Hard before easy

Recently, during the Sunday morning Coffee Hour at the church where I work, I had a conversation with a parishioner whom I hadn’t seen in a while.  It turns out that she had been on sabbatical from her job teaching at a local university, and had spent the last several months abroad doing research for an upcoming book. 

We got to talking about the writing process, and I asked her if embarking on a book project feels daunting.  By this point in her career, she’s done it many times.  She smiled and replied, “It’s much easier now that I have something to say.”

Of course writing is easier for her now that she’s been researching, teaching, exploring ideas, and formulating fresh insights for several decades.  How could it have been easy when she was fresh out of graduate school and still a novice in her field of study?  But, as life would have it, in order to get to this point in her career when ideas are forthcoming and she has done the research necessary to confidently take a stance on an issue or topic, she had to publish books.  She had to say things before it was easy, in order to arrive at a place when writing wouldn’t be so hard.

In the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Everything is hard before it is easy.”

I think that this idea is true, in one way or another, for all of us. 

I remember coordinating service projects during my first year working at the church; each time I brought a group of students to a different service site, I had to navigate a new and often complicated parking situation, meet the site’s volunteer coordinator for the first time, and answer students’ and parents’ questions based on what I had been told versus what I had experienced myself.  Each service project was a basket full of unknowns.  The same was true of the Confirmation classes that I taught, the retreats I led, the Peer Minister and facilitator trainings I offered and the prayer services I coordinated.  The newness of everything made my first year very hard.

Short of a fast-forward time-machine invention, there is no way around the particular set of challenges that newness brings.  The value in Goethe’s words is that they normalize the feelings of struggle.  They don’t hasten the ease, but they help me remember: this isn’t hard because I’m incapable, or unsuited for this kind of work.  It’s hard because it’s new, and everything is hard before it is easy.  Goethe’s words remind me that if I stay persistent, whatever I am working on will become easier.  I find this sentiment extremely comforting and validating; it enables me to embrace the “hard” and welcome the accompanying opportunities for growth, learning, a sense of accomplishment, and joyful surprise. 

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

September is the other New Year

“January is the official start of the new year, and I always get a burst of renewed zeal at that time, but September also gives the same feeling of an empty calendar and a clean slate. The air seems charged with possibility and renewal.” – Gretchen Rubin

I’m with Gretchen Rubin: I always get a burst of renewed zeal in September, as well as in January. (I get the same feeling in my birthday month of March, too, and come to think of it, in June, when summer begins.)  Each of these times of year feel replete with potential and a spring is added to my step when considering goals, habits, and plans.  Oftentimes, I set a fresh batch of resolutions during these clean-slate moments, but I also like to use the months as opportunities to check in on myself and the goals that I set in one of the previous “new-year-periods.” 

A little over halfway through the calendar year, September feels like the perfect time to see how I am progressing with my 2017 resolutions: to celebrate what I’ve accomplished, to recommit to goals behind which I may have lost momentum, and to decide where to focus my goal-meeting energies in the last few months of the year.

Celebrations

  • Decrease sugar consumption — dessert is definitely a treat, not a habit, at this point.  This is probably the first time this has ever been the case for me, at least since I was a child and my mom had the keys to the cookie jar.
  • Complete 12 weeks of Kayla Itsines’ SWEAT workouts — done!  I’ve kept up with her workouts or other ones since completing the round.
  • Sibling connection — I’ve talked to each of my siblings at least once each month since setting this resolution. 
  • One adventure per month — going strong, and I just need to continue.
  • Get organized with “giving.”  Caleb and I have figured out which four charities we’d like to donate to annually, one per season
  • Meeting with a Spiritual Director monthly has been a great source of strength and joy

Areas requiring some recommitment

  • Flossing daily.  I was so, so good with this one…until we went abroad for the month of June.  Something about travel and flossing just didn’t seem to click for me.  But I’m recommitting now, and am going to do what I did for the first five months of the year and not miss a day.
  • Acknowledge birthdays.  Ditto on flossing story and recommitment. 
  • Blogging one time per week.  Ditto on flossing and birthdays.  Clearly, our European adventure messed with some of my resolutions!  It was totally worth it, but now that we’re back, it’s time for me to get back on track.

Still to do

  • Read Middlemarch
  • Cook or bake a recipe from the cookbooks I have yet to try something new from

A few new goals

  • Tidy up the house each night before going to bed
  • Meal plan and schedule exercising at the start of each week (or few week period)
  • Pray the daily examen each day
  • Listen to the news one way of my commute each day.

