Starting the Year Without a Guide

Last week, Frank and I were sitting at the chef’s table at one of our favorite restaurants, watching pizzas being thrown together, Brussel’s sprouts slung in and out of the deep fryer, and zesty cannoli shells filled and plated for desserts. Our backs were to the rest of the diners and we were able to really focus on each other and our conversation.

Frank asked if I had a chance to think about my “one word” for the year. It has been a wonderful break but one in which I just never found much time for journalling and reflection. I took a sip of my white negroni and shrugged. “I don’t know. Next year feels like there are a lot of unknowns. Maybe my word should be status quo.”

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

My eyes got teary as soon as I said that. I don’t really think my life needs to remain at status quo. We talked about other words that could embody the idea of rest, peace, and contentment. But none of them really rang true or sparked excitement.

This coming year is full of change for our family. Nothing major but as the girls grow older, our schedule seems to get fuller. And then, Elle will be starting full-time school at the end of summer. While that’s still eight months away, it adds a major layer of unknown to my own plans and dreams.

As a planner, I love goals and ideas and dreams. It’s hard to simply live in the moment and not prepare for what’s next. But maybe this is what I need to do, at least for the first part of the year. This doesn’t mean I’ll just ignore things that come my way, but I think I need to live right in this moment, not in the future – even if the future is just months away.

Reading through this essay, I see a handful of words that would be perfect for a “one word” of this year but I think what I need to do is not even assign an intention. Maybe part of my challenge for the year will to be a bit less intentional, less focused, less goal-oriented.

We’ll see how this goes. A word or intention could hit me mid-February and I’ll run with it. But for now, I’m going to enjoy this moment. I’ll volunteer and write and dream. I’ll spend my Thursdays enjoying a day without commitments with Elle. I’ll read and pursue ideas. I’ll get discouraged by the monotony and encouraged at just the right moments.

I think this year is going to be one of discovery. It may be the year I step over the threshold – my word of 2019. When I think about stepping into the new year without much of a plan, I feel open and relief. Maybe this is exactly what my perfectionist tendencies need – a chance to go with the flow.

What about you? Do you pick a word to guide your year? How do you start the new year?

The Swirl of New Year’s Resolutions

For the first time in years, I started a new journal at the beginning of January. It just kind of worked out that way but it felt a little odd literally opening a new page at the beginning of a new year.

I absolutely love January and all the hope it brings. I know I’m the same human I was on December 31 but there’s something incredibly communal about society recognizing the value of assessing hopes and dreams and new possibilities.

In the midst of reset and choosing guiding words, I’ve seen more pushback this year than in the past. There are posts and articles about just living life – that we are enough without our resolutions.

On the one hand, I completely agree. Too much emphasis on a goal or hope can be debilitating. For this reason, I use an academic calendar to plan my writing and year, so that I can have a fresh start in August when there’s less pressure. I keep my journals going until the last page or so, rather than starting fresh each year. I reevaluate my goals as we approach summer and again as we end because those offer natural points in our family’s rhythm. I like being reminded that goals can happen at any time, regardless of time or season.

Our girls went back to school on Tuesday and we’re settling back into the rhythm we had established over the fall. In the space of my two free hours, I got the chores that had been hanging over my head during the break finished. It’s amazing how productive I can be when I only have myself to buckle in and out of the car!

While we were ready for a routine, I do love extended breaks. Turning off my alarm, having coffee in my pajamas, and creating space for spontaneity are all refreshing practices. Although I do look at people who take a day of quiet to reflect on the past year and feel a twinge of envy – most of my reflection is in my head while listening to a harmonica concert or a puppet show that would rival a Dada production.

Ultimately, I’m thankful that I have a full week between turning a page on a new year, filled with possibilities and hopes and visions and actually having time to reflect and let them sink in. Because that’s how life is – it’s so rare that we get to end one thing neatly and begin a new thing fully attentive. There’s a bleeding of the edges and a natural swirl around any transition. Not being able to cleanly begin the new year is a reminder for me of how these hopes and goals will most likely play out – in a messy, swirly sort of way.

