 小雨

Exploring the liminal between the art of being, living & thinking

Renee Chen · 小雨

Exploring the liminal between the art of being, living & thinking

Renee Chen · 小雨

Exploring the liminal between the art of being, living & thinking

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine shared that he usually spent his birthdays in isolation, going somewhere alone to get away from all the noise so he can reflect quietly on the previous year and what he wants to get out of the year going forward. Since then - I don’t know if this is a byproduct of living in a city like San Francisco - I’ve met a handful of other people who, like him, are highly intentional about how they spend their birthdays. Rather than hosting a big celebration with friends, families and colleagues (with which there’s absolutely nothing wrong), they treat it the way many other people might treat a new year, via deliberate introspection, reviewing how the last year has gone, and setting goals or intentions for their next year of life.

While I’m not about to forfeit a good party in lieu of introspection, I also no longer feel it necessary to gather people on an annual basis to celebrate a random, middle-of-the-road 32nd birthday, especially as I get older. Many of our friends live in different cities and are starting families, so it’s tough for them to prioritize a weekend of travel for anything less than a wedding. Borrowing an idea from yet another clever friend, hosting a bigger birthday bash every five years seems far more manageable and allows me to pool my resources to throw something memorable. For those in-between birthdays, a low-key dinner with a romantic liaison is more than sufficient (plus a present or ten), as well as taking some time to reflect about where I’ve been and where I’m headed.

"Intentions, to me, are bit softer around the edges than goals"

In 2013, when I was a couple of weeks away from turning 27, I created a bucket-list of 32 items I wanted to check off before I turned 30. Looking back on it now, some were a bit ambitious (and random) - I wasn’t particularly deliberate or “intentional” about why I wanted these things and what each truly meant to me, nor was I very specific. But I’m surprised by how many I’d managed to check off anyway (despite having forgotten about the list and failing to review it over the next few years) and how many are still relevant today even though they were written down on little more than a whim almost five years ago.

With only a few days to go before starting my 32nd year, it seems as good of a time as any to reset and review what has gone well in the past year… or five years, what hasn’t, and what I’d like to change. My mental, emotional and spiritual growth seems to have slowed the past several years in comparison to the amount of change I experienced between 23 and 28 years old, even though there’s no shortage of skills to learn, facts to consume or experiences to be had. I wonder if you were to map out age on the x-axis, and growth on the y-axis, if you’d see something of a logarithmic growth curve in the lifespan of an adult, where growth and “improvements” come quickly when we’re young but slow over time. Or if it’s actually closer to a linear growth curve, in which case I’d be a sad outlier, and may benefit from exposing myself to new people and novel situations the way I did at 18 or 23 years old, as a means of challenging myself.

With that in mind, below are 32 new intentions for my 32nd year - some small, some big, some old, some new, all important to me at present and worded with careful deliberation. Intentions, to me, are bit softer around the edges than goals. Making each item as specific as possible helps with progress measurement and provides clarity around what needs to be done on a day-to-day basis. Writing in the present tense gives me - the “manifester” of these intentions - power, and incorporating a range of emotions urges me to dig into the why and imagine what manifesting each of these will make me feel. It helps drive motivation, and it is this last element - the emotional piece - that differentiates intentions from goals.

I’d like to look back on this list this time next year and feel proud of and awed by how many of these intentions manifested itself themselves in reality, proving that growth spurts in your 30s are still very much a thing.


  1. I practice mindfulness daily in the form of a sit or meditative walk, and feel a sense of inner calm so abundant that it overflows out of me and onto others.
  2. I read because it brings me joyful solitude; I read at least two books per month.
  3. I play the piano because it is an outlet for my emotions and soothes my soul; I take great pride in the seven songs (one in Spanish, two in Chinese) that I can play and sometimes sing along to by memory.
  4. I run because the sensation of a runner’s high is worth chasing after; I run at least 10 miles per week, the equivalent distance of San Francisco to San Diego by this time next year (500 miles), and listen to one podcast per week.
  5. I take lessons in pole, salsa or zouk on a weekly basis for a at least a quarter and participate in social dance events at least 2-3 times per month; connecting with my body in this way boosts my confidence and re-energizes my sensuality.
  6. My body looks and feels the greatest it has ever looked or felt; I weigh 110 pounds and am full of lean muscle and 18% body fat. I wake up feeling energized and vibrant, my energy level is steady throughout the day without caffeine because I fuel my stomach and hormones with non-inflammatory foods and I live in sync with my cycle.
  7. I embrace and honor my feminine energy and vibrant body by taking care of my outward appearance as much as my inward health; I dress to express the essence of who I am, what I think, how I feel - my body is a blank canvas and the clothes I sprinkle on it reflects an authentic version of me.


