Why we don’t have to be good

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New Year’s reflections on gentleness and resolutions

It’s 3 p.m. on New Year’s Day and I’m seated at my desk to repeat my semi-annual ritual of taking stock.

Resolutions get a bad rap and I get why. I heard yesterday that just 4 in 10 people manage to keep theirs, and there have been many years that mine either flop or fizzle. And yet, I continue to reflect and set some sort of intention for myself this time of year.

The truth is, I enjoy thinking about the year behind and the year ahead at least twice a year (on New Year’s and also on my birthday, which conveniently falls mid-year). For any inquiring minds out there, I have two resolutions this year and have shared them at the end of this post. I’d much rather use this space to share some other thoughts.

As a coach and as a person who’s been testing out resolutions for most of her life, I think I’ve learned that the ones that stick have a way of inspiring, of focusing on our strengths, and using habits as a tool to achieve them. Rather than focusing on a big “fix,” it’s better to envision the person you want to be and the life you want to live and to plow forward one small step and decision at a time. It’s this strange mix of bold dreams and the practical habits that will get you there. For more on the contrast between stern resolutions and inspiring intentions and for some guiding questions to help you reflect, check out my post from a few years ago.

But you know, I’m actually not all that interested in thinking about intentions at this very moment. I’m more interested in carrying into the new year a gentleness as well as some reserves and personal resilience. This is because I’ve recently had a feeling that 2019 might be a tough year. I’m a hopeful, happy person, but I have friends who are having a really hard time right now. On a personal level, I’m facing the reality that comes with having an aging dog. He—my best friend—is really slowing down. And we have this great little foster dog who we are likely to adopt out and who will leave a different kind of hole in our home here on Jane Street.

It’s best not to spend life waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I feel that there are some challenging spots ahead. And that’s a weird feeling to take into a New Year. For that reason, I’ve been drawn this week to writings that are less about new beginnings than they are about honoring what is—and was.

The first is Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese.” Again and again, I turn to nature as a guide, as many of us do. I love how Oliver tells us that we don’t have to be good. We can instead, just be, and follow the examples set forth in the natural world:

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place

Here’s some audio of her reading it.

The other writing that’s caught my attention is an Emily McDowell quote about the “old” you. While I’m all about striving to live our best lives, we have to honor the person that got us here and exercise gentleness when it comes to that person. There are people out there who are pretty rigid when it comes to success and personal change. But, when it comes down to it, no matter how many times I set out to do better or do more, I would choose and encourge self-love, gentleness, and compassion every time.

You are awesome and amazing. So am I. Any habits we build and new adventures we pursue will simply enrich and embolden the awesome, amazing you and me.

I think that’s all I’ve got for now. It leaves me thinking that I may have a complicated relationship with resolutions. I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I guess that’s okay. I’ll continue to reflect and to strive for more while knowing that I’ve been living pretty darn well up until now. My hope is the same for you.

 PS – the resolutions I mentioned earlier are:

  1. Resolution #1: “Change your life by changing your Mondays” – it occurred to me recently that while I love the feeling I get when I hit the gym (and especially when I walk out the door post-workout), it is SO EASY for me to fall out of the habit. I renegotiated my membership terms last week and am planning on using the first quarter to test out Monday morning workouts paired with post-gym writing sessions at the library across the street (there’s some writing that I haven’t been getting to). So there you have it – I’m playing around with this idea of scheduling two things that matter to me and doing them back-to-back at the start of the workweek to see how that impacts the rest of my week.
  2. Resolution #2: To not always be the one who follows up to schedule a meet up. I have this habit of carrying the load when it comes to scheduling. If I see someone and we say, “Let’s do X,” I automatically assume follow up responsibility. And you know what? That’s hard to do when you’re carrying around that little mental to-do list that involves a half dozen or so people. While nurturing relationships is a good thing, it’s just not fair to me to elect to carry the load. This is a simple little resolution that I think will end up making a positive difference for me. So do me a favor…if you’re a friend and you’re reading this, would you offer to follow up the next time we talk about getting together? Or maybe we just pull out our calendars right there on the spot.

 

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