My themes for 2016

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, at the beginning of each new year I think of three words that represent the growth I want to experience in the coming 12 months.

Putnam County bridges

2015’s words were gratitude, power, and realism. I focused on them as best I could until June, when I lost my job. And then I had the most remarkable summer of my adult life, one that clarified my values, which had shifted on me in middle age while I wasn’t looking.

My 2015 words were no longer relevant. I had gained a whole new perspective on my life, and I spent the autumn exploring what that meant. I discovered that I don’t want to bear down so hard on myself anymore, as if there’s something elementally lacking, something fundamentally wrong in me that needs to be better. I finally see that I’m basically fine just as I am. From here on out, I’d rather enter my days peacefully and enjoy them for what they are, whatever they are.

And so I’m not even sure I need this annual exercise anymore. But it’s been so helpful in the past that I’m going to try it one more year and see how it goes.

Serenity — This kind of serenity, the kind where you accept life for what it is (emphasis mine):

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Presence — As part of that acceptance, I want to be fully present in whatever situation I find myself in. Not blocking it out, not denying its reality, not kicking up a storm trying to change what is is beyond my control. If I’m in a traffic jam, I want to just calmly let it be and wait for it to clear. If I’m in a bad job, I want to peacefully go to work each day and do the best work I can until I can find a better job.

Goalless — All I mean here is that I want to stop chasing after things, stop striving so hard. I don’t mean to drift aimlessly. But instead of constantly trying to shape my life and world to be exactly how I think they should be, I will point myself in directions that seem right or interesting and work diligently at whatever I find myself doing, but then let life unfold as it will. And then I will see what life has brought, and if needed, alter my direction. Moni Smith wrote a great post about just this idea recently; please go read it.

I’m not checking out on life. I’m just launching a rest-of-my-life initiative to not create my own stress anymore. Life brings enough of that on its own.

Faith, Personal

My watchwords for 2015

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but I do like to have a set of words that represent the growth I want to experience in each new year. My 2014 words were anger, serenity, and faith. 

Share the road

This is normally where I tell you how I did with all of my words. Unfortunately, the only word that really played was the first: anger. Hoo boy.

Not only do I not like to be angry, I’m not keen on any strong emotions. I find them to be overwhelming. I prefer an even keel.

But in 2014 I had plenty of reason to be angry. I’ll skip the frustrating details. But some things went on early in the year that had me beside myself with anger. Those challenges lasted into the summer and had residual effects the rest of the year.

Through this experience, I came to realize that I’ve spent my life trying to protect myself against strong feelings — ducking them, denying them, driving them away. Moreover, this has been a major source of my stress. Rather than feeling my feelings, making any changes necessary, and getting on with it, I just internalize and try to adjust my life and actions around the problem. I take on too much responsibility for others in exchange for not having to feel so angry. I am not processing unwelcome events in real-time and taking available appropriate steps to correct them.

I see this as a source of why I tend to focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right in my life. I’m living in the wrong, rather than handling it so that I can enjoy the right.

It’s time to change all of that. Here are my 2015 watchwords:

  • Gratitude. The “attitude of gratitude” platitude makes me retch, and so I use this word with some trepidation. But I want to deliberately cultivate a focus on what is good in my life. There’s plenty. My cup overflows. It’s ridiculous. In 2015, I will pray gratitude to God for at least three good things that happened each day, and not pray anything else for myself. God knows my problems, knows what I need, and I will trust that. I will only thank him.
  • Power. I think I simply give up my personal power too much in the interest of keeping peace and not having to address what I feel. It’s time to step up, accept strong feelings, think through facts, and take concrete steps to address what I can.
  • Realism. There’s good and bad in life, and I want to take it as it comes — enjoy the good, do what I can to improve the bad, but accept it all.

2014 showed me I could feel strongly, set appropriate boundaries, and survive to tell about it. I’m doubling down in 2015 so I can access the good and the joy that abounds.

What might your 2015 watchwords be?

Here were my watchwords in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Stories Told

An early morning New Year’s wish

I write my blog early in the morning: up at 5, at the keyboard by 5:30, off to work shortly after 7.

WZZQ 1993

Another thing I used to do early, 20 years ago, was get up on New Year’s morning to do a morning radio show. I worked for a station part time, normally pulling weekend shifts. But for obvious reasons all the jocks wanted New Year’s morning off.

I always celebrated New Year’s Eve, staying out until well after the ball dropped. But then I’d be up at 5 and on the air at 6.

Why in heaven’s name would I volunteer for that? Well, I wasn’t much of a drinker then, and being in my 20s I was resilient and could easily function on just a few hours’ sleep. But even more, I did it because mornings were the most listened-to time in radio. I liked feeling like I was a morning radio star, even for one day, even though listenership was down because so many people were sleeping it off.

I’m not up early writing my blog today, though. I stayed up last night to watch the ball drop with friends and family in my home, and I might have had a couple drinks along the way. As I push 50, I don’t bounce back like I used to. But because I wrote this in advance and scheduled it to post automatically at 5 a.m., I can still wish you a happy New Year early in the morning. And because this is in your e-mail inbox or your feed reader, the wish can reach you whenever you get to it. However you receive it, I hope it finds you well and happy.

