Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

You know, I'm on the fence about making New Year's Resolutions. I feel there are more appropriate times to set goals - birthdays and September immediately jump to mind. There's something about the cool weather and expectation of a new school year to get the ambition pumping.

But despite my up and down opinion on New Year's Resolutions, I always seem to make one... or one hundred. Usually I overwhelm myself with so many resolutions that I'm just setting myself up for failure. My usual list would read something like this:

1. Drink 8 glasses of water everyday
2. Go to the gym at least 5 times a week
3. Go to church once a week.
4. Keep up to date on all my e-mailing
5. Don't eat out as much
6. Be more money-savvy
7. Get on a better sleep schedule
8. Learn french
9. Learn guitar
10. And the list goes on and on...

That's a lot of stress! Unnecessary stress. I'm a list person. I make lists of lists. I'm starting to discover that lists are also counter-productive. It's one thing to loosely plan your day, but it's another thing to jam 36 things on a list and then have a very real expectation that you can complete each and every one of them and have time left over for fun. It has been my experience that my lists make me, and everyone around me, miserable.

I find lists I've made everywhere. Lists of goals and projects I want to complete. Sometimes I find them tucked away in sealed envelopes, sometimes as bookmarks. I have a pile of half used notebooks with pages torn out that were intended for specific list-making activities. One notebook for listing all the food I've eaten, another for exercise. Maybe a notebook for sewing projects I want to complete. Another for my favourite websites. I often found myself going out to buy new notebooks for even more lists, because surely a new notebook will guarentee success in the current must-list goal or activity.

It has taken me 29 years to realize the negative energy all these lists and resolutions have brought into my life. This may sound cliche, but in time I've come to discover the truth behind this sentiment: Lists are detrimental to my mental health because they focus on everything I have not done. My lists are a constant reminder of how I've failed by not completing what's on them. Am I really less of a person if I don't do laundry, vacuum, plan my meals for the week and get groceries all before noon? That's a lot of stress for... no one's expectation but my own, really.

I don't know where this tendency for list-making and goal-setting came from. I recently found a list I made of "100 things I want to do before I die" that I made in junior high school. Is it normal for 13 year olds to be thinking about these kinds of things?! Of course this discovery made me laugh, but it also made me a little sad.

You know, sometimes it's hard to be nice to yourself. It's so easy to bend over backwards for other people, put other's before yourself. And of course, never to expect anything from anyone. When I truly think of what my expectations are of others they're simple: to be kind, respectful, and take responsibility. Well, why is it so hard to expect just these things from myself?

I guess this ties in with a lot of society's expectations too. When I was younger and didn't really know what I was talking about, I used to say I begrudged the female revolution because now it wasn't just enough for a woman to take pride in her home and family life, but now she has to have an amazing career and be fit and beautiful on top of it. I didn't realize at the time this revolution was about having the choice. But still, I can't help but feel that many of us out there continue to believe we need to do it all. I bet those women make a lot of lists too. Because life can be hard to control. Making lists is easy.

I think my goal-setting, project-planning, list-making self is somehow compensating for that fact that at almost 30, I haven't reached the goal's that society has deemed important. Yes, I have a degree. But no, I have yet to experience those rites of passage into adulthood that our parent's experienced at 21. No marriage, no kids, no house, no car, no career, no nest-egg. But I do have a dog, and sometimes I feel like even she ties me down. (Even though I love her very, very much).

Now, when I think my "don't-haves" through, I feel bad about myself. Why haven't I been able to follow that picket-fence lined road to adulthood? How is it that most of my friends from high school have settled into careers and married life with relative ease and I've somehow managed to fail miserably?

Well, I don't really have an answer for that. And I'm not exactly sure it should be defined as "failure." And I know for sure that there are millions of 29 year olds out there just like me, wondering the same thing. And I know for sure that those same 29 year olds are wondering if they would have been ready for all that responsibility 10 years ago.

I would like to argue that because I walked bumble-bee lines through my twenties that I have a more solid understanding of who I am now than ever. I know what makes me happy, what I want and the people with whom I wish to surround myself. I choose to believe that because of my meandering path, I will make more sound decisions as I negotiate the upcoming milestones of marriage, children and career.

And as I gather my ducks into my garden and start thinking about how I'll start arranging them in a row, I find myself making fewer and fewer lists. I also tend to treat myself more like a friend. You know what Christine? You don't have to go to the gym and do yoga and walk the dog every day. Why don't you do something active once a day. And if you miss a day, so what? There's always tomorrow. And isn't that just what a friend would tell you?

So this year my New Year's resolutions are kinder and gentler. Dare I say, they're written with a certain wisdom I have gladly earned these past 29 years. I will indeed do something active once a day. I will also become a better photographer. What are yours?


Jonathan said...

1) Run 3 times a week
2) Learn Spanish
3) Drink 8 glasses of water a day
4) Save money
5) just kidding

I don't make resolutions, but I'll be happy if I make it to my one year anniversary of quitting smoking.

As for making lists, they can be lists of things you've accomplished, once they have check marks next to them. Whenever I do make lists of work to be completed it's usually while I'm in the middle of work and losing focus; So I go ahead and include the things I've already completed to give a sense of how far along I am.

Excellent post.

Sharlene said...

Christine, you are a beautiful & honest writer! I thoroughly enjoy your posts :)

I am also a list person. Genetic, perhaps? I do, however, limit my lists to two categories: groceries being the necessary one, and the other, also deemed necessary for my professional functioning, is a list of everything I plan to teach in the next week or two, plan to correct and assess, plan to read and write for my courses, and plan to cross off my list. So far, only having two lists has worked for me. Granted, I have a work list on stickies at school and have also dutifully copied in my at home planner, and, yes, also in my school agenda that travels back and forth so one list can update the other. But - that doesn't count right? It is still just one list copied in 3 places! ;)

No, I do not write down life lists nor lists of what to accomplish as I travel through this world; perhaps I may be fearful of being smacked with the slap of reality if I do not accomplish it, or perhaps because if is is not written down then it is not something that "I didn't accomplish" since I didn't write it down and say I would in the first place. No, I must say, what would be my big list for life has not changed since I have been carrying it around in my head over the past 20 years. It is quite simple, really. See Italy, get my doctorate in Education, tour Australia and New Zealand, and publish a children's book.
List or dreams? Can one cross over to the other? List OF dreams?

That's safe.

lots of love,
me xoxo

Cooper said...

Your post actually brought tears to my eyes. We might actually be the same person in two different bodies. I love you. xx Cooper