Do you think of September as a sort of new year?  How are your 2017 resolutions progressing?

 

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

A point d’appui

At very best, a wedding is a chance to remember all of the beautiful aspects of marriage and to be inspired to fully treasure and cultivate those things.  Last weekend, I attended the wedding of two friends from Divinity School, and it offered both of these opportunities.

Through witnessing the couple’s beliefs about and approach to marriage — as evidenced by their choice of readings, music, and rituals, as well as their self-written vows — I was reminded of a central conviction of mine: that marriage isn’t just the next step, and the act of being married isn’t an additional identity byline, or one of many hats to wear.  Being married is a petri dish for rebirth, self-discovery, courage-finding, and transformation.  It’s a point d’appui.

Technically a military term, and French for fulcrum, a point d’appui is the location where troops are assembled prior to a battle.  It’s where they rest, nourish, and educate themselves so that they are able to put their best feet forward when called to service.  In Walden, Henry David Thoreau uses the term to describe the firm, solid ground of reality, beneath the shifting and unstable “mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance.” 

Ludwigsburg, Germany

A point d’appui is a safe space, a spot of restoration and comfort.  Something I’m most grateful for in my marriage is that I have a home anywhere Caleb is — a place to be authentic, to be completely honest, to say exactly what I need, to be silent, to laugh and to have fun.  Caleb affirms me, encourages me, and challenges me, and he gives me room to replenish and rejuvenate myself through time alone and with friends and other family members. 

But to what end does my marriage provide this joy and revitalization?  As much as a point d’appui is a resting place, it is also a starting place.  In Thoreau’s language, it isn’t a foundation where one settles permanently, but a firm ground from which one takes a deep breath and then pushes off, like the wall of the pool that a swimmer uses to propel herself forward with strength and speed.

Notre Dame

I like thinking about marriage as a point d’appui because it shows just how ripe with possibility the union can be.  It’s a reminder that marriage isn’t an end in itself, something that we act upon, but instead, a place where we can be acted upon — through the love, wisdom, perspective and gifts of our partner — and transformed into the best possible version of ourselves.  Or, in the words of my friend’s self-written vows, a place to “fuel each other for the work of loving the world.” 

In other words, marriage is a place of becoming, a place where we bring our already magnificent selves to be admired, appreciated and delighted in; held, protected and comforted; buffed, shaped and strengthened; inspired, changed and transformed into our best selves.

Claude Monet’s House, in Giverny

 

Brainstorming

Caleb and I spent his Spring Break in Costa Rica visiting my Uncle John, who is spending the semester teaching geology at a university in San Jose.  It was our first time in Central America, let alone Costa Rica, and we went into the trip with a plan to actively explore both San Jose and a few destinations outside the city, accessible by bus. 

San Jose
Caleb and my uncle, and a pretty street near UJ’s hose, in San Jose

Highlights of the week included a day-trip to Jaco, a beach town on the west coast of the country, a long weekend spent in La Fortuna, the small, gateway town to Arenal Volcano National Park, and an afternoon at Sibu, a chocolatoeria and cafe that uses organic Costa Rican cacao to craft the most divine chocolates and desserts.

Jaco

Jaco
Jaco — the beach town we visited on the west coast
Sibu Chocolateria
Enjoying our desserts at Sibu Chocolateria

Unexpected highlights of the week were the early morning and evening hours that we spent huddled around the kitchen table with Uncle John, talking about everything from memories of past trips together to updates on various family members to books and current events.  A good conversation never fails to leave me feeling nourished and invigorated, and we had some stellar talks with Uncle John.

During our many hours of conversation, Uncle John (my mom’s younger brother, a Ritter) made a comment that stood out to me about my Coda-family aunts and uncles, whom he has gotten to know through backpacking trips that include the two sides of my extended family.  He observed that a conversation with one of the Coda brothers is like a brainstorming session: a free-form and spontaneous discussion that (hopefully) leads to unexpected connections, new ideas, and creative solutions to problems.  Uncle John commented that he sometimes feels compelled to take notes during a conversation with my Uncle Tom, for example, because the movements of Uncle Tom’s mind lead to all sorts of new ideas. 


