Here is the thing I love about January: everyone tries to start out fresh. Some people really try. They try to form new habits – like working out more, being less stressed, meditating regularly, being kinder to their families or more involved in their communities – or break old ones – like quitting smoking, quitting drinking, quitting eating so much crap that isn’t good for the body.
Some people, like my friend B., always over do it. Two years ago his new year’s resolutions were: work out every day, quit smoking, and lose 25 pounds. That lasted about 8 days. I can’t remember if it was the going to the gym that went first or the smoking. Safe money is on the cancer sticks.
I too made resolutions for 2007 and before I make any for 2008 I’d like to look back and see how I did. To recap: In 2007 my resolutions were to:
- Identify and articulate what I want.
If I don’t know what I want I can’t say what I want and if I never say what I want I can never get what I want even if it is only me on whom I am relying to fulfill my wants.
- Invest only in the outcomes which truly matter and embrace possibility.
Too often I have found myself invested in a specific outcome only to be disappointed when it did not come to pass. By approaching the bulk of life not invested in any one particular outcome I am embracing the idea that in any given situation there are myriad possible outcomes many of which might actually be enjoyable to me. In this way I open myself up to new, different experiences, decrease the chances that I will be disappointed, and expend my energy only on the outcomes which I truly value.
- Take more risks.
Because sometimes not taking the risk is a more wrong move than taking the risk.
I would have to say that objectively I made the most progress with number one, quite a bit of progress with number two, and virtually no progress with number three.
I spent a lot of time in 2007 figuring out what exactly it was that I want. I still don’t fully know in all aspects of my life (do I want to retire early and write? do I want to have the freedom, and comfort, to travel widely? to I want to keep living in DC?) but with the things I do know I want I’m at least able to articulate them clearly.
Still I am too often disappointed by a situation or a person because I have a preconceived idea of how I want or how I think things should progress. Any preconception is, of course, investment in a particular outcome. I’m doing better, though, at just letting things flow, at seeing how they go and assessing them on their own merits rather than against some yardstick that tops out at “mildly disappointed.” It may not sound like an improvement, but it is.
And then there is taking more risks.
This is my downfall for the simple reason that risk means the potential for failure and I take failure very, very, very personally. Yes, this is part and parcel of the whole investment in a particular outcome problem. I realize this and I also realize that I have a long way to go before I can approach my own endeavors with any measure of interested detachment.
Some risks, some ventures have but two true outcomes, success and failure, and any one of myriad results is but a variation of these two results. So, if you’re not invested in the successful outcome of something why bother doing the thing at all?
I can hear my optimist friends protesting now: “But you haven’t really failed if you learn something from the experience!” And while I can agree with that, sometimes what you learn from the experience isn’t worth the pain you have to go through to get it.
So maybe what I need to do is reform my thinking about risk. If it’s true that you only fail if you don’t achieve the outcome you desired and you learn nothing from the experience then lurking somewhere in that attitude is the idea that most adverse outcomes, at least the ones that don’t involve things like your parachute not opening soon enough, can be overcome, absorbed through the passage of time into your life experience to become the emotional equivalent of battle scars that you can look back at in 6 months or a year or five with some objectivity and amazement that you ever got through them.
The good folks that brought us National Novel Writing Month are running what they call The Big, Fun, Scary Adventure Challenge the idea being that if you make your objectives concrete and public you’ll be motivated to do them. With that in mind, here are my 2008 personal challenges:
- Finish polishing my 2004 NaNo novel by the end of 1st quarter 2008
- Submit at least 6 query letters to agents or publishers by the end of 3rd quarter 2008
- Put at least $5,000 USD into savings in 2008
Quantifiable, certainly. Attached to deadlines, most definitely. Scary as hell, all except that last one. See this space for progress reports.