Leaning Into Ideas Rather Than Details

I just finished reading This is Not a Border: Reportage and Reflection from the Palestinian Festival of Literature, one of the most stunning collections of essays I’ve ever read. I spent over a month slowly reading the words, letting them sink in. Some days, I’d take a break. Often, I would only read one or two essays a night.

grown-up-1637302_960_720As December drew to a close, I knew I could have sped through a few more essays at a time to get one more book read before the year ended. Instead, I chose to savor each story and poem.

It’s with this mindset and intention that I’m entering 2018. After spending a few years tracking my reading goals with a set number, this year I decided to take a break. I’ve made a list of twenty books I’d like to read, and I know more will come. I want to slow down, to savor, to go deeper into these books.

It’s not that I didn’t learn a lot last year or that I rushed through my books. But sometimes, when a number is attached to a goal, I make it about the destination rather than the journey. I’m learning that some years are for measurable goals and other years are for visions and ideas.

I have a friend who creates categories she wants to learn more about each year and tailors the books she reads to those categories. Other friends do a “clear the shelf” challenge, where they stack books on a shelf in their home and try to empty it by the year’s end. (I suppose this is similar to my list…)

I was thinking about goals I have for this year and many of them are like my reading list. I have some ideas and hopes but none are conducive to creating a spreadsheet or checklist. I like that this year of lean in means leaning into the ideas rather than details. I’m not throwing out details but I’m also holding my goals a bit more loosely. I have a feeling that things are swirling around this year and I want to be open to learning rather than achieving.

In her chapter called “Composting,” Natalie Goldberg says,

“…we collect experience, and from the decomposition of thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil” (pp 18-19).

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Especially now at the start of the year, in these months when we turn the compost and wait for spring, I’m setting my goals knowing that there is some waiting to be done. I’m resting with an overarching vision of my year.

This is pretty counterintuitive for me. I like checklists and goals but it also feels peaceful and right. Maybe this year of lean in will mean big things but right now, lean in means leaning into immeasurable goals.

How do you set goals? Are you a checklist person or an ideas person? Have you ever switched up the way you track your goals?

Setting Goals as an Act of Hope

A new year means new motivation for projects and goals, right? Ringing in the new year in the dead of winter seems a bit counterintuitive. We’ve put most of the Christmas IMG_8058decorations away – we’ll save the lights for after Epiphany tomorrow. We’re still on Winter Break from school so our schedule is wonderfully relaxed but it’s still thrown off. It’s dark out early and I find myself struggling to get motivated. (I realize this is a Northern Hemisphere problem – my guess is that our Southern neighbors have a completely different view of new year’s goals.)

Maybe we need to set goals while we’re in hibernation mode? Maybe ringing in the new year right after the shortest day of the year is a way of keeping hope and looking forward to a season when it’s just easier to be motivated.

What I’m learning about my new year’s goals and hopes is that they don’t need to be achieved in January. Setting these goals is an act of hope for the entire year – for direction during those cozy, lethargic winter days as well as those bouncy, energetic spring days.

Many others have linked the season of winter to our own spiritual growth – of letting our roots dig in without signs of life; of giving ourselves rest to produce fruit later. I’m learning to take this approach even more globally.

As I read and learn about global conflict and am motivated to examine my own participation in activism, I’m also recognizing this season of growing my roots, of setting down a foundation before I act. As I look ahead in our family’s next stages, I remember that this is a season of growing strong roots in our girls – that this time before we send them off is mundane yet incredibly valuable.

I’m learning to view my goals and resolutions and one word as a long-term vision, not a quick checklist. That I’m on a slow walk through life, not a spirit or even a marathon.

How do you pace yourself in January? How do you balance goals with resolutions; short-term ideas with long-term visions?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “motivate.”