I nodded along in agreement with Uncle John as he made this observation; I’ve often been struck by how thought-provoking and fascinating conversations with Dad and his brothers are.  More than recalling a positive quality of my extended family, however, Uncle John’s comment reminded me of the importance of brainstorming, a term that I loved how he used to describe the high-energy dialogue with my Coda uncles.

Brainstorming is the sort of activity that I’ve done formally in school and work settings in the past, but haven’t necessarily given much thought to in my personal endeavors and more self-directed recent work.  Unlike my Coda uncles, brainstorming isn’t something that comes naturally to me; I’m much more inclined to follow a to-do list than to let my mind wander in uncharted direction.  Uncle John’s observation reminded me of the fruits of brainstorming and inspired me to prioritize making time for the activity.     

Reflecting on brainstorming led me to realize that brainstorming is part of (if not the primary) reason why I blog.  Because of my inclination to follow an ordered to-do list, I can’t count on brainstorming to happen naturally in conversations that I have with others and thought-processes that I go on alone.  I need to devote particular time to brainstorming — to thinking about one idea and letting it take me to new thoughts, considerations, places and ideas.  Writing  helps me to do this, and blogging forces me to write. 

When I write a post, I generally have three pages open on my computer: the document in which I’m writing the post, an internet browser where I fact check and utilize the dictionary, and a separate brainstorming document.  In the brainstorming document, I capture the new thoughts and fresh ideas spring from the idea that I’m writing about in my post; I’m then able to return to these ideas at a later time. This method of brainstorming has helped me tap into my creative side and has made it so that I’m never at a loss for an idea of what to write about.  It has also given me a place to note ideas that come to me at other moments in my life.  Possessing a brainstorming document is like having a camera on my phone; I’m always prepared and ready to capture what might otherwise be a passing thought.

Volcan Arenal
Volcan Arenal

Hostel Arenal
The courtyard of the fabulous hostel we found in La Fortuna

Hostel Arenal

Hostel Arenal

Hostel Arenal

A Sacramental Imagination

A few weeks ago, I attended a handful of the events at Harvard Divinity School’s bicentennial weekend, including a festive reunion party on Friday evening and a faculty-led class on Saturday morning. 

Two of my life-long best friends, who I met on my first day of orientation at HDS.

Beyond providing a chance to see old friends, fountains of champagne and an inspiring address offered by the President of the University, the reunion filled me with a profound sense of gratitude for the place that I got to call home during my graduate student years.  With its breadth of alumni working for justice and peace in many and varied ways, its commitment to advancing the understanding of religion in a complex world, and the spaciousness with which it welcomes people and ideas spanning a wide spectrum of background and belief, Harvard Divinity School is a special place.   My time there significantly impacted my spirituality, my understanding of the world and the people in it, and my vocation.

What I was reminded of in an overarching sort of way on Friday night, I had confirmed in a very specific manner during the Saturday morning class I attended titled “Marilynn Robinson and the Sacramental Imagination.”  Offered by a favorite professor of both mine and Caleb’s, the session explored the idea of the sacramental imagination from both the Catholic and reform perspectives and addressed how Marilynn Robinson transcends the distinctions in her novel Housekeeping.  It was the first time I heard, in concrete and digestible terms, what exactly “the sacramental imagination” entails, and I was struck both by how very Catholic I am in my understanding of creation (as is related to the sacramental imagination) and the implications that this has for my theology and my way of being in the world.

If a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace” (thanks for that pithy description, Saint Augustine), something that both points to God and makes God present, than the sacramental imagination is the way of viewing the whole created world as revealing God’s presence.  In other words, the universe is a sacrament: by its existence, it points to the existence of God, and God is present within the creation itself.  Catholic and reform theologians agree on “what” of the sacramental imagination, but they disagree on the “why,” with Catholics believing that God’s love was so abundant that God overflowed creation into being, and Protestants believing that God’s love was so abundant that God decided to create beings (all the plants and animals and things of creation). 

There are of course many, many, many more intricacies to distinction (intricacies that have significant implications on Catholic and reform theology more broadly); I have but a cursory understanding.  The personal key take away that I gathered from the talk, however, is simple: I am resoundingly Catholic in my understanding of the Sacramental Imagination, and I have been for as long as I can remember.  The idea of a loving divine energy that overflowed creation into being resonates with me so much more than the idea of a personified being creating sub-beings. 