  1. I am well-versed in the science behind yoga and stretching, its history and tradition, and am strong yet fluid in my flows; I am confident in my knowledge and deliberate in my movements.
  2. I confront my inner demons during a 10-day sit in silence; I come out of it with a kind of awareness, serenity and feeling of abundance that I didn’t know was possible.
  3. I deliver, with fluidity and confidence, a well thought-out, heartfelt and delightful speech at my best friend’s wedding, and overcome my irrational fear of speaking in public; I build confidence and nurture my storytelling abilities by seeking out opportunities to speak before an audience.
  4. I practice active listening, which means to listen with my full presence and without judgement; I respond rather than react, even if it means taking extra time to craft an appropriate response.
  5. I fill my time with reading, writing, playing piano, podcasting, dancing, walking or being crafty before defaulting to Netflix, TV or movies; what I do watch is a conscious choice that brings me joy, stimulates my mind or challenges what I already believe in.
  6. I am contented with myself and my life by managing expectations (particularly my own) in a way that artfully balances not expecting too much (from myself, others, a place, material items, etc.) while still maintaining standards; as comparison is the thief of joy, I compare myself to past versions of me exclusively and only give space to thoughts and emotions that serve me.
  7. I surrender control to make space for a full hallucinogenic experience, letting go of any reservations or fear that my subconscious might be clutching onto, and embrace the journey it takes me on; I come out of each experience with a greater sense of clarity and appreciation, and a renewed perspective.


  1. I am surrounded by five incredible friends who support my desire to grow and make me feel good about myself, who let me explore other versions of myself sans judgement, who leave a positive influence on my life and whom I take great pride in introducing to others; I feel good about investing my time and energy into nurturing these friendships.
  2. I am invested in a community where a balanced give-and-take is at play; I feel both supported and needed by this beautiful group of people, and am unapologetically myself in their presence.
  3. I soak in the Southern Californian sunshine for a few weeks, spending quality time with both of my parents, Casper and a few of my friends; these weeks are full of meaningful conversations, unconditional love and gratitude, and I return to San Francisco feeling grounded and happy.
  4. I spend unhurried time with my grandmother, in person and over the phone, listening to her stories and asking clarifying questions if there are things I don’t understand - her stories need to be told; my heart is filled with love and gratitude for all that she’s done.
  5. There is a grand gesture of the romantic kind where my romantic liaison and I take our next step towards a life together; the excitement, fortune, love and gratitude I feel overwhelms any nerves.
  6. I commit to unconditional love towards myself, my partner, my parents, my animals and my closest friends; there’s resistance at first, but over time, it grows easier and a feeling of liberation, gratitude and joy permeates my whole being.


  1. I am a master of focus and spend 15-20 hours per week in a mode of deep, distraction-free, learning or work; I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at the end of each week.
  2. I write daily in some capacity because it brings me clarity, fulfillment and joy - it is my creative expression; I release 200,000 words of my own unique combination out unto the universe and have 100 published blog posts between IDLE STATE and FAR OUT RETREATS.
  3. I stretch my abilities as a writer by being a part of or taking part in a writing community or program (in the form of class, retreat, a writing group, or interning at McSweeney’s in San Francisco); I am constantly challenged and seek out constructive criticism whenever and wherever possible.
  4. I create a space in which my creativity flows freely - it is a physical place that I can call my own, with carefully curated personal effects that give birth to an energy of inspiration; this space reinforces my desire to focus and produce work of value to the world.
  5. The first draft of my first book is complete, which I intend to self-publish; I have great satisfaction in my work - excitement, pride and resolve course through my veins.
  6. I have taken small steps and quantum leaps in the growth of FAR OUT RETREATS, and am deeply satisfied with my contributions to the business; it is gaining traction and growing steadily following the initial beta launch to friends and family.
  7. I have $50,000 in liquid assets, and by this time next year, I am set up to receive a steady income of at least $7,000 a month whether though passive or active means; there is abundance everywhere, and I am the bringer of it.


  1. For a few days, I surround myself in nature - only the sounds of the wind, birds and water are around me - all is quiet and I am alone with my thoughts and feelings; I embrace this rare idle time with myself.
  2. I am somewhere in Africa roaming amongst majestic elephants - my favorite land animal - observing them, photographing them, being with them; I feel present, and am aware of the full range of emotions that these beautiful creatures bring to the surface.
  3. I have traveled to or have plans to travel to one of the following countries: Cuba, Turkey, Italy, the Netherlands, or an island in French Polynesia; I am in awe of the culture, colors and sensory experiences to be had in each of these places, from the music and salsa in Cuba, to the spices and colors in Turkey, to the food and landscape in Italy, to the explorative spirit of the Netherlands and the translucent waters of French Polynesia.


  1. I am the proud owner of a functional van (bus or trailer) that has been designed and retrofitted to my comfort - a liberating space that brings me great joy; it is a hands-on passion project that I work on with my father and other crafty friends, deepening our connection with each other and to the van itself.
  2. I am beyond bendy - splits (both ways) are a piece of cake, as is bridge from a standing position.

And that’s it! Only mildly daunting. I’m excited to see how these intentions will serve me this next year and am eager to incorporate them into my daily life. Will be sure to progress report back.

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