Guest Blog by Jill Taber
Last fall, the freshness of a school year, blank notebooks, new pencils, and a different routine sparking a spring to my step, I set goals for the last 90 days of the year. The exercise was similar to making New Year's resolutions: pushing myself to live with intention for the final quarter of 2018. The goals on that list, posted in both my bathroom and above the changing table in the office, written on giant, fluorescent pink sticky notes, would make a lot of people proud. I'd listed a sales goal for my side business, a list of books to finish, page-count benchmarks for essays written, a commitment to practicing barre every day, and a commandment for an "attitude of positivity" toward my family (immediate and extended). I was going to get after it, October through December.
Sure, those goals were admirable. The extra money from increased sales would have been nice for Christmas shopping. The 75 written pages may have amounted to a book proposal, or even simply flushed out an idea. Finishing those books would have moved them from a pile by my bed to a shelf in the office, my mind better for the reading of them. Practicing barre was an extension of a commitment I'd made for my birthday back in July; I continued it, save for a few days in November and December when our whole family fought stomach bugs, ear infections, pinkeye, and coughs. I didn't get in many 30-minute sessions, which was my main goal. My attitude of positivity? It came and went, shifting with my moods.
Toward the end of December, I reflected on my progress. Annoyed with myself, I felt a bit defeated. I'd made some positive progress and completely stalled out in the pursuit of some of those goals. Some opportunities I hadn't even imagined walked into my life in those 90 days, creating bright spots and an attitude of looking forward to 2019. Between Christmas and New Year’s, I considered where I'd place my focus for 2019. I chose a word for the year: commit. I thought about what mattered most for me: connection and meaningful time with my husband, my kids, and my close friends; bettering my golf game; writing consistently and submitting more pieces for publication; building my freelance editing/writing business; growing my faith; eating more fruits and vegetables; being active. For the first time, I made a vision board of words and a few pictures that summarized my intent for the year.
Six weeks in to 2019, I am far more pleased with my progress than I was for the last quarter of 2018. I’m drinking fruit and kale-loaded smoothies several mornings for breakfast. I’ve written something, even just a little bit, every single day. I took a chance and reached out to a few people about writing and editing work, landing myself a couple of new clients. I’ve read five books, exactly on target for my 36-book goal for the year. I’m reading a couple of golf books and hit the golf simulator twice.
I just finished listening to Present Over Perfect by Shawna Niequist. While my life didn't feel frantic, my life did feel consumed by some activities and some commitments I didn't care about and that weren't contributing to my happiness or that of my family. I'm not maintaining a blistering travel schedule like Niequist details in her book; I'm not overly concerned about pleasing people. But in the last 30 days, somewhat surprisingly, I feel more content. I'm yelling less at my kids. My husband and I have gone on a few dates. I've submitted some articles for publication (mostly rejected so far, but I clicked "send" and that counts!). One of my frustrations was the time I spend "keeping house." I felt like my house chores consumed a lot of my day, that I couldn't write, or read, or play with my kids because I needed to "vacuum my house once for each person who lives here" (which is six times a week, if you count the corgi who sheds, a lot). I don’t like doing housework on the weekends, so now I do it on Fridays. The floor is messier (I catch our one-year-old finding snacks under the couch). The toothpaste smeared all over the kids' bathroom counter annoys me, but I'm less obsessed with cleaning it on a daily basis. There's still piles of laundry to do, but I throw in a load every night after I clean the kitchen and then I throw it in the dryer in the morning. I get up early to write, or read, or pray, or edit; any combination is okay and I do what feels good. I've got in more 30-minute barre sessions in January than I did in all of 2018.
As I finished listening to Present Over Perfect, the stroller tires crunching on snow-packed sidewalks, it dawned on me why the first six weeks feel better than the last 90 days of 2018: I set intentions and goals I could commit to, activities that excited me. I look at my vision board, taped to a kitchen cabinet, and it feels good, inspiring, fun. I'm still working on my goal of "no nibbling" (man, what do they put in boxed mac and cheese? I'm addicted!). I made these commitments thoughtfully, methodically, prayerfully, and I truly believe it made all the difference. The goals are challenging, not because I’ve bit off more than I can chew, but because accomplishment of those goals requires daily activity and daily re-commitment to the people and activities in my life that are meaningful, that make my heart sing.
We talk a lot about life changes and new leaves at the transition from old year to new year, and while I think that’s crucial to improving a life, what’s made the most difference for me is asking myself: who is this change for? If I’m setting a goal or committing to an activity, am I doing it because it fits on the vision board of a person like me, or am I doing it because it feels right for me? This year is one-twelfth-and-a-bit gone and the path so far feels good: present, thoughtful, meaningful, committed.