January is the month of clean slates and fresh starts. The resolve that sputtered in flimsy fits the year before, the plans that fell through a creaky discipline, the dreams that sprawled in the mind’s eye — all are once again within reach. We seize these hopes or trade them in for others with a new vigor, a new sense of purpose, proclaiming this will be the month, the year, the span that brings them to fruition.
It all feels like too much pressure, like weighting our lives with impossible expectation that, given the previous year’s track record, makes disappointment an inevitable destination.
When a friend who makes New Year’s resolutions recently asked me whether I kept such a practice, I told her as much, acknowledging I did once but grew tired of looking back at all my still-slumbering ambitions. For while I contemplated many of the usual changes — exercising more, eating healthier, better managing stress, saving money — I tended to strive for more-specific, sometimes-daunting goals to launch this project or other, reach that milestone, invest in the game-changing and life-altering. These were things that bounced into my consciousness with a beguiling brightness only to stall there once my days began taking the shape of the busy familiar.
I would resurrect them occasionally with the intention of taking action and sometimes I would even make a start: register the domain for a blog or reach out to someone about designing a website. I’d download the application to become a certified poetry therapist, discover and spend long hours late one night excitedly exploring every aspect of the master’s degree program I’d enroll in, contact someone volunteering in Africa and dust off my plans to bring a transformative arts program there, submit a story, a collection of poems or essay for publication or apply for a two-week writers’ residence in some glorious, far-flung haven.
Then would come the rejection or distraction, the insidious inertia of starting and stopping too many things, of scattering my energy. Eventually, I’d trade grand aspiration for routine. And so I stopped making those kinds of resolutions, began reining in such dreams.
Yet this month, I’ve been thinking about accountability and vision, and if I’d more actively and consistently pursue such objectives if I believed in them as passionately as I do the longings of others.
Two years ago, when I shared with a singer-songwriter friend of mine that one of our favorite South African artists was coming to Philadelphia in concert, she pondered her chances of getting to open for him. Without hesitation, and already feeling the thrill of such an opportunity for her, I told her to go for it, to at least ask because it certainly wouldn’t hurt. As she made the necessary contacts and wrote the requisite emails, I assured her of only one thing: I was holding the vision for her. I saw her on that stage, sharing her music before a new audience in support of an artist she greatly admired.
When I got a call a few weeks later, her flabbergasted voice sharing the good news, I let out a celebratory cheer. She thanked me for “holding the vision,” marveling, with the hint of teasing, at the seeming power behind my words. Of course, she did the work. She knew what she wanted and did her utmost to make it happen. I simply championed her on, much the way I tend to do for any of my friends and family. Whatever the goal, the plan, the hope, I will throw my support behind it, join them in brainstorming and plotting and researching. I will send encouraging reminders when they drift or fall off track and steer them toward opportunities I come across that could help their cause.
But it has been rare in recent years that I invest in my own visions for my life with such commitment and enthusiasm. It may be easy to think that these friends of mine, these family members making giant shifts and bold leaps possess more courage or confidence, and indeed the same friend who asked about resolutions spoke also of a dwindling daring to embrace new adventures the older she gets.
Yet whether or not the stars align more often for these people, whether or not they are more gifted at organization or discipline, have more time or resources, I do believe we all have the ability to reach our highest potential. There is no idea or desire too wild or improbable — especially those we turn to time and again — without the seed within us to make it a blossoming truth.
Sometimes, we are gifted with a moment of expansiveness, a period where everything seems to go right, where sudden, unforeseen opportunities thread a bounty through our days, or a series of synchronistic interactions whisper to us of a Universe on our side. Those are the moments to strike, to dive in and gather all that energy to steer our ship of dreams.
It also helps to have someone who can hold us accountable for the things we say we want to accomplish and the steps we’re taking to get there.
Last month, another friend who’s been working on a novel for several years selected eight of us from among her most ardent supporters to have exclusive access to a blog where she will post chapters of her book so we can read them and provide our honest feedback. Her plan is to have the novel completely edited this year and begin finding a publisher. But knowing her own tendency to procrastinate and acknowledging she is more likely to keep her promises to us than she is to herself, she started the blog to keep her on track and motivated.
And so I am thinking about what I would like to accomplish this year or this quarter, what are the one or two things — rather than the five or six — that will bring a deep fulfillment. Instead of tumbling pell-mell into the grandiose, I’d like to be more deliberate about what I want and why I want it so whatever vision I hold for myself is one that not only energizes me but feels achievable. I’ve already enlisted my boyfriend Zane to help me keep the agreements I make with myself to do the work that will be required and know of several in my circle who’d also be willing champions and partners in accountability.
Before complacency becomes a woolly comfort clouding all that’s possible, I’m starting now, starting small and making myself a priority on a path too important to risk the familiar footfalls that could funnel a pained futility through another field of dreams.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times