Last year I knew, absolutely knew, what I needed most to work on for 2012. I was craving joy. This year is different, with several strong feelings swirling around in my mind and heart, all of them important, all of them jumping up and down waving their arms to get my attention. But I loved the simplicity last year of a main objective that was three letters long. Every time I saw that word written down, no matter where or in what context, it reminded me what I was doing. For weeks now I’ve been trying to find a bridge between the list and the word. At length I settled on a plan that, in my head and heart at least, weaves it all together.
And then I read this lovely post. And re-read it. Then re-read it again. So many of my own heart’s thoughts were in it (especially the first and second to last paragraphs, along with many bullet points like feeling strong, managing to cry a lot, falling in love with her husband dozens of times, but NOT the part about her announcement of a new baby. We’ll be sticking with 8 as I so often still feel completely overwhelmed). But there has been this recurring feeling that 2013 will really just be the natural continuation of 2012, and with it has been my heart’s plea: better. Please let it be better. Please let so much of what we experienced in 2012 somehow launch us forward into a better place. So when I read Anna Maria’s words, “Maybe all 2012 was, in reality, was the makings of 2013. The behind the scenes of new paths, new lives and new stories still penciled in rough draft” my heart leaped a little.
Last year was a year of such intensity in the ups and the downs and everywhere in between. I remember when I was a missionary years ago how the intensity of feeling, of mental, emotional and spiritual effort often left me speechless. I would sit at the end of the day to write in my journal but usually fell asleep before a fraction of it all had been recorded. I felt like every day was a mini-book if I could somehow write it all down. Last year my daily life matched and then passed the intensity of that time in my life. It was overwhelming at times, but it also brought another feeling that swelled each time more was required of me. It was this: I am willing. I want to do this. I am willing to give more. Once again, Anna Maria wrote the words I never found for this discovery: ” I have never felt more required of me in a given year, but also realized how that is the whole purpose of living.”
In my husband’s professional life, my feeling and hope that 2013 will build on last year but be better, has already happened. I won’t go into details here, but I will say that what has transpired for him in the past 5 weeks has dispelled any possible thoughts that the challenges we faced last year were anything BUT the Lord’s plan for our family. It also filled me with amazement at God’s ability, in his own time, to open the windows of heaven. In this area, they were open far too wide for us to receive all the opportunities available. I am so happy for him, and so grateful for this next step. I will never forget this.
So, knowing that 2012 offered me a wider understanding of ‘the whole purpose of living” and wanting this next year to feel like all the pulling back of 2012 was really just the pulling back of a bow about to launch an arrow, I have chosen two words for 2013. Simple and Quality. The first represents my personal goals, and the second, my goals for our family.
Let’s tackle Simple first. I had six personal goals to work on in 2013, and found a way for each letter in the word “simple” to be a reminder of one of these goals.
S – Smile & Savor. I don’t want to lose what I gained last year by focusing on joy, so my first goal is a reminder to continue to smile and savor those things in my life that bring me joy. I really believe that all the goals I have set will contribute to my happiness, but I want to keep working specifically on living happily. My bullet list for this goal includes: start a gratitude journal, read more “happiness” books (I have a few titles I gleaned from reading Happier at Home that I really want to read), visit all the areas of my house where I sometimes feel run down, tired, or not enough (like at the stove when I’m cooking dinner) and in each spot, post a reminder of some ACTION I can take in that very spot, at that moment, to feel happy. For example, in one place I could leave a sign that says, “smile” or laugh, jump, sing, etc.