I’ve always felt uncomfortable with language that personifies God the creator (I’m down with the humanity of the second person of the trinity…but not so much with the first and the third) even if it is to express nice sentiments: God loves you, God cares about you, God wants to hold you in God’s arms.  In the circles I run in (even the Catholic ones), this seems to be the dominant language for talking about God, and so I’ve always felt a bit sheepish about the fact that they don’t strike a chord with me.  It’s not that I disagree with sentiment behind these words (if God is infinite, overflowing Love, than sure, God loves me).  It’s that I don’t imagine God as a human-like being, so it’s as hard for me to understand God caring for me as it is for me to grasp a beautiful fern leaf or a setting sun caring for me. 

But an energetic and vibrant life-force that courses through creation, animating it with spirit and renewal and goodness, itself the very source of spirit, renewal and goodness; a belief that the core of me — my soul, my true self, my spirit — is a drop of that life-force, a light within; a conviction that all people share this inner-core-of-light, and thus we are united; a sense that my life calling is to nurture the life-force-creator-God-divine-energy in the people with whom I work, play and love, to tenderly care for the light of myself and the light of others — now that I can get behind!

It looks like HDS is still impacting my sense of vocation and space in this world.

A Habited Mindset

Charles Duhigg’s 2012 examination of habits, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business builds around the idea of the habit loop: a cue instigates a routine which ends with a reward.  The reward is satisfying, so we crave it, making us susceptible in the future to the cue that instigated the routine in the first place.  This pattern explains numerous behaviors that any of us engage in on a daily basis, behaviors that were once the result of deliberate choices, but are now so engrained in us that we’ve ceased thinking about them and simply do them. 

One of the central arguments of the book is what Duhigg refers to as the golden rule of habit change:  “You can never truly extinguish bad habits,” he writes.  “Rather, to change the habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.  That’s the rule.  If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit.  Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same” (62).

I found Duhigg’s thesis convincing and interesting, but surprisingly unhelpful.  My assessment is that the book would be most impactful for readers who have several habits that they are hoping to change, and I realized as I read the book that I don’t necessarily have bad habits.  I certainly engage in unfortunate behaviors, but they aren’t habits so much as they are character flaws.  For an example, one of my least favorite things about myself is my capacity to get easily annoyed.  This is more of a personality trait than a habit, and while I believe it can be tempered with effort, it’s not the kind of effort (changing a routine) that Duhigg’s book is about. 

What I did find extremely helpful in The Power of Habit was this brief little section toward the end of the book in which Duhigg writes about William James.  James, an early 20th century psychiatrist whose writings are now pillars in the canon of literature on habits, had a rough start professionally and emotionally.  In his early thirties, he felt so unaccomplished and unsure of his place in the world that he contemplated suicide.  But then, according to Duhigg, he made a decision.

“Before doing anything rash, he would conduct a yearlong experiment.  He would spend twelve months believing that he had control over himself and his destiny, that he could become better, that he had the free will to change.  There was no proof that it was true.  But he would free himself to believe, all evidence to the contrary, that change was possible.  “I think yesterday was a crisis in my life,” he wrote in his diary.  Regarding his ability to change, “I will assume for the present — until the next year — that it is no illusion.  My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.” (272)

Duhigg tells this story to illustrate the point that “the will to believe” is the most important ingredient in creating the belief in change, and that with belief in the possibility of change, change is possible.  (James is elsewhere quoted as stating, “Actions seem to follow feeling, but really actions and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”) We can choose to adopt the habits/practices/ways-of-being of successful people, and if we believe that these actions will make us successful, likely they will have that effect.

This story spoke to me because it feels remarkably applicable to my life right now, in the form of my career.  I’ve second-guessed myself a lot in my job over the past two years and felt an overall lack of sureness when making decisions and coordinating events.  I worry that while some people will appreciate the program I’ve created, others won’t be happy with it, and still many others won’t even attend.  I worry that people think I’m not good at my job, and that I shouldn’t have been hired for it.  I worry that I’m going to disappoint people.  In short, I worry a lot.  And I realize that through all of my worrying, I’ve been sabotaging my ability to do my best work.  Worry has held me back from being enthusiastic, getting a wide variety of folks on board, and taking risks. 

But I can stop worrying.  Maybe not completely, but at least somewhat. 

Like William James, I am going to assume for the next year that I have the ability to change — and the ability to thrive — in my professional life.  I will continue to seek advice and input from mentors and the people I work with, but I’m going to stop second-guessing every decision I make.  I’m going to feel free to try knew things, knowing that, if they don’t work well, I can do them differently the next time.  I’m going to trust my vision of faith formation and put 100% of my work time effort into creating meaningful, well researched programming, but I’m not going to judge myself harshly if it isn’t well-attended, or if someone doesn’t like it. 