Yes, I Am Able

I’ve never dyed my hair before and, as my 35th birthday approached, I felt the itch to spice things up a bit. I’m embracing my identity more and more and I felt the need to commemorate that with something totally outside of my normal look. Something fun and funky but still maturely thirty. So, we went with purple and green highlights. They are subtle and fun and everything I hoped for in a mid-winter, mid-decade change of pace.

I was talking with a friend about the -5s. Those half-decade birthdays that sometimes seem bigger than entering into the decade itself. Looking back on my other half-decade birthdays I can definitely see the pattern.

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At 15, I first watched Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting and my interests took focus and my life changed as I pursued art history. At 25, after deciding I was destined to be single, I started applying for teaching jobs overseas. And then met Frank… Now, at 35, I feel on the edge of something. Of course, not even a week after this birthday, I can’t predict how it will impact my course but I am excited for what is around the corner.

My word, Capacity, has already shown itself to be a true vision for 2017. I’ve already made choices about how my time is divided, about the commitments I’m able to make, about what our family dynamic looks like in this particular phase. I’m on a journey with some incredible women to write our life’s mission statements. Our meetings have been profound and stirring. I feel that I’m preparing myself for something significant.

Because my birthday is in January, I usually hold off on the typical beginning-of-the-year goals and wait until my birthday to reflect and make that list. This year, my goals are much more vague and simultaneously more ambitious. I feel like the coming year will lay a foundation for bigger things – ones that I can’t even imagine yet.

If the decade between 25 and 35 was about forming my adult identity – one of teacher and wife and mother – then my hopes for the decade between 35 and 45 will be years of refinement. Of knowing who I am and feeling equipped and empowered in that knowledge to make big choices. I want to live these coming years with open hands and with an attitude of yes, I am able.

I am able to stay at home and raise these two feisty, thoughtful, compassionate daughters. I am able to be part of groups and teams and organizations that are changing the world. I am able to give my time and energy to my community in new ways.

I am embracing my ability to use this time wisely. This time of staying home but of more independence. I don’t want to waste these years, not just from a parenting perspective but from a self-care point of view. How can I use this time to really be intentional about my roles, both currently and in the future? How can I use this time to prepare for whatever our next chapter holds?

What birthdays seemed “bigger” to you – the -0’s or -5’s? How are you embracing the decade you’re in?

The Habit of Forming Habits

This fall has been filled with 30-day challenges. From our Whole30 cleanse to setting an alarm at 9:00 each night for bedtime to this Write 31 Days challenge, I’m liking the benefits of these short-term, habit changers.

livinSetting a goal and sticking to it these days is a challenge in itself. There were many days this past month I wasn’t sure I’d have the time or patience or energy to write. I tried to keep about two days ahead in my posts, knowing that life would get in the way. Even with this buffer, half of the challenge happened during the tax extension deadline, leaving me alone with the girls a lot more. Add a week-long trip to visit Frank’s family to the mix, and I was reminded why I always declined to participate in this challenge in the past.

But when is there a perfect time? When am I going to have time every single day for an entire month to write in solitude and when creativity strikes at the right moment? Never. Like any challenge, there is no good time to begin. When we looked at the calendar for the Whole30, we realized that there would always be a reason not to do it – barbecues and holidays and family events happen all the time. So, we picked a start date and went for it.

That’s what I’ve learned most from these challenges – life continues to swirl around us, whether or not we’re committed to being intentional. The choice is creating space for the discipline of writing, of eating better, of going to bed early.

Creating a start and end date is human nature, I think. I’ve read quite a few books in the past few years about taking a set amount of time to live out experiments: 7 by Jen Hatmaker, A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans, Loving My Actual Life by Alexandra Kuykendall all take an overarching idea and set aside one-month intervals to complete an experiment. These books are successful because we recognize the need and benefit to setting short-term goals that result in life-changing practices.

