2018: word, resolutions, quotes, to-do’s

It usually takes me the entire month of January to sort out my New Year goals and resolutions, and this year was no different.  Considering my hopes and plans for the year fills January with a sort of energy that I know I’d struggle to find otherwise, though, so I make no effort to change this pattern.  It just feels right to spend December enjoying the present — the tastes, smells, sounds and sights of the holidays, the time with family and friends, and the sacred Advent and Christmas rituals — and to spend the dark and dreary days of January looking forward to brighter days and considering the things I’d like to change in the upcoming year. 

After 31 days of percolation, some concern and some crossing out and re-writing, I feel oriented and committed to the word, resolutions, and to-do’s that I’ve set for myself in 2018. 

Word of the Year: Reach

As I mentioned two posts ago, it was hard for me to think of a word for the year — and of resolutions at large — because there wasn’t an obvious area of needed improvement within my life.  I’m feeling fulfilled and happy within my professional and personal life, and don’t need a dramatic increase of levity (2016) or perspective (2017) to get keep myself sane.  That’s why I ultimately decided on the word “reach” for the year. 

Because I’m feeling positively about life overall, I have the energy and enthusiasm to take what’s good in my life to the next level.  In 2018, I resolve to go the extra mile in the various areas of my life:

  • With the relationships that matter most to me
  • With my writing endeavors
  • With work: with my relationships there, and with my projects (particularly, trying new things)
  • With my character: being a bigger and better person
  • With my taking in of the world: striving to be an active, not passive, participant in life

I have been so blessed with a family that I adore, wonderful friendships, fulfilling work, the opportunity to live in a lovely city and to travel more broadly, and a wide variety of interests.  This year, I want to consciously live this one life that I have fully and abundantly, for my sake and for the sake of the people I encounter. 

Quotes of the Year:

“Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.” —Flannery O’Connor

“For of those to whom much is given, much is required.” — John F. Kennedy

“Choose the bigger life.” — Gretchen Rubin

“We are what we repeatedly do.” — Aristotle

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but. No one things of changing himself.” — Leo Tolstoy

“We are all just walking each other home.” —Rumi

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” — Rumi

“Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you.” — Thomas Aquinas

Reach Related Resolutions

  1. Write three smart sentences about the things that I read/watch/listen to/attend.
  2. Pause before speaking unkindly.  Remember that I have a choice in what I say and that choices have consequences.
  3. Go a little deeper.  Get to know people more.  Ask better questions.  Practice conversation.  Gather advice and input.  Listen deeply.
  4. Do the things that I have been meaning and wanting to do (see 18 in 2018).
  5. Invest time and energy in creativity and pursuing writing interests.  Take pictures, submit or pitch article ideas monthly, interact with other writers, do some sort of personal writing (unpaid) monthly.
  6. Consume consciously.  Question consumption.  Delay gratification.  Only but treats with treat money (Christmas, birthday, etc.).  Try to buy used good and local items.  Cook consciously. 
  7. Think contemplatively.  Keep trying to pray.  Look for thin places. 

18 Things to do in 2018

  1. Write a narrative essay and submit it competitively.
  2. Cancel old credit cards and get a new one in my name only.
  3. Sort out medical related things (find Caleb an eye doctor and dentist, go to my PCP).
  4. Read Infinite Jest.
  5. Wear everything I own once or get rid of it.
  6. Send favorite Cheryl Strayed essay to girl cousins.
  7. Write one Thank You note per month.
  8. Transcribe quote books and organize quotes.
  9. Sort out my feelings about being a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom.
  10. Do one special thing per month (go somehwere, host visitors, celebrate a holiday or liturgical season in a particularly meaningful way).
  11. Visit a new Ivy League.
  12. Organize passwords.
  13. Staycation at the Dean Hotel.
  14. Learn about and practice DSLR photography.
  15. Monthly sibling connection.
  16. Renew passports.
  17. Go on a retreat.
  18. Acknowledge birthdays. 

 

Photo by Andrew Knechel on Unsplash

Choosing Resolutions

I undoubtedly enjoy writing New Year’s (or birthday, or academic year) Resolutions.  As I’ve said before, I find goal-writing to be an orienting process, and new aims and goals put a much-needed spring in my step for the drudgery of post-Christmas winter, when the days are still so long, but without twinkle lights and the promise of a holiday trip home to brighten them up.

I felt a bit wary as I wrote my 2018 resolutions, though.  For starters, I had a hard time thinking of my word for the year (last year’s was perspective).  My work life isn’t the disaster that it was at this time last year or the year before, my relationships with friends and family are strong, and my physical, spiritual and emotional health are in a good place.  Without a dramatic problem area, it was hard to pick a particular item of focus for the year. 

On top that, I was struck as looked over my drafted list of resolutions at how narcissistic they all seem.  Learn this skill, read this book, go to this place, organize this aspect of my life, try this new thing.  The end of all these goals, ultimately, is self-improvement, and for the first time ever, I felt bothered by that end.

It’s not that I don’t see the value of self-improvement.  Look, so long as we are alive, we might as well live a life that we can be proud of.  Besides, the only person I can change is myself, so I might as well put some effort into becoming a better person.  I do believe that outer transformation (of the world) begins with inner transformation.

The problem is that focusing on self-improvement can become selfish as easily as it can become transformative.  And that’s the last thing I want.  I want to live an abundant and full life, but in the pursuit of that life, I don’t want to become so wrapped up in myself that I become a god to myself. 