I’m going to get in the habit of thinking more positively about my work, and I’m going to get in the habit of acting accordingly.

The enemy of the good

I first learned of Voltaire’s famous words “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” when my mom wrote them on a post-it note which she stuck to the basket where my Dad stores his keys, phone-charger, pager, and other miscellaneous items of importance.  I thought the quotation was just right (dare I say perfect?) for my Dad, a man who uses a tape measure before mowing the lawn to ensure proper dimensions for a croquet court and who spends hours upon hours crafting gifts of perfection, but I didn’t think it applied to me. 

The perfectly measured croquet court
A wooden spoon that my Dad made for me. The handle is hollowed out and filled with a small lead weight so that, when lying flat on a table, the bowl of the spoon won’t touch the table.

I’m not a perfectionist.  I take pride in a job well done, and I certainly appreciate the beauty of a well-crafted sentence or piece of artwork, but I often favor efficiency over the ideal.  I don’t measure ingredients when I cook and I infrequently (very infrequently) dust my base boards. 

And yet, there have been numerous instances in which Voltaire’s words have come to mind as I have been working on a task.  I’ve thought of them as I’ve agonized over the phrasing of an email.  I’ve thought of them as I’ve prepared talks to give at work.  And I’ve thought of them as I’ve written posts for this blog. 

In each of these instances, one of two things has happened: I’ve wasted a lot of time (spending an hour on an email that would have been equally well-received if written in fifteen minutes) or, infinitely worse, I’ve refrained from doing something because I was too afraid/prideful/cautious/insecure/vain to present good to the world, and I didn’t have time (or the capability, period) to present perfection.

In other words, I’ve frittered away precious time and I’ve held myself back — two things that I’m not proud of and that I don’t want to continue.  These are good reasons for me to keep Voltaire’s maxim in mind, self-identified perfectionist or not. 

Doing things and not doing things

From graduation speeches to self-help articles to general words of wisdom from relatives, celebrities and historical figures, there seems to be a prevailing sentiment that you should grab life my the horns and dive into it, to mix metaphors terribly. In the words of Mark Twain, which I’ve heard reiterated in numerous different manners over the years, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”Day Away

This is advice that I typically follow.  As much as possible, I try to say yes to experiences and events that I know will expand my world view, provide fun in the moment and memories to look back upon, and enrich my life at large.  A friend in Divinity school referred to this way of being as a “Yes Philosophy.”  I really do believe that it’s through getting out of my comfort zone and saying yes to opportunities that I develop, grow, find joy and live life fully. 

And yet, my two favorite days of the year are Christmas and my birthday, in part because there are great celebrations attached to each (festive meals and time with friends and family and gifts and sweets galore), but also in part because they are the two days of the year that I have no expectations of myself.  I refuse to make a to-list — even a “for fun” to-do list — on either day, and in fact, it would seem sacrilege to assign tasks to either day. 

Basking in the openness, the relaxation, and the coziness of the present moment never fails to be both enjoyable and restorative.  I end the days feeling refreshed and with a greater sense of clarity about who I am and what I am doing with my life.  And I am able to have these gloriously spacious Christmases and Birthdays precisely because I don’t say yes to doing things on those days.    

In a similar vein, I’ve said yes to a few travel opportunities recently: Caleb and I have a trip to Costa Rica planned for his spring break, and we’re spending the month of June in Europe.  These will be action packed weeks and I am thrilled that we have the chance to embark on adventure together.  I’ve also scheduled a retreat for myself, in the beginning of May, during which I’ll spend four days in silence (with the exception of a morning, afternoon and evening chapel services) at the country home of a monastic order.  Excited as I am about Caleb’s and my planned trips, I am noticing that I feel most eager for four days of silence, reflection and solitude. 

I think it’s worth paying attention to these feelings and worth considering what they are telling me about what I desire and need to live the life I want to live.  I’m going to keep saying a hearty yes to experiences and opportunities and to doing things, but I’m also going to make time for not doing things. 

Taking Advice

I take most advice that I receive with a grain of salt. 

