Goal Setting: Getting Started

Today is a day of new beginnings or at least getting started. I am preparing to step forward into plans that I have been making for some time. The goals are big dreams that I have been hard at work building, in some cases, for years. The progress towards this moment has been incremental and small, ongoing and labor intensive. It’s not sexy but it’s the only way I know to get ahead. The practical steps are the keys to my success and my feeling of anticipation today is a lot like standing on a diving board. 

I have filled the pool with opportunities and all I have to do is dive into the water to swim. My small practical steps have made this moment possible; Changing habits, conservative choices focused on long term goals, and planning. There is a lot of work that goes on before we ever get to the precipice. I have found the words of Walt Disney to be particularly applicable to this process, “Everyone needs deadlines.” I might not make my deadline but by virtue of having one I do make consistent progress toward it. 

Deadlines keep me aware of the timeline of my growth. If I only say, “someday,” and not “Five years from now,” I’ve created paradox where I could accomplish that goal any day from now until my death and it will always remain “some day.” However, when I have a five year deadline I see all the things that go into that goal, the little steps, the new learning, the coaching, and experimenting. All of the necessary and unsexy failures that will go into the big changes to make them possible and all of the hours that I will need to devote and I realize that five years is not that much time. 

Five years in the grand scheme of things is a very brief period of time. It is a lifetime to children and all they cram into the first five years of their lives is monumental. Consider an infant and then a reading, walking, talking, creative, and potty trained Kindergartener who has preferences, interests, and opinions. Someone who five years ago had only the raw materials for cognitive growth and development. That