A personal year in review

Having a birthday just before the end of the year can create a veritable maelstrom of self-evaluation. Fortunately, I'm just self-aware enough to benefit from this confluence without being so self-absorbed that I'm destroyed by it. This year, I asked myself and my friends the following questions, just to get people thinking and make sure that the year doesn't pass without a little bit of reflection.

I really believe that this is important, by the way. It's easy to become overwhelmed by world events -- wars, famines, tsunamis -- and decide that there's no point in looking at your own life when such terrible things are happening everywhere else. You can even decide that it's narcissistic to think about your life when the lives of others are being turned upside down and inside out somewhere else. If all you ever do is think and don't act, then you're probably right. If your self-evaluation precedes change, though, and improves the way that you deal with the world, then you're wrong, and quite possibly lazy. When it comes down to it, we are all individuals, not members of some collective intelligence, and we each must take responsibility for how we interact with the world at large. If you and I don't try to improve the way we live our lives, then we aren't doing our parts, and the rest of the world suffers for it.

So much for why to do this. Here's how I did it this year, with these four questions:

  1. What was your greatest challenge last year?

  2. What was your greatest accomplishment?

  3. What lesson did you learn from the last year?

  4. What do you want to accomplish in the next year, both in terms of personal changes and tangible products?

Here are my answers, in brief. There's a year's worth of experience behind each one. Read them if you want, but they're posted here as much to help me remember as anything else:

Greatest Challenge:
In 2003, this would have been completing a cycling century. This year, I was lucky to get on my bike regularly, so I didn't have a nice, clean physical challenge to complete. This year, my long journey was one of the soul, as I struggled with restlessness and dissatisfaction with the current state of my life. While it started with some serious questions about the my job and whether I'm doing the right job, it really had more to do with my need to find a greater purpose in my life. There's something called "divine restlessness," where God puts a call on someone and pulls him out of his present comfortable situation to find something greater. He did it with Abraham when he called him to pick up and leave his family lands in Ur, he did it with Moses and the Israelites when he led them into the wilderness, and he did it with Jesus when the Spirit moved him into the wilderness for 40 days. I think he does this with us at various times, too, and he's doing it with me now. That doesn't nevessarily mean that I have a great, world-changing destiny ahead of me, but it means that I have to prepare to do more than I am doing now.

You have two choices when the restlessness comes upon you: you can run and hide or you can seek and find. Some people, when they feel that they should be doing more with their lives, try to find the elusive "more" in the form of a new car, new city, new family. They usually find that "new" does not equal "more." Others simply slip into depression, feeling that they missed their chance when they were young, and now it's too late. I will admit that I did a little of that, though it was more of a "why is this taking so long?" kind of depression, rather than "it's too late for me." In both these cases, though, the restlessness just shows how unsatisfactory your current situation is, without looking at how it could be better.

The other, better option, is to embrace the restlessness and use it as motivation to find something more for your life. I believe that the only way to do that is to seek the will of the one who made you for that purpose, so when I was done feeling sorry for myself I turned to God and asked him what this was all about, and what big plans he had for me that were worth shaking up my tidy little world. He still hasn't told me, but we're getting closer. Instead, he's been teaching me what I have to do to be ready for the new thing:

  • I have to draw closer to him. Some people claim that they can hear God's voice without even trying. Some of those people are, frankly, crazy. Others, though, are perfectly sane, and seem to be a lot more balanced in their lives and happy with their choices than I am. I want to live like that, and I can't do that all by myself, prodigious brain power or no. I need to draw closer to the furnace if I want to feel the heat, or else I just end up running around trying to create all of the heat on my own, wearing myself out in the process.
  • I have to "fold the socks," and do the work that's in front of me. Nothing that I have to do today is every exciting, or even challenging, at least 0n an intellectual level. A lot of it, especially at work, is pretty tedious, to be honest. It's about as exciting as doing laundry, and there's always another pile of smelly socks waiting to be washed when I'm done with this batch. But I'm learning something through this process, even if it's just patience, so I need to faithfully do the work until something bigger comes along. This applies to my book, too, which is by far the longest slog upon which I have ever embarked.
  • I have to be ready. When the "more" comes along, I expect it will come quickly. I need to be ready when it arrives, and not get so comfortable again that I forget that I was ever restless.

I expect that more will come in 2005, but 2004 will be the year that it all began.

Oh yeah, I also finally took up the gauntlet and started that book. Keeping it going and learning how to work steadily with no end in sight was another challenge last year. Funny how the process of writing a book and the process of finding your purpose in life can be so similar.

Greatest Accomplishment:
Did I mention that I'm on Chapter 8 of my first novel? Personally, I'm more than a little surprised that I'm still going, and not just because I thought I'd be done by now. This is the longest that I have ever worked on anything without completing it, and I'm learning more about myself every time I sit down to write. Specifically, that I will do a lot of other things before I get around to actually writing.

Lesson Learned:
People have said this before, but now that I am experiencing it I know what it really means: the process is at least as important as the product. I may never see my book published, I may never achieve historically significant things, but what I am learning now by mindfully going through a process of patiently working toward an unseen goal will help me in everything else that I do for the rest of my life. In essence, I now become the end result of my own strivings, and the other outputs become a side effect. When I cooperate with God to become the man he wants me to be, I am able to produce bigger and better results, which I couldn't have produced if I had set my sights on them in the first place.

This is a hard concept to grasp, but it makes so much sense when you do get it. Think of Mark Bellhorn of the Red Sox in the ALCS playoffs this year. He wanted nothing more than to start hitting again, and not just because Sox fans were ready to kill him if he struck out again. But the harder he tried to hit the ball, the more he fouled out or popped up. The breakthrough came when he stopped just swinging like mad and worked with the hitting coach to break down his mechanics. A small adjustment in his stance, a minor correction in his grip, and suddenly he was hitting game-winning home runs when his team needed them most. By looking at how he was doing things, he was able to improve the quality of what he did. God is my coach, and now he's helping me with all aspects of my game, including waiting for life to throw me the right pitch.

Accomplishments for 2005:
First, the wishy-washy, zen goal: I want to continue the process of change that I began last year, following it through to completion.

In one sense, I know that this process never ends, but I also believe that there are tangible milestones ahead in 2005. What will they be? No idea, but I am determined to be ready for anything, and open to all changes. On the other hand, I am also determined not to force any changes simply because I'm tired of waiting. I will live completely in the moment, grateful for each day and doing the best I can with the situation I have. I will live life like an owner, not a renter. By the end of this year, I want to look back and say, "I couldn't have given any more than I did, and here are the results."

And now, in order for my project managing nature to be satisfied, I must follow that squishy goal with a tangible one: I will complete my book by the end of the year and submit it to at least one agent and/or publisher.

I won't lock myself to any unrealistic deadlinese between now and then, because the one thing I have learned about writing is it takes as long as it takes. Just completing and submitting the book by year end will require enough effort, including spending at least an hour most nights writing. Any goals for first drafts and things like that will be blown away by the vagaries of my muse, so why antagonize her? Give her a year and be done, I say.

So there you go: a Wicked Smaht 2004 in review, complete with resolutions for the new year. I promise to come back next year and check up on how I did.

So now I've answered my own questions. What would your answers be?

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