I don’t make formal New Year resolutions as I rarely keep them. Instead, I reflect on the past year: what I find encouraging and what I find wanting. I didn’t write as much as I intended to, nor did I read the books I meant to. I missed too many opportunities for physical fitness, and I didn’t spend much time working on learning to play my piano. Nevertheless, the year 2017 was a good year, and I feel I made some progress toward self-actualization as Maslow theorized it. That’s important. But my progress in this regard began long before 2017.
A few years ago I started using a ‘renewable’ title for my New Year blog posts derived from the lyric, “we’ll drink a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne,” identifying the year followed by “A Cup of…” the one word that seems to encapsulate the year. I observe and analyze themes in my world to see connections in different aspects of my life, what captures my attention or dominates my thinking.
I reflect on the social, political, and personal influences in my life, and in 2017, the most common theme for me is some kind of awakening. But that’s not entirely accurate, at least, not across all three arenas. Socially, influences in my life have strengthened within my circle, but making new friends wasn’t the focus, I’m still in a homebody phase for the most part. Politically, influences have arisen from a place of disbelief, awareness, and resistance, not in that particular order. As for personal influences, my choices and actions in 2017 bore more fruit than the past few years, but the major harvest is still on the horizon.
As an introvert, social gatherings zap my energy, and I enjoy interacting with small groups of people rather than crowds. So, the awakening in my social circles brought few new people to my life, but for the most part, connections with family and friends and people I most care about have become more profound. It’s all about relationships: cultivating the new while tending the established. I have long-established friendships I want to rekindle in 2018. Rekindling the friendship of those who have busy lives hundreds of miles away is a goal for me this year; in fact, connecting more often with friends who live nearby is also a goal this year.
Connecting to what we care about as citizens has influenced my thinking this year. In the last two years, the most direct evidence that the personal is political has influenced me to be more awake to the political landscape. The current American body politic needs our deliberate and focused attention. Do our elected representatives even acknowledge their constituencies anymore? I’ve written other posts about the severe disappointment I have for the current political climate of partisan intransigence, bullying, roadblocks, gerrymandering, and homogeneity. I intend to work in my own way to promote bipartisanship, collaboration, integrity, diversity, and inclusivity with my political engagement. A government by the people and for the people has dwindled and elitism has taken root; and as citizens, we must reassert our will and hold our elected representatives at all levels accountable to us. I’m employing self-restraint in this post regarding my ideology that I exhibit robustly in other posts. This is not the post for my political ideology, but a post to reflect on my goal to be awake to the body politic and to engage in civil acts – whether those acts in 2018 exhibit civil disobedience is to be determined.
Being engaged in personal goals this past year has nurtured my well-being, which is fantastic, yet I feel more content than ecstatic. Maybe that’s how it should be, I don’t know. I have learned that intrinsic motivation is necessary, but I often need an external factor to prod me into action. In 2017 and over 50, one would think that I had learned that combination years before. Maybe I had, but the unpredictable nature of life wiped out those earlier lessons. It took me years to learn them again.
In 2014, I finally earned my MA in English, and a couple of years of the belief that “hey, now I have this degree, life should be easier!” ensued. Yeah, not so much. In those couple of years, I felt displaced because I had accomplished the singular goal I had worked so long and hard to achieve, and suddenly, I had no specific goal. I had things I wanted and intended to do, but earning the degree had been the impetus for most of the prior decade. The consequence was that I had postponed other personal goals until after earning the degree. I got lost in the magical thinking that everything would be the way I wanted it now that I had earned my MA. I tried a couple of times to get a local writing group going; I tried to keep it going, but it depended on people who had their own lives and interests outside of writing; and it fell apart. I was disheartened. My writing life slipped into the shadows. I still write, and maybe I’ll give a local writing group another go. But not yet.
I needed to shift my focus to something else, something that didn’t depend on the participation and regular commitment of a group of people. So that meant I needed to look inside myself and make some new goals. It wasn’t until the spring of 2016 (two years after earning the MA) that I started to gain insight, but gaining momentum would take longer. 2016 was a year of disappointment (in so many ways), but in 2016 the seeds of my newfound motivation were planted.
In the fall of 2016, I discovered that I needed a credential in order to be qualified to teach CTE courses in communication (in addition to my license to teach academic English writing and literature courses), so I researched the required coursework to earn it. Tired of being driven by forces I could not control, I took control of what I could. In the course of that step, an insight came to me to shift my perspective. In order to gain momentum, I needed a spark to get going. I found that spark for the professional goal, but what about some of my personal goals?
Some goals are lifelong (physical fitness is a lifelong endeavor, for example) and I always will work on those, and some years I’ll be more productive than others in that regard. What about the tasks that seem impossible because the job looks too exhaustive and insurmountable? What to do then? After a few months of feeling overwhelmed, something shook loose and I decided to take small steps and call a friend and ask for help with yard work. Years ago, I had enjoyed having a garden – both flowers and vegetables, and I wanted to have a garden again, on a small-scale.
My momentum in 2017 started when I tried to raise tomatoes from seeds. I have long intended to work on landscaping (to the degree that I can afford to do the work on my own and I have the energy). In 2017, with a little bit of help from a good friend with more energy and youth, I planted new roses, cleaned up some overgrowth among the existing roses, cleared out dead branches, laid new sod in a part of the yard where grass had died, and started a brick patio (OK, it’s not completed, but it gives me a place to start in the spring!). The tomatoes didn’t make it, but all the planting and landscaping yielded a vital catalyst: momentum.
In order to grow and flourish, a seed does most of its work below ground, where it cannot be seen, and as it grows and pushes up through the soil, the evidence of change and growth can be measured. Those tomato plants came from seeds of a tomato I bought at the grocery store, and when I cut it open and saw the beginnings of new tomato plants, I stuck them in soil and watered them just to see if they would grow. I kept the soil moist and covered with plastic wrap (with small air holes) and didn’t pay much attention. A couple of weeks went by, and the seedlings had rooted into the soil. If I had planted them earlier, I probably could have transferred them to a garden. When I moved them from inside the house at about 3 inches tall (in June), they continued to grow, but my inexperience with seedlings was an obstacle they couldn’t survive. And, I had to be gone for a full week at a professional conference that was a step to earning that new credential.
In a few months, I’ll try tomato plants again (probably best to buy started plants and go from there), and I hope to have a manageable vegetable garden this year. I’ve got momentum on that score, and movement in one area begets movement in another.
What I harvested from the momentum I gained in 2017 wasn’t something tangible; it has become something more: a renewed self-awareness to know my own limits, motivations, and desires, to ask for help when I need it, and to recognize that what is happening beneath the surface cannot be rushed.
Best to all in 2018!
Happy New Year