Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year Thoughts

If you ever want to feel useless and unworthy, have I got a plan for you! All you do is take one of your hobbies or talents and compare yourself to those who have mastered those skills and can do everything better than you can. Look at how much time you waste, then compare that to folks who are organized and productive. Consider your present situation, then see how much other people get done despite having many more stresses and adversity to overcome. Check your appearance out against others your age who look younger than you, notice people with better figures than you, better cell phones, better brains, better temperaments. Don't reflect on your accomplishments; just stew over the great things others have done and focus on your own failures. Don't rejoice at how far you've come; just agonize over how far you have left to go. Be obsessed with how fast the clock is ticking and be paralyzed with the impossibility of doing everything you want to do in this short life.

I guarantee that the above will bring you unhappiness, discontent, and disillusionment. I know at one time or another, I have fallen in the trap of doing those exact things.

For instance, I read a lot of sewing-related blogs. One lady reviewed her past year of sewing and here is what she made: 24 dresses, 7 cardigans/jackets, 3 pair of pants, 3 tops, 3 skirts, 1 twinset, 1 vest, and 8 pieces of doll clothes. What clothes have I made this year? Two blouses that I had to give to Goodwill because I didn't realize I had to make a major fitting adjustment before I cut them out. Two simple skirts. One blouse correctly fitted but not put together yet, and one jumper for 7-yo Caroline that I absolutely have to finish before I see her on New Year's Day. Yes, I do work outside the home full-time, but I have no children living with me and my husband does all the cooking. I have a good sewing machine and serger, a cutting table, some lovely pieces of fabric and many patterns, and several reference books. So why am I so lousy at getting my sewing done? Compared to that blogger, my efforts are ridiculously ineffective. It makes me feel quite worthless.

Now, if I took that information about her productivity, and instead of using it to beat myself up, use it to provide creative inspiration, yes, that's where things change. There's a major difference in "If she can do that, what's wrong with me?" and "If she can do it, I can at least do more than I'm doing!" One paralyzes; the other energizes. Even better, I take the inspiration from her report, file it away in a corner of my mind, then only concentrate on myself. The word "inspire" means to breathe in, so I breathe in their accomplishments, and then the only step left is to breathe out my own accomplishments. In the end, it's all me - my plans, my joys, my life the way I want to live it - because others can provide inspiration, instruction, advice, and help - but it's ultimately my decision and commitment to create my own unique experience.

You can't compare yourself to others because every decision in life is a trade-off. Very few people are what we can Renaissance people who are geniuses at everything. If you want to be a concert pianist, you have to devote hours a day to practicing the piano - and therefore have to give up other things you might have used those hours for. Those trade-off decisions make life tough. As I've heard, you can have anything you want - just not everything you want.

I find at this time every year when I get introspective and reflective about what I have done in the last 12 months and what I want to accomplish in the next 12 months, I find it tempting to focus on everybody and everything except myself. True introspection is a nasty business, as it can lead to clarity, and clarity can be mighty upsetting. I get disappointed in myself, and I get frustrated when my specific weaknesses make themselves too apparent to ignore, and I ultimately know in my heart something needs to be done about them, and it's all up to me.

Yet, I persevere. I can see that I indeed did accomplish more than I thought this year - I made a baby quilt for Joshua, I renewed my Certified Medical Transcriptionist certification by completing the CEU requirements, I finally learned the pattern adjustments for my body type that will enable me to sew perfectly fitting clothes, I've learned how to eat for health and energy and have reached and maintained my goal weight, I've participated in my first software beta program and had a ball working with it, I've been more productive at my job, and I'm sure I have other things to my credit that I have momentarily forgotten. Once I satisfy myself that I am indeed getting things done and learning new skills, I am finally ready for the new year ahead and more goals and challenges.