In short, I want to be devoted to enhancing and enriching the quality of life for those around me.  I want self-improvement to be the pathway to a life that helps me look out into the world instead of inwards towards myself, a pathway to living a bigger, not smaller, life. 

Sometimes we do the right things for the wrong reasons.  And sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons.  And much of the time, our wrong reasoning and wrong acting stem from a lack of reflection. 

So this year, as I go forward with my word for the year (which I did, in fact choose, after much deliberation) and my potentially narcissistic resolutions, I’m going to keep these questions in mind:

  • Is completing this goal helping me to live a bigger life?
  • Am I improving myself/my life in such a way that I will be more equipped to enhance the lives of others?
  • How am I enriching the quality of life of the people I encounter?

 

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

Cookbook Resolution Complete

The calendar year is rapidly coming to a close, and just in the nick of time I finished up one of my 2017 resolutions: to prepare at least one new recipe from each of my cookbooks. 

I’ve loved this resolution, for a few reasons:

  1. I enjoy cooking but don’t necessarily spend a lot of time doing it.  There are so many ways to fill up free time and sometimes I end up frittering away my days off with cleaning, running errands, and getting sucked into social media and the blogosphere. This goal pushed me to spend at least a few hours every few weekends doing something that I consistently find fun and gratifying.
  2. Using the things that I own feels good.  I tend to feel inclined to declutter — to get ride of clothes I don’t wear, dishes I don’t use, or books that I don’t consult — but I’ve always resisted purging my cookbook collection; actually referring to the books has helped me justify keeping them…which makes me happy, because I love my shelf of cookbooks.
  3. Speaking of that shelf, I like physical books, period.  I like the way their glossy covers feel, I like flipping through the pages, and I like seeing a book propped open on my kitchen counter.  Pinterest and cooks.com are great sources for recipes, but it’s the tangible attributes of books that make my apartment feel cozy and homey, and this resolution gave me the chance to experience the glory of a book. 
  4. Growing and learning are so satisfying, and I have to work harder to make these things happen than I did when I was a student.  Trying new things — even just recipes — gives me that same thrill of growth that taking a class always provided. 

As I drink a glass of wine with my first ever pot roast tonight, I’ll toast to all the joy of cooking and of resolutions completed!

A sheltered life can be a daring life as well.

A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within. — Eudora Welty

A piece of advice that has stuck with me over the years came from one of my college professors, after I shared with him that I was having a hard time making the choice between studying abroad for a semester or staying at my home university, Wittenberg, for all of my sophomore year.  Like many decisions, this was a difficult one because I was choosing between two good options.  Studying abroad would give me the chance to experience a different  part of the world and make new friends, but I also had much to gain from remaining at a place that I knew to have excellent classes, devoted professors, and dear friends.

My professor’s suggestion: “Sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing, so it’s usually a good idea to say yes to new opportunities.” 

I took his advice, and he was right: until I was leaning over the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence, celebrating my 20th birthday with new friends and red wine from the corner store; until I was requesting crepes with apricot jam for dinner from my indulgent host father Gerhard; until I was sharing an order of street stand wienerschnitzel in a cozy Viennese hostel room with friends who remain close to me today; until I walked the snowy streets of Salzburg late at night, and then eventually watched the snow melt away and the trees lining the Salzach River burst into bloom; until I had these new and precious experiences, I didn’t know what I was missing.

It’s somewhat unsettling to think about the things we would have missed if we had lived our lives differently, and perhaps it’s even more unsettling to consider the other side of the coin: the things we’ve missed because we’ve taken our particular path. 

What if I hadn’t gone to Wittenberg?  What if I hadn’t joined my sorority and met Sarah, who introduced me to her brother Caleb?  What if I hadn’t taken the risk of a long distance relationship and gone to graduate school in Boston?  What if I had taken a year off between college and graduate school instead?  What if I had majored in Psychology rather than religion?  What if I had turned down the part-time youth ministry job at Our Lady of Sorrows?

Awareness of this unsettling feeling — one that has almost taken my breath away at times — has pushed me to eagerly seek new experiences and say yes to opportunities for adventure, professional development, learning, new relationships, and really, expansion of myself in any form.  For a long time this meant that I was constantly on the move, filling free evenings with social gatherings or events, free weekends with day trips or getaways, and free weeks with longer-distance travel. 

But these days I’m noticing that expansion of myself is taking a different shape: it’s staying home and filling most of my free time with reading and writing.  It’s languishing in an uncommitted weekend and resisting invitations.  It’s prioritizing time alone, and committing to putting pen to paper at least a few hours a week. 

A few years ago, this change of pace might have scared or bored me, and truthfully, there are moments now when I somewhat panickedly think, “What if I’m missing something?”  But the truth is that we’re always missing something.  Saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else.  There’s a time to say yes to outward adventure — to new situations and spaces and people and places — and a time to yes to inner adventure — new books and ideas and insights and personal projects. 

The point is to stay open and to keep saying yes to something — whether that’s an outer something or an inner something.  As Eudora Welty says, “A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”

 

Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

Contemplating Attention, Cultivating Appreciation

Woman WritingI have an inkling that there is a direct correlation between attention and appreciation.  Increased attention to the stuff of life – books, conversations, scenery, foods, people, tasks, and so on – leads to an increased appreciation of what could otherwise be easily overlooked.  For an example, I find that annotating articles or books helps me pay closer attention to the ideas expressed in them, so that regardless of the extent to which I like or dislike the piece of writing, I am more able to understand and appreciate the point the author made.  The more I take notes, the more I pay attention, and the more attention I pay, the more I appreciate.  Read more