I – Influence. I wrote about my disappointing performance last year with being a better friend. The other day a good friend introduced me to the blog of someone I know but haven’t seen in many years. It turns out we have a lot in common, and at first I was excited but as I scrolled through her blog I started doubting myself, thinking that she was so much better than me, and the first impulse I felt to reach out and contact her was squelched by my fear of not being good enough. I sat there in my chair and struggled with these feelings until the thought occurred to me that I should pray for help with this problem. I did. I went to a quiet room and got down on my knees and asked God to help me rid myself of these inferior feelings, these handicaps I allow myself to take on. I also realized that these feelings have also prevented me from reaching out to old friends whose lives appear to have continued on as I expected mine to. They still seem to have it all together, and I feel embarrassed and ashamed, so I do nothing instead of offering whatever I have. I am going to stop this. I know the Lord will help me with it, but it is I who must take action. I am the creative force of my own life. This year I will not withhold any action I could take to be a positive influence in my relationships, even if my offering feels insufficient. The first items on my bullet list: go visit each of those friends and tell them how much they mean to me, write thank you notes promptly, find a small way to serve every day, start 29 gifts in February.
M – My health. I keep avoiding this but it’s time to face it. To do this, I am joining a Resolutionary Challenge that is being hosted by my sister for 12 weeks. Among the items on the list are exercise 5x weekly for at least 30 minutes and eat 7 servings of fruits and veggies/day. I’m exited to have a community to report to on this one so I can be consistent every single week. In addition to these items in the challenge, I am going to quit eating sugar at least for the duration of the challenge. And a random thing: I need a pair of sunglasses. I hate having glasses on my face but I need to protect my eyes, so if you have some inexpensive, fashionable sunglasses that you like, I’d love suggestions!
P – Participate. This ties closely with INFLUENCE, but I wanted it to have it’s own category. I love one-on-one relationships, but tend to stay on the edges of groups. This year I will get off the edge, jump in, and participate. Last summer I joined the Utah County Modern Quilt Group and wondered if I would like it. While I can’t claim to have made a new friend yet, I have loved being a part of the sharing of ideas and the sharing of compliments that has come with it. So, in addition to participating in friendships like I’ve already stated, I am going to actively participate in the groups I want to be a part of. I will continue to participate in the UCMQG as well as the women’s book club my sister started for our family. I will also participate in the book club in my neighborhood by attending at least 4 times this year. I will participate more in the online quilting community and am starting that by hosting my Scrappy Swoon Quilt Along, which is a huge step out of my comfort zone. I also want to participate in this classical book club, but I’m several months behind. I think I’ll just jump in where they’re at and try to catch up on the side. And make myself comment at least once on each book. And yes, that’s a lot of reading. Let me be clear about one thing: I will continue to choose my commitments carefully because life is intense at home, but what I choose I will actively participate in.
L – Live Ahead. I’m great at brainstorming ahead. The ideas are easy, but implementing them is often hard for me. Too often I am swept away by life and do nothing. I want to become efficient at choosing my best ideas and seeing them through to completion. Many of the ideas seem to have deadlines. They relate to holidays or events and I’m tired of missing them. So, instead of just planning ahead, I want to LIVE ahead. For at least ten holidays or events of my choosing this year, I will choose one idea I’m excited about and have it completed no later than two weeks prior to the actual day.
E – Embrace technology. Ok, so this one is kind of funny, but very timely. Remember back in the day when the Razor cell phone was pretty cool? Well, I never stopped using mine. Until Christmas Day, 2012, that is, when the screen no longer worked. Obviously, I’ve known it was time to upgrade to a smart phone for a while but every time I look at price tags I would think of all the other far more urgent things we need to do and quickly decide I wasn’t interested. But it was more than economics that has kept me from doing it. I hate learning how to use gadgets. I like knowing how to use them, but always resent the time it takes me to sit down and figure them out. So I might have had the oldest working razor phone in existence. It’s that unwillingness to learn how to use them that I want to end. Amusingly, without knowing it was a goal of mine, my husband ordered me the new Nexus 4 phone for Christmas. AND he gave me a new (used) laptop that runs Linux instead of Windows, which I’ve been using for years. Both are welcome gifts, but can I just tell you how much time I’ve spent learning how to use these things in the past two weeks?!? Seriously. I had good reason to dread it. But, we’re on our way. All of a sudden I’m on Instagram, I’m the administrator of a Flikr group, and all kinds of stuff that I still need to learn more about. You should have seen me the first time my new phone rang and I couldn’t figure out how to answer it. I’m sure someone was laughing hysterically. But because of this goal, every time I’ve been tempted to say something like “Thanks anyway, but I’ll just keep using my old laptop because I’m tired of learning a new program for EVERY. SINGLE. FUNCTION,” I’ve said to myself, “Embrace technology.” And everyone has been happy. I think I’ll know I reached this goal if, by the end of the year, I’ve had to teach one of my teenagers how to use an app that I downloaded.
