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In looking ahead towards the new year, I also have to look back at the year that has been.
2009 was a year of incredible opportunity. It was also a year of transition and somewhat life-changing decisions, some of which were slightly painful. But when opportunity presents itself, there is so much potential to grow. And growth hurts sometimes.
I had to choose between staying in a full-time job (which I loved) that gave me the sense of security that comes with having a regular source of income and benefits, and an opportunity for full-time, (almost) fully-funded doctoral studies in a different city. It meant going away from what has been my home for 6 years, away from my friends who have become like family. It meant a meager stipend instead of a full-time salary (let's be honest here: we all have bills to pay). It meant a different lifestyle, a different routine from what I have been used to. It meant a lot of hours of working alone. I've heard people say, "The doctoral program, especially the dissertation, can be a very lonely place."
The idea of going back to school full-time was a little scary, I admit. It wasn't the most convenient decision... nor was it the most cost-effective decision. It required me to move out of my comfort zone. It required some sacrifice. But it also held the promise of the growth that I so wanted. In my full-time job, I felt secure for practical reasons, but I also felt restless. I felt like a plant that wanted to outgrow its pot. Abraham Maslow, a psychology theorist, wrote: "You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety." Very wise.
There was a lot to consider in my decision-making, but in the end, it all boiled down to that inner voice that grew louder and louder, saying, "JUST GO."
I am a believer of the idea that nothing happens by chance. There is no coincidence. There was a reason that this opportunity knocked. I just "randomly" (or so I thought) found this doctoral program through the Internet. When I looked into it more and sought more information, it seemed that it was the answer to my restlessness. Had I decided to stay within my comfort zones, I would have stayed with the doctoral program I had already started and worked on part-time for the past 2 years. When I think about it, I could have NOT found this other program. I could have NOT been accepted. I could have NOT been given a graduate assistantship. But all those things DID happen. There is a reason.
Anais Nin stated, "And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." (Got this from a delightful little book entitled Bloom)
So despite some fears and anxieties, I stepped forward into growth. It was time.
And now I am here. After months of being in transition, nervously waiting for things to happen that were beyond my control (like whether my student visa was going to be approved by the USCIS or not). Then finally, it all worked out. I look back at the patterns of changes and transitions in my life, and many of them required WAITING. Many, if not all of them, worked out on the 11th hour. I call it "my photo-finish life" because things fall into place in the nick of time. A friend of mine once corrected me and said, "It's not a photo-finish life. It's a 'perfect timing' life." I like that. True enough, when I received my USCIS approval, it couldn't have come at a more perfect time.
The period of waiting really teaches me to be patient. And to let go. And to trust that things DO work out, after you've done all the work. It is a hard lesson to learn, one which I have not fully learned.
And that was my 2009...
So. 2010. A new year to step forward into growth. How am I going to grow this year?
A couple of years ago, I joined a retreat, and we did some fun artsy work. I created something like a "vision board" of affirmations, reminders, and dreams.
Here are some phrases from my vision board:
Go with your gut.
Teach to learn.
Improve our world.
Create, play, and care. It's a way of life.
Be adventurous. Be amazed.
Nourish your life.
Wow. It seems like that sums up my will-do's for the year. I'm calling them will-do's and not to-do's. I think saying "will-do's" makes me more accountable. To myself, and to others. They are not necessarily discrete and separate resolutions that you can check off a list and be done with them -- I like to think of them more as reminders to make more conscious choices every day.
Looking at my vision board 2 years after I created it, I reflect on how those words and images are speaking to me now.
Go with your gut. Someone once said to me, "Trust your instincts. Nine out of ten times, your instincts are right." When faced with a decision, I need to find time to quiet my mind and be in tune with my intuition. There is wisdom there. Many times I find myself worrying and stressing out unnecessarily over something, when really, I already know the answer. I could have avoided all that negative energy (and nights of tossing and turning) by just trusting in what I know.
Teach to learn. This year I will be teaching, though in a different capacity. I am no longer teaching young children, but I will be assisting in/co-teaching some college and graduate level classes as part of my graduate assistantship work. I believe that I learn so much when I teach. I learn to step outside of myself. I learn about other people, and about meeting other people's needs. I learn to be flexible. I learn to plan for a variety of learners. I learn to communicate better.
Improve our world. Oooh, that is a loaded one. At this time, I am not in a place in my life where I can join the Peace Corps. So I will have to break it down into smaller actions. I don't know what they are yet though. Volunteer to teach yoga? Join a campus or community organization? Note to self: do some research on this one. But they can be even smaller actions - picking up a piece of trash on the street. Giving someone a sincere compliment or affirmation. Calling or writing an old friend. Greeting and thanking the grocery store checkout person by name. Every word I say and choice I make can have a positive or negative effect. Do my choices create positive energy? Or does it lower my energy and that of others?
Create, play, and care. It's a way of life. In what ways can I "create" this year? I feel that my hobbies have taken a backseat to other, bigger priorities. How can I balance the creative and the cerebral? In what ways will I "play"? And in what ways will I "care"? Hmmm... It seems that I can do all 3 of these when I cook or bake. It's such a creative, enjoyable process. Food is always a way to care for and nourish another person - not just in the physical sense. OK, not that I need any more excuses to cook...
Be adventurous. Be amazed. Well, I'm in a new city! Who knows what adventures lie ahead? One thing that comes to mind is that since I am now closer to a body of water, I might learn to windsurf on the lake this summer. :) (Note to self: Start swimming laps again!) But adventure and amazement are not limited to high-adrenaline activities. Amazement and wonder is everywhere. I just have to be open.
Nourish your life. I will be faced with many stresses this year. A hard lesson for me to learn is to find balance. I need to find ways to nourish my soul so I don't burn out. Nurturing friendships, old and new. Yoga. Cooking projects. Small doses of art. Photography. Writing. I'll take lessons from this friend and make a weekly appointment to "show up for myself."
Be peaceful. Another loaded one. In what ways can I think, speak, and act peacefully? This statement can cover so much - lessening my environmental footprint (note to self: hop on the campus shuttle more!), being more conscious of my food choices and where my food comes from, being more compassionate in my interactions with others and following the three-fold rule of "Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?" before I speak. And -- this is a difficult one -- being more forgiving towards myself.
Let's see how this year turns out... meanwhile, I have my vision board in a highly visible place in my bedroom so I can see my reminders every day.
Here's to another year and another chance to evolve into more balanced, more genuine, and more compassionate versions of ourselves.