But I do pick One Word to define my year. I also pick a handful of loose goals that I have – writing daily, learning French, practicing calligraphy, working out consistently. I don’t put a timeline or number after these goals – maybe hopes or ideas would be a better term for them. But I love starting each year with these at the back of my mind.

Even though those last few days of the break weren’t as magical as I envisioned (are they ever?) and even though our transition back to school hasn’t been as sweet as I had hoped (is it ever?) I’m hoping to take that lesson with me through the year. That, as I set goals and reevaluate throughout the year, I remember to give each transition and hope time and space. There’s going to be that awkward, messy, often frustrating transition but things often shake out and I’m so thankful for those steps, goals, and dreams that were simmering through the chaos.

As we set goals and visions for the new year, I hope you find space in the natural chaos of life to lean into the transition as well.

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.”

One Word: Lean In

I wasn’t going to pick just one word to define 2018. This will be my fourth year using a single word to guide my year and I just wasn’t connecting with anything in particular. But as I reflected on this year of capacity and all the unexpected ways in which it has played out, I realized that a natural follow-up emerged.

Lean InThis year has been a year of changes for our family. I quit my job at the museum and almost immediately started volunteering as an editor with SheLoves Magazine. After years of feeling unsettled and one final year of stress, Frank made the decision to leave his job as president of a company to start his own business. Bea started full-day kindergarten. Even the best changes our stressful and this year, our family has been stretched to capacity.

As I think about 2017 and the ways in which I recognized capacity in my life – from time management to social justice to how I parent – I realized incredible opportunities rose when I said no to really good things in order to say yes to other really good things.

Some of those really good things have led to opportunities and other really good things that I never would have imagined a year ago. As the girls grow a little bit older and time looks a little bit different, I want to learn to confidently lean into those experiences and opportunities.

As I think about my own goals as well as those of our family, the phrase Lean In kept coming to mind. I want to lean into the next few months of Elle being home before starting preschool. I want to lean into social justice and opportunities to learn about peacemaking in our neighborhood and our world.  I want to lean into my community – to ask for help and guidance, to remember that life isn’t meant to be figured out alone. I want to lean into writing opportunities and experiences surrounding that. I know Frank is figuring out how best to lean into his business while also leaning into our family life.

As always, with picking one word, I know that this will take me in directions I could not possibly dream. I hesitated to pick lean in precisely because it seems riskier than my past words. But then, especially the past few years, I see how these words and intention have built on each other. I know that leaning in may take me outside my comfort zone, but I’m also realizing how incredible those risks can be.

Do you pick One Word to guide your year? How have your words changed your life?

(If you’re curious… My One Word 2014 was Grace; 2015 was Choose; 2016 was Enough, and 2017 was Capacity.)

Check out OneWord365 for word ideas and to find others with your same word.

One Word: Choose

Last year was an experiment in focusing on one word to guide my year, rather than lists and goals. I picked grace, and it was so interesting seeing how it permeated my life. Grace had always been there but by focusing on it as my word for the year, I began truly noticing how grace filled my interactions and how I responded to situations with grace (or lack thereof…) It subtly moved to the forefront of my mind and, looking back, I appreciate how grace worked its way into so many parts of my life I didn’t even realize needed that infusion.

As 2014 wound down, I began thinking of a new word. How would I want to define 2015? What are words that come to mind? Over and over the word choose came up. I’m a fairly intentional person by nature. I probably think too much about choices but most of those are personal – how do we spend our time, our resources, our energy as a family? What is important to us?

Especially with questions arising over the choice of privilege and how I view my neighbors, I realized I make a lot of intentional choices for myself. How can I expand that? How can I choose to be a better neighbor, a better listener, a better activist? How can I choose to stretch myself?

Last year, I wrote about grace for my family and my community and myself. This year, I hope that choose encompasses new communities and that my views and horizons expand as I embrace this word.

Do you make a list of resolutions? If you could choose One Word for the year, what would it be?

Check out the community at OneWord365 for ideas and support with your One Word.