First, there’s the most frequent form of advice I collect: unsolicited advice.  When bestowed unsolicited advice, I take it with a handful of salt in two senses of the expression: I’m not likely to take the advice very seriously, and I’m salty — inwardly eye-rolling and a tad-bit annoyed — that people feel entitled to share their opinions and suggestions for my betterment with me, without my asking for it. advice

Remembering words from Chicago Tribune Mary Schmich’s hypothetical graduation speech “Wear Sunscreen” helps me feel less annoyed than compassionate toward advice-giving enthusiasts, but still un-inclined to incorporate their “words of wisdom” into my life.  She writes, “Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

The second type of advice that I often receive is advice that I’ve requested.  I have my go-to advisors for everything from work to relationships to my emotional and spiritual improvement: my parents, my husband, a handful of friends, my sister, a few former work supervisors and a smattering of mentors.  But even with all of these people — individuals whom I trust and respect enough to go to for advice in the first place — I don’t always take their suggestions. I weigh their advice, considering how it feels — at a gut level — and imagining what it would look like put into practice in my life. 

Maybe fifty percent of the time I end up acting upon requested advice that I receive.  This isn’t to say that I don’t take seriously the advice that I ultimately end up discarding; if I asked for advice, I’m going to listen to it and consider it carefully.  I just may end up deciding that it’s not the best solution for me, considering all of the other pieces of the puzzle to which only I am fully aware.   

If I am being completely honest with myself, though, deciding that it’s not the best solution for me only accounts for a portion of the advice that I don’t take.  Sometimes I don’t take advice that I sought, even when I know I would be better if I did, because it’s too hard to take.  Maybe I don’t have the discipline to put it into action, or I’m afraid, or I’m overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin.  Whatever the particular circumstances, these are not good reasons to discard advice. 

Seeing this tendency in myself to shirk advice that I actually know would benefit me to take, I’m trying something this year.  I am committing to taking all of the advice of one person: my spiritual director, Rosemary.  I’ve chosen Rosemary for several reasons: I completely trust that she has my best interests at heart, she is an intelligent, perceptive, and wise human being and so I know that her advice is good…and I only meet with her monthly, so there’s only so much advice that she can give me. 

I’m excited to see how this goes.  If she recommends a book, I’m reading it.  If she suggests a spiritual practice, I’m trying it.  If she tells me to lighten up, I will make my very best attempt. 

I’m curious to hear what others think.  Who do you go to for advice?  Do you always take it?  If you had to pick one person whose advice you unreservedly incorporated, who would it be?

Goal-Driven

I love setting goals in my personal life, as is obvious to anyone who has read my posts about New Year’s resolutions, words to guide my year, and summer intentions.  Goals orient my free time, give me a sense of purpose and enable me to stretch myself. 

books-and-coffee

Given my affinity for goal-setting, it came as a bit of a surprise when I realized, through a conversation with a mentor, that I’m not particularly goal-oriented in my work-life.  I had given my mentor a call to ask for her advice about choosing a curriculum for Pre-K through 5 faith formation classes at the Church were I work.  It has become apparent to the faith formation coordinator with whom I work that our teachers are dissatisfied with the curriculum that we are currently using, but I don’t know where to begin in choosing — or advising our faith formation coordinator to choose — a new curriculum.  There are hundreds out there, and the thought of reviewing the pros and cons of each and making a decision to switch to a different one is daunting.

After explaining the situation to my mentor, I expected her to say: check out this publisher or that one; get this information from your teachers; consider this thought.  But instead, she posed a simple question: “What’s your goal?” 

My goal?

Truthfully, I hadn’t thought about my goal.  I had gotten so stuck on the little details — whether a curriculum offers a book or handouts, involves using the Bible as a base, or the liturgical calendar, and so on — that I had lost track of the bigger picture, namely the question, “What is the goal of the faith formation program at my parish?”  Why do I want children to enroll in the program?  What do I think children and their families should take away from the program?  How do I hope catechists will benefit from volunteering for the program?

My mentor reminded me that my actions and decisions should stem from my goals — not from minuscule distinctions between various curricula options.  Without knowledge of my goal, I will be lacking a compass when making choices, and not only will I get bogged down in the details, I will likely make less wise decisions. 

I’m going to keep this bit of wisdom in mind as I move forward in choosing a curriculum, and also when considering other areas of my work and life.  When at a loss for what to do next, asking the question “What is my goal?” will almost always be a good place to start. 

Have you thought about the underlying goals of your work and personal life lately?  What are they?  How do they inform your decisions?  I’d love to hear how this looks for others.