So there you have it. Smile & savor. Influence. My health. Participate. Live ahead. Embrace technology. SIMPLE. I was so happy to make these goals work with the word simple. It’s a reminder that in all of this I’m trying to do less, not more, to be more effective and not more complicated, to identify what matters most and go deep in that area but NOT to spread myself too thin. Simple.
And now for the second half of the plan. QUALITY. These goals represent what we want to accomplish with our family this year. You guessed it, each letter represents a goal. And I should also say that in each of these areas I’m going to set a goal or two for a month, and move on from there on a monthly schedule.
Q – Quality of Life Factor. I really don’t know what else to call this. I want to improve the quality of our family life in those parts of the day that feel hurried, stressed, ugly. So when I talk about this “factor” I’m talking about things like the overall tidiness of our home, the ease of transition in activities, ease of preparation for events, etc. I’m talking about improving little things that will make us feel like we’re in charge instead of feeling frustrated because we can’t find this or that. For January we’re going to focus on having the whole family participate in a 15 minute tidy-up before bed at night, and I’m going to invite my children to get rid of a few things each time they clean their rooms. I am personally going to get rid of 5 things/day (the concept of curating our lives has been resonating with a lot of people and it certainly applies here), but I’m trusting the kids to make decisions about their own stuff.
U – Urgency in things of importance. I know all about urgent things. I know all about important things. But I don’t always manage to make the important things urgent and let the unimportant urgent things go. Time to change that. This year we will schedule time for things of importance. Some of those things include: regular temple attendance for both adults and teens living in our home, regular journal writing, active family history research, more formal preschool time with my youngest daughters, service projects, well-planned teaching opportunities. Many of these will be opened to our family at our weekly Family Home Evening every Monday night and we will make specific plans together. The clock is ticking on the years we have left with our children and I do NOT want to feel like time ran out before I got around to these things. Please know that we’re working on them already, but I don’t feel like I’m as effective as I should be.
A – Aim Higher. Honestly, I’ve been “surviving” for too long. In so many areas I feel like we’re doing the bare minimum. Funny enough, the “bare minimum” spread over eight children is often more work than something fantastic with one or two, but I’m still tired of it. While I know that part of the reason I was supposed to have a large family was to cure (or at least try to cure) my crazy strong tendency for perfectionism, I don’t see that problem in most of my children. In fact, most of them need coaching to aim higher in their lives. For some it’s academics, for others it’s social skills. All of us have areas of weakness that need a better trajectory. Stephen Covey wrote that “our tendency is to run with our strengths and leave our weaknesses undeveloped.” He further taught that the full utilization of our capacities requires us to overcome our weaknesses. We want to aim higher and invite our children to pursue excellence in specific areas of their lives. Many of these goals will remain private due to their nature but I will share some successes and ideas along the way.
L – Laugh. My husband and I both know that we need to intentionally take a deep breath when it’s super-crazy around here and laugh instead of being serious. We want to laugh every day about something that we might be tempted to take too seriously.
I – Inject the Spirit daily. Oh, how we watch our youth and worry! These teen-aged years are so bizarre sometimes. We see moments of great potential and brilliance and in the next moment see them laughing at something we want them to hold sacred. My children are no different and parenting is the ultimate experience in delayed gratification. I use the word inject as a reminder to myself. A doctor injects a serum into a patient having faith that it will do it’s work. Most of the time injections take time to penetrate the body, and therefore the health benefits will be seen over time, not immediately. I am going to have the faith of a doctor. I am going to research and observe so I can learn what they need. Then we will plan powerful but brief injections of testimony and doctrine to offer to our children. And then I will get down on my knees and ask the Lord to do the rest. I will do this every day. We will draw from online resources, stories, object lessons, anything we can do to keep it interesting to our large group.