Before starting this Write 31 Days challenge, I was in a slump here on the blog. For a couple years, I had faithfully been writing at least twice per week but over the summer, lethargy set in and I had trouble getting ideas pinned down. I’d write on the fly, I got lazy, and cycled back to “taking a break,” even though that break wasn’t intentional. This month of writing and the accountability of announcing that goal reset my creativity. Even though I won’t commit to writing every day, I hope to bring more intention to the days I do write. I want to stick to a schedule, to plan ahead, and to balance fun, intention, and the casual nature of blogging.

As for taking a month to really look at my strengths, I would highly recommend this. Whether or not you’re in the StrengthsFinder camp, take some time with your favorite personality test. Write out real-life stories of how you see these attributes at work in your own life. This month was a rediscovery into how I best function as a human being, and I’m glad I took the time to really delve into that. It’s been a good awareness reminder of all that I can offer to my communities.

One of my goals in November is to map out 2017 with habits and goals for myself. What are things I’d like to do better? (Laura Tremaine did this a few years ago. I may need to reread her series for inspiration.) You can pretty much do anything for 30 days and I’d like to start living a life of intention, of self-improvement, and of always-learning. Maybe creating life-giving habits is the habit I need to form most.

What are some habits you’d like to form? What are your thoughts on short-term goals?

Thank you for joining me on this month of self-discovery! I’ve so appreciated your comments,  engagement, and encouragement!

livin

This post is Day 31 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Celebrating Strong Women: Redefining Normal

unnamed-1I am glad to introduce Kerri Dawson as today’s Strong Women contributor. Kerri has a degree in Maritime Systems Engineering and worked for the oil and gas industry for 11 years as a senior project specialist. She is currently living in Northern California raising two very energetic boys ages 5 and 3. Life is good!

Redefining Normal

When my husband started reading physics for fun I thought “oh isn’t that nice that he has found a hobby” but when he decided to go to school and pursue an advanced degree I began to feel concerned. At the time our life was pretty comfortable. We were newly married and both working for an engineering company in Houston. We had family nearby and both of our careers were moving along nicely with promotions here and there. At first we decided that he should test the waters of getting this degree before uprooting us for potentially a short lived pursuit. He quit his job and moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas. I stayed in Houston and continued working as an engineering project manager. I really enjoyed my work and was doing quite well at it. A small part of me secretly hoped that his schooling would not go well and all would go back to “normal”. He loved it and did really well.

The decision to uproot our lives and move to Northern California was not an easy one. We discussed how difficult it would be to live far away from family, especially if we had children. We also discussed the toll it would take on my career. Ultimately we decided to head to California.

The first couple of years were a pretty easy adjustment. The company I worked for in Houston decided to offer me work to do from home that kept me at full time status. I would even fly back to Texas for work that needed me to be there. Things became a little more chaotic when we had our first son in 2009. We had just bought a home and two months later I was told that my work would no longer be full time and I would lose all my health benefits. Somehow we persevered. I managed to still work part time for 6 more years, the last two occurring after having our second son.

Trying to manage working from home with very minimal childcare was extremely difficult. Even though it was difficult I was comforted by the fact that although my career was not progressing much I still had active work to keep on my resume. In March of this year I was informed that I was being laid off. It was the first wave in large storm of layoffs for the oil industry. Even though I was nearly a full-time stay-at-home mom before, I began to have an identity crisis. Thoughts of “If I do not search for a new job immediately will I ever be able to find meaningful work once my kids are older?” and “I am letting women everywhere down by not staying active in my STEM job!” flooded my brain. Ultimately since the idea of finding a full time job and leaving my kids in daycare made me break down into tears we decided that I would stay with the kids full time for now. The financial burden of this decision is real, but with a tight budget and the support of our family it has been manageable.

Growing up being raised by a single mom who worked three jobs to support us was really tough. My sister and I had to grow up pretty quickly. Though we had fun holiday trips there were many daily things we missed out on. We did not have simple night routines like I am able to do with my kids. We did not get to participate in city recreational sports like my kids do. We did not go to the zoo, museums, take swim lessons, the list goes on and on. When Will and I got married I knew that if I had kids I really wanted to be able to do all those things.

