Maggie’s last post got me thinking about New Year’s Resolutions, something I have a hard time with because I typically make them either too stringent (I WILL WORK OUT FOR 2 HOURS, 6 DAYS A WEEK) or too loosey-goosey (I’ll exercise...more.) Two weeks in I feel like a failure, when the reality is that I simply didn’t meet my own ridiculous expectations.
So I made a big decision this year — NO resolutions for me.
But once again, I still found myself, two weeks in, feeling unaccomplished and restless.
I decided to take a closer look. Perhaps what I always assumed was the result of my misguided New Year’s resolutions, was actually something more akin to mid-winter blues and a need to chill after a hectic holiday season that now starts in October and has us on the train to Crazyville until the kids return to school in January.
Am I the only one who feels that the holiday season has become jam-packed? Perhaps my bunch, being prone to overstimulation, is more sensitive to the abundance of MORE activities and parties and sugar and excess. Frankly, once the first of the year rolls around, I need to recover and am in no place emotionally to focus on self-improvement.
I’m the variety of human that needs an excessive amount of downtime. Some people call that introversion, which doesn’t feel accurate in my case. It could be a bit of anxiety, but intuitively, I feel it’s simply a need for calm and adequate reflection time.
Last weekend, while attempting to organize my office space, I ran across a journal from 2002. Matt and I were newly married, living in Atlanta, and I was working for Jenny Craig. There was A LOT of discontent, restlessness, and reference to not being on the “right path.”
What I was saw, staring at my words nearly fourteen years later, was growth, success, and progress.
It was an amazing feeling, and a good reminder that what feels stagnant at the time may very well be a steady progression to realizing some big dreams.
It’s easy to get caught up in what we’re not doing. I often feel like I’m on a treadmill to nowhere in this hectic life. Taking a hard look back at 2002 forced me to see just how much positive motion has occurred, and it reminded me that life is moving whether we realize it or not.
I also recognized growth in the sense that I am much better at living in the moment now than I was in my mid-twenties.
There were three specifics that jumped out at me, proving that significant progress occurred while I was too busy to see it:
1) Living Situation: Matt and I detested living in Atlanta and didn’t see ourselves putting down roots and making it our home. Atlanta is a lovely city, but we found it too frenetic and wanted something different long-term. In 2002, I saw no way out. In 2016, I realize that we changed what wasn’t working. We moved three years later. A stepping stone to where we wanted to be, but we didn’t remain in a situation that wasn’t working for us. I wrote about feeling trapped and hopeless in our one-bedroom apartment, and I didn’t see any hope for owning a home. It felt like eons during the building process, but four years after I wrote those very words, we moved into our new home.
2) Career Path/Returning to School: I wrote extensively about my desire to return to school to finish my undergraduate degree and not knowing how I’d ever make that happen. I wanted more meaningful work. I wasn’t sure Nutrition was the field for me. Since that journal entry, I began school at Georgia State only to realize that I couldn’t work full-time and keep up. I dropped out without finishing a single semester there (which felt horribly tragic at the time.) I left Jenny Craig and went in a completely different direction selling gravel and sand to construction firms (talk about a deviation!). I sold gym memberships and did temp work. In 2005, I finally returned to school and finished my degree at Georgia Southern University three years later. I opted to minor in Nutrition and ended up with degrees in Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies — passions I had barely tapped into in 2002.
3) Having Children: I was also concerned that we needed to start reproducing sooner rather than later, but I had no idea how we would ever have the resources to make that happen. Our oldest son was born in 2007 — just over five years after I journaled. Then our younger son was born shortly after in 2009. And the odd part was that I didn’t even remember being concerned with having kids in 2002, but obviously it was heavily on my mind if I wrote about it in a private journal. I had the number 30 stuck in my head — like that’s when it must happen. My oldest was born shortly after my thirty-second birthday, and that was earlier than planned once we were moved, and I was back in school.
2015 brought numerous changes, some of which I’m still wrapping my head around. We relocated after ten years in a town I never dreamed I’d call home, but it became just that. The house we built from the ground up is there; we brought our children home to that house and that town. Transient as it is, Statesboro took hold of my heart in many unexpected ways. I made friendships and memories that are entrenched in my cells. A large part of me is still there, even though it was time to move on.
Statesboro gave me the gift of presence, a skill I very much lacked when I was journaling in 2002 — I was only focused on the future.
I met spiritual guides in Statesboro in the form of ministers, yoga and meditation teachers, professors, friends, my children’s friends and more, whose wisdom continues to guide me.
In 2002, I only knew how to dream and plan ahead. In the time since, I’ve learned to tap into the moment and love and appreciate that space. I’ve also learned to sit and breathe through that space when it’s achingly uncomfortable.
I definitely feel a shift as the year ahead is upon us. I sense movement, excitement, and eager anticipation.
What’s different for me now compared to 2002? Everything I’ve mentioned and plenty more that could fill additional pages.
The challenge, I think, is the conundrum of presence vs. progress. I’ve been guilty of feeling that I’m incapable of progressing if I’m consumed with the present, and if I get too caught up with this, it leads to utter frustration. But that means I’m not truly present, now doesn’t it? See the dilemma?
Meditation and connecting to something greater than myself is a huge part of my life now. For me, meditation is not about sitting on the floor for hours on end. It’s typing this line and being here, at my computer, translating thoughts onto the screen.
Attention to the moment.
It’s the act of making coffee in the morning and being there — the intoxicating aroma of the freshly ground beans, hearing that liquid heaven dripping into the pot, watching the water decrease as it drips over the beans, transforming into a seemingly magical elixir.
Presence means tuning into the five senses, grounding into the moment, and it’s the gift of breath — a tangible reminder of life.
In 2002 I had no inkling of the comfort of my chest rising with each breath or the pause at the end of an exhale, knowing the stillness right before the next inhalation.
What finding a glimpse back in time did for me was serve as a reminder that progress isn’t dependent on the rigidity and defined setting of goals.
Perhaps, it’s merely having the INTENTION and accepting a less linear path to fruition. I realize MANY might disagree with my thought process here. I know people who swear by setting an attainable goal with a reasonable timeline and numerous action steps. Eye on the prize. This has never worked for me, so perhaps goal-setting is more individual than we realize. I see now that had I been inflexible and unwilling to alter my plan when necessary, I would have missed out on some of the more meandering parts of the journey — some of the best parts.
I have a lot going on these days — more than I can get into at the moment. Exciting opportunities and some things that make me a bit uneasy (and that’s pretty much the understatement of the century.)
As I look ahead, the path may not be as straight as I’d prefer, but having eyes on the big picture while centering myself in the now is all I can do.
I’m not making resolutions this year, and I’m okay with that. I will continue to look ahead while feeling the warm sun on my face and listening to waves crashing and birds singing.
Thank you, old journal, for this remarkable and unexpected reminder of progress and the gift of every day.
(Words and pictures by Jenni Dowling)