One of the hardest things in life is to find that balance - of feeling good about yourself, yet realizing your past mistakes and the never-ending attempt to improve, learn, and prioritize, because the hopeful part about life is that we have indeed been given more time, even if it's only today. So, my advice to myself and my friends on the journey:
1. Don't compare yourself to others - it can be intimidating. Whether you pour all your efforts into many resolutions for self-improvement, or you just want to survive 2011 emotionally and physically intact, focus inward, not outward.
2. Prioritize. (Right now, we have a very sick baby Joshua and everything else pales in importance.)
3. As I said last week, this too shall pass.
4. Fly the Serenity Prayer as a banner above your head: Accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, and have the wisdom to know the difference.
5. "Waste" is an evil word - whether you're wasting money, time, talent, or some other precious gift. Less waste in 2011 would be a worthy goal for all of us.

Welcome to the Great Adventure of 2011! We are travelers on the road together. I wish you safe journey.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This Too Shall Pass

Our inheritance from our mom (who is still going at 87 years old) consists of many intangible things - her faith in human nature, her insistence that milk of magnesia cures all ailments, and her many aphorisms. Among the latter is "This too shall pass."

I must interject here that my immediate and extended family is coming off of a bad week: Unexpected financial difficulties, a lovely dinner not ready in time, being late for the kindergarten Christmas program, strep throat, broken glasses, excruciating tooth pain which necessitated two dentist visits and will result in an expensive out-of-pocket root canal, a Christmas present backordered, a fall down the steps, and a flat tire right before leaving to take the kids to school - just to name a few of the setbacks. This is one of those weeks that I have to keep repeating to myself and others: This too shall pass. It will get better. As my dad used to say, "Things will lighten up after Christmas."

Throughout my life, I've depended on "This too shall pass" to get me through the hard times. Today, though, just a few days before Christmas, I am reminding myself that the role of "This too shall pass" is not solely applicable to the stormy days. It's also good to remember during the happy, carefree times.

Yes, a lot of us are in financial straits. Yes, a lot of us have had bad news. Yes, things have happened that we would love to turn around and change. And we can be comforted by saying "This too shall pass." That's true.

But do you know what? Other, happier moments are fleeting as well. This is little Joshua's first Christmas. Soon it will be a memory. The years will go by quickly, and we will look at pictures of Joshua at 4 months of age and say, "It's hard to remember when he was that little!" Charlotte and Caroline will be teenagers one year, going on dates, getting their first jobs, and we will say, "How time flies! Remember when Charlotte was intrigued with her first personalized video from Santa? Remember when Caroline used to love to play in the attic?"

The key to life is remembering "This too shall pass" - the difficult times, and, yes, the wonderful, amazing times you want to last forever. That is what being in the present moment is about. The smiles and cries of a baby? That toothless grin of a first grader? The wide-eyed wonder in the face of a kid listening to Santa? Hold them closely to your heart and savor them. This too shall pass.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Goodbye soon, 2010

We are fast approaching the end of 2010, and I have just opened my new calendar for 2011. This annual task fills me both with apprehension and excitement. As I turn the empty pages, I can't help but wonder what is to come. What new experiences are waiting for me? What adventures and accomplishments will be filling these days? How much of it will I have control over, and how much of it will be beyond my ability to direct? Of course, with the good must come the bad - the sorrows, pain, and regrets. They will come as surely as winter follows fall. The whole next year of my life is a blank canvas for me and those I love.

I, of course, have my expectations. I make a resolution list like most people. I have hopes of making some clothes, finishing Matt and Sarah's quilt, learning some new sewing techniques. I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family, watching Caroline and Charlotte develop and grow, and enjoying my first wonderful year with my new grandson, Joshua. I have goals at my job, too - speed, accuracy, and furthering my medical knowledge. As is always the case, I want to remember my priorities, my desire to simplify, finding meaning in life, choosing love over intolerance, hope over pessimism, and staying healthy to make the most of my time here.

That's a lot to ask from 2011. The pages are still blank, and Father Time is still silent on what is to come. I don't have a guarantee that I, or any of my loved ones, will still be here this time next year. But this I do know from my 56 years of living: I am blessed, and 2011, regardless of what it holds, will hold more love that I ever could imagine, more adventures than I ever could plan for, and more amazement at the beauty of this earth, the beauty of life itself, the gift of family and friends, and the ability to weather any disappointments. I want to go into this new year as a child at Christmas - with wonder, expecting miracles around every corner.

Thank you, God, for giving me the chance at writing another year's story in my existence. I'm looking forward to it with great anticipation!