Raising kids without the help of family nearby is definitely difficult but I am so lucky to be able to be fully present in my kids lives. I organize and host lots of playdates. I have helped organize and lead summer music classes. I am on the School Site Council. I attend Parent Teacher Organization meetings. I have, to my husband’s disliking, signed us up to be in charge of the garden area at my son’s school. I coach basketball and most recently soccer even though I have no previous soccer experience! I sign my boys up for participating in child development scientific research at the local university. I volunteer to help my son’s teacher when she needs it. We play games all the time, have dance parties and even paint our nails together (boys CAN rock pink!). I recently joked with my husband that although my professional resume is taking a hit – my mommy resume really kicks butt!

My life is chaotic and nothing like the “normal” I once desired and I absolutely LOVE it.

Goals and Spontaneity

We just got back from a week visiting family in Oklahoma. It was filled with conversations, cousins meeting and playing (and occasionally fighting), and lots of delicious, unhealthy holiday food.

Cousins!
Cousins!

We stayed at a hotel and had the room next to the lobby. This worked out perfectly, since we could put Bea down for naps and bedtime, bring the monitor out with us, and hang out with the others staying there. We took over the lobby and made it our temporary living room, which was great for catching up with the adults.

One night, Frank, two of his sisters, and I were talking about goals and visions. His youngest sister is embarking on a journey to become a motivational speaker. She is an amazing sales person and has an incredible life story, which seems like a very successful combination. She has created a vision board to help keep her focused and believes in the law of attraction. She has accomplished many of her goals already and is well on her way to successfully launching this new career. We talked about how creating specific, visual goals increases the likelihood for success.

Frank’s other sister views success and goal setting in a more inward, spiritual way. She is a very visual person, as well, but believes more in the power of meditation. She visualizes her goals, but also is aware that “success” can disrupt the peace and quality of life she has worked hard for. (One could argue that she has achieved success in this realization alone.)

Frank is of the opinion that writing out goals every day is how they are achieved. Before Bea, when time seemed less at a premium, he would take time to rewrite his goals in his journal nearly every day. This discipline kept the goals in his mind and helped him fulfill the steps to achieving those goals. By keeping the goals at the forefront of your consciousness, you become more aware of opportunities as they arise. It also allows for opportunity to reflect on where life’s journey is leading.

I am a goal-oriented person, as well. But, the past couple years I’ve been trying to live life more open-handed. While I always have an idea of what I’d like to accomplish in the future, I’ve found that embracing spontaneity and the unknown often leads to experiences and opportunities I wouldn’t have necessarily thought to envision for myself. (The flip side is that some of my worst experiences are ones that I thought “met” my goals, rather than listening to my intuition.) When I cling too tightly to a vision, I find myself frustrated or disappointed when it doesn’t turn out the way I imagined. And, while I keep ideas and goals at the back of my mind, I also try to look for unexpected and new opportunities, which seem to fulfill a dream in completely different ways.

In ten days, we are moving into a new house. We have been talking about the need to move for quite a while, and suddenly we felt that now was the time. The weekend after making our decision, we found the house we loved and a week later, someone offered to buy our house. It’s all happened so quickly! While we had researched over the past year neighborhoods we like and had talked about our dream home, we hadn’t ever mapped it out in minute detail. I think the combination of dreaming together and the spontaneity of the moment helped us find our new home.

Looking back on the conversation about goals, I see that each of us does believe in goal-setting, but the ways in which we find success is very reflective of our individual personalities. I look at how differently Frank and I go about the practice of setting goals, and in many ways those differences compliment each other. It made me think, as we enter the last month of the year, how I may change the way I set goals and how to balance having a focus and vision and enjoying the unexpected journey.

What about you? Are you a goal setter? What is the most successful way for you to work toward a goal?