Faith, Personal

My watchwords for 2014

For the past two years, using an idea from blogger Amy Parmenter, I chose three words that represented the growth I wanted to achieve in each of those years. Last year my words were joy, because I wanted to cultivate greater joy in my life; freedom, because I wanted never to have to remain in a bad situation because I couldn’t afford to leave; and courage, which I felt would be necessary to focus on the first two watchwords.

Courage became the overarching theme for 2013 when I left a stable big-corporate job to join a startup company in a leadership role. And it has taken enormous courage and effort to meet that job’s stiff challenges.

Yellow blooms

However, working in this entrepreneurial setting has provided considerable freedom as I get to do things largely the way I see fit. And I did save a little money last year to help provide some financial freedom, but I still have more do to there.

I did not, however, materially increase my joy. If anything, I experienced less joy while I was trying to juggle the big job, parenting, and responsibilities with the Historic Michigan Road Association, while still making time for road trips, photography, and this blog.

Actually, I spent too much of 2013 upset over things that did not go the way I wanted and that I could not control. The ongoing stress of it sometimes made me ill. That I want to change this about myself reflects in these, my 2014 watchwords. I will use them as themes every day as I make decisions all year.

  • Anger – I don’t like to feel angry. So when something happens that makes me angry I tend to quickly and subconsciously set it aside and move on as if nothing is wrong. Sometimes, after enough such moments, some minor irritating thing will cause me to vent all the set-aside anger. I want to just let myself feel angry when things don’t go my way so that I keep a clean emotional slate.
  • Serenity – I want to cultivate greater serenity, the kind where you accept the things you can’t change, find courage to change the things you can, and seek the wisdom to know the difference.
  • Faith – It sure seems like turning to God is the right way to seek that wisdom that leads to serenity. I want to remember and trust that God is in control of the universe. When things don’t go my way, I want to trust God’s bigger plan. But also, I feel like my faith has stagnated over the past couple years as I’ve taken on so much responsibility. Maybe it’s a form of kicking at the goads. I want to rest in God more this year.

What three words might you choose as your focus for 2014?


My watchwords for 2013

Last year, using an idea from blogger Amy Parmenter, I chose three words that represented the growth I wanted to achieve in 2012. They were enjoy, reminding me to focus on the 80% of my life that was good; calm, because I’m naturally anxious and wanted to cultivate more inner peace; and health, because in my middle age feeling good doesn’t come automatically anymore.

I used these themes day to day as I made decisions in 2012. I deliberately made more time to visit with friends and family, even if it meant long car trips, because I so enjoy their company. I deliberately took up (and wish I’d kept up with) meditation and yoga to cultivate a calm mind. I deliberately visited my doctor more to deal with a niggling health issue, which has led to reduced symptoms and better functioning.

Blow-up dolphins

Keeping to these themes led to 2012’s brightest spots! So I knew I’d want to choose new watchwords to guide me in 2013. I started thinking about it at Thanksgiving, and by Christmas my new themes were set. They are:

  • Joy – I want to cultivate greater joy in my life. I think this will have two components: finding it in the good things already present, and looking to add good things that will bring more of it. I have found that I find joy most readily when I am with people I love and when I am exploring and learning.
  • Freedom – While I will consider this theme broadly in 2013, it made this list because of my work situation. In early 2011, a larger company bought us. The company has become less and less a fit for me since then. There have been periods of crushing stress where, frankly, I wanted to simply walk away, but couldn’t afford to. I have good skills and know plenty of people in my line of work in my city, so in due time I can always find a different job. What I want now is to have enough money in the bank that I can always live for a few months with no income if need be, and to live well below my means so that I can take a job that pays less if it means I will be happier.
  • Courage – I have never lived my life to value joy and freedom. It will take courage for me to keep choosing them this year, and not retreat into old patterns of behavior.

What three words might you choose as your focus for 2013?


My watchwords for 2012

I’m not big on new year’s resolutions. Rather, I try to take constant stock of my life and if something needs changed I work on it right then. But as 2011 passed into 2012 I reflected on how much better my life has gotten in the past two or three years. Things have been settled post-divorce for some time now. I’ve taken up several great hobbies (this blog, for instance). I got out of debt. I have a pretty good job and I like my work. I have a nice little home and I enjoy being in it and working on it.


Yet I still find myself looking for things that are wrong and focusing on them. I spent so much time in crisis in about 2000-2006 that it became my default mode, and it’s been hard to shake it. So I’ve decided to focus on enjoying what I have in 2012, discarding useless worries about what isn’t right or perfect in my life. When 80% of my life is fine, why focus inordinately on the 20% that isn’t?

I like what Amy Parmenter wrote recently on her blog about choosing three words that represent the growth she’d like to achieve this year. (Read her three words here.) So I added two other words that I think will help me have a happier 2012.

  • Enjoy. For the reasons cited above.
  • Calm. Because I’m an anxious sort.
  • Health. Because I’m getting older and it takes intentional effort to feel as good as I used to.

What three words might you choose as your focus for 2012?