Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

Several of my family members write New Year's Goals (note: not resolutions), and one of my family members even writes extensive lists of New Year's Goals in over a dozen categories - which works really well for him and is really important to him. I used to write New Year's Goals as well, due mostly to family pressure to do so, but I stopped years ago. For a few years I felt guilty for not doing it, assuming that some personal flaw made me averse to goal-setting. Now I'm secure with who I am and what my life is about - I'm process-oriented, not goal-oriented!

Instead of setting goals that can be checked off a list when accomplished, I set life-long intentions for how I want to live:

Always put love first.
Keep growing and learning.
Maintain an awareness of my place in the interdependent web of life.
Be honest and real.
Support and strengthen my health.
Support and strengthen the health of the Earth.
Try my best.
Increase sisterhood and women's freedom in whatever ways I can.
Do what I can to make the world a better place for children.
Say "Thank you" and "I love you" on a regular basis and never take my blessings for granted.

These are my life-long intentions that I try to live by. Of course, I don't always succeed in that...not only do I of course make mistakes and poor decisions like all humans do, but I know those intentions are rather lofty. It would be impossible to follow them to a T at every moment. :) But I try! These intentions are not just for 2012, nor are they ever things I can check off as "done." They can be approached in many ways. My problem with goal-setting is that it feels too concrete, and doesn't leave room for the ways in which life is constantly changing - often in ways outside of our personal control. If you set a goal to do X, and then decide that doing X is not right for you, are you a "failure" because you didn't "accomplish the goal"? I spent 15 years working non-stop/often full time with young children, and then I burnt out, and quit childcare as my 30th birthday present to myself. Had I set a goal of "Be a teacher" or whatever, I would have had to count that a "failure." But really, my life's mission from the time I was a teenager was to "do what I can to make the world a better place for children." There are many, many ways of doing that, which don't necessarily have to involve being the direct caregiver for children on a daily basis. After I quit childcare [or rather, seriously reduced my hours - I must admit that I still spend time with kids because I can't not :)], I wrote a grant application that resulted in scholarship money for disadvantaged kids to take circus classes. Still a way of following my stated intentions!!

In the fall of 2009, I was all prepared to facilitate a Girl's Circle for a group of 10- and 11-year-old girls at a local library. I had gone through the training, purchased the curriculum and made changes to it to suit the group's needs, gathered materials, arranged my work schedule, etc. I had already facilitated an 8-week Circle and it had gone really well, and this was to be a continuation of it. Two girls were already signed up and as excited as I was. Then... you know where this story is going, right?.... I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And my surgery date was set for 2 days before the Girls Circle was scheduled to start. I had to cancel the whole thing. Had I set a goal of "Facilitate Girls Circle at the library in Fall 2009/Winter 2010," I would have had to say I failed to meet that goal. But I didn't fail at all. I succeeded by surviving cancer, both physically and mentally, and continuing to live a happy, healthy life. Facilitating a Girls Circle would have been a wonderful expression of my lifelong intention to increase sisterhood and women's freedom, but life through me a giant curveball and I had to find new ways. During the 2 years since then, I haven't facilitated any Girls Circles (maybe I still will?), but I have instead increased sisterhood and women's freedom by loaning money to businesswomen in developing countries (through Kiva), volunteering at a fundraising event for research on breast cancer and the environment, helping plan and implement a local fundraiser for two women in my community who are undergoing cancer treatments, volunteering at an event put on by the local Women's Freedom Center, and engaging in online activism in a variety of ways.

I don't set goals that are destinations I must arrive at, because I have NO IDEA what's coming up ahead in my path. Thus, I set intentions for how to travel the path. These are intentions I can try to live by no matter what happens in my life. When I was in college, I set a bunch of now-seemingly-arbitrary goals, like learn to play the fiddle by the time I'm 35, live in a house by the ocean, become a mother, go to Paris again. MAYBE I WILL, MAYBE I WON'T, but I'm taking life one day at a time and defining success so differently now. My life's intentions are ones that can be practiced whether one is a hardworking, married CEO and bestselling author and mother of 5, or a solitary person confined to a hospital bed...because it's not about what you accomplish, it's about who you are.

When I was in the midst of breast cancer treatments, I had bouts of depression because I felt so disconnected from the rest of the world/my "normal life" and unable to "do" anything. Had my goals been as specific as "facilitate a 12-week Girls Circle by Spring of 2010," yeah, I would have "failed." But even during cancer treatments, I could try to follow my life's intentions... I was filled to the brim with love and gratitude for all of my amazingly loving and supportive friends and family, and I was certainly growing and learning (haha, whether I wanted to or not! My mom refers to that 6-month period as my "cancer semester"), and while I was frustrated to not be able to do more/do what I wanted to do in the realm of helping women, I could at the very least write supportive messages to other breast cancer patients on the message boards, blog about my experiences in hopes that my words would be helpful to others, and sign up for a clinical trial that would result in data that would improve breast cancer treatments for future women. And, I comforted myself by trying to remember that while part of me felt useless/isolated/self-centered by not being able to do anything other than be a cancer patient, reality was that I NEEDED to focus on my own personal healing in order to be at all helpful to other women in the future! You know, that whole "put on your own oxygen mask first" thing.

So, if any of you reading this failed to accomplish last year's resolutions or goals, or are feeling apprehensive about the ones you've set this year, or guilty for not setting any at all, I say, don't sweat it! :) Be you. Be the best YOU that you can be, knowing that there are infinite ways of approaching that....including by setting specific goals and objectives if you really want to. If you include "Always keep learning and growing" as one of your goals, then you can't EVER fail, right?? Failing to meet some goal or objective you set is certainly something you learn and grow from, so, you're really always succeeding. :)

What are your New Year's traditions or rituals? Do you set goals or resolutions or intentions of some kind? What works for you? I know that some of my family members really get a lot out of goal-setting, so I hope this post hasn't sounded too anti-goals in general! It's just not MY thing, and that's okay! :)

Happy 2012!!!

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