T- Take Inventory, re-stock and use less. Last year left us with so many things in an interesting state. My storage room is a mess. Our food storage is well-stocked in some areas and dwindling in others. In every area, we’re going to take inventory, evaluate what needs to be re-stocked and what we can just use less of. And there are things we need to use more of, too. We will then act on that data. By the end of the year I want a fully re-stocked food storage as well as non-food storage. Today as I was sitting in church there were two women who shared their testimonies at the very end of the meeting, long after it was planned to end. As they each shared their thoughts, one after the other, I was struck with a thought. I know that I want to have the physical details of our lives in order to leave more mental and physical energy for active, intentional parenting. This Take Inventory category as well as the Quality of Life Factor both point toward that goal, which is more time in the Inject the Spirit, Aim Higher and Urgency in Important Matters areas. So here’s the thought I was struck with: I need to do this work to be a careful steward so we have the resources we need to provide for this large family. But once I’ve done my best, I need to have more faith in the Lord. I need to trust that he will always provide for us by NOT WORRYING about it. So, taking inventory and then walking away to focus on weightier matters can become an act of faith.
Y – YES to Youth. This goal is listed last because it’s kind of the final result of doing the first six well, but it was the first thing I wrote down when I started planning for 2013. It also ties into my personal goals of Influence and Participate. We’ve got so many little ones running around here that our oldest kids have come to prefer going elsewhere with their friends instead of being in our home. We feel strongly that we must reverse this preference by making our home a great place to be, by having the right activities, food and plans on hand to be the spur-of-the-moment party house. We want to be prepared, on short notice and often, to say Yes to whatever will work for our youth. This goal will take work, especially from us as parents and will probably often come when we’re tired and would prefer a quiet evening, but I’m excited about turning this weakness into a strength. Another part of that goal is to help our children learn to navigate friendships if several of them have a group of friends over at the same time. Tricky, but we need to at least get better at it. Really, more than anything else, if we feel like our children (in particular our teenagers) are really thriving in every way (especially spiritually) then I will feel like every ounce of effort I’ve given will be worth it 100 times over.
The list is complete. Quality of Life Factor. Urgency in important matters. Aim higher. Laugh. Inject the spirit. Take inventory. Yes to youth. QUALITY. It’s not about perfect. It’s about doing everything I can to make a quality experience out of our daily lives together. This is what we want.
And thus I’m embarked on a year in search of Simple Quality. I love the way all these goals will enhance my ability to achieve the others as well.
One last thought. It’s a thought which came with my goal to participate, but really it applies to everything so I’m sharing it here. Last year I read Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit (which I think I’ll read again this year) and I’ve spent some time re-reading passages I highlighted. On pages 120-121 she discusses the concept of (to quote E.B. White) being “prepared to be lucky”. The concept of being lucky represents the goal of being successful. Essentially, luck is a skill, and the harder you work the luckier you are. And then she writes this:
“Being prepared for luck is like getting a voice message that tells you, ‘Something good may happen to you between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. today. Make sure you’re at your desk (or in your studio or office or at your laboratory bench) working. And keep your eyes open for it.
“Of course, you have to be present, in the room, to recognize the stroke of luck. Being in the room is a concomitant of Goodyear’s perseverance: The more you are in the room working, experimenting, banging away at your objective, the more luck has a chance of biting you on the nose.
“Woody Allen said that eighty percent of success in show business is showing up. It’s the same with luck: eighty percent of it is showing up to see it.”
Here’s what I think. I think these ideas apply to goals as well. It’s a creative experience to take what we are, what we’re inclined to do or not do, and try to make something more or better of it. So I’m going to show up this year. I’m going to be in the room, at the desk, in the conversation, whatever it takes to turn success in these goals into a skill. If I am present, in the room, with my eyes wide open, then I expect that I just might see that arrow fly, fly high and far, and hit it’s mark.
Off to work!
P.S. To read a beautiful poem by Edgar A. Guest about the start of a new year, head here. I’d never read this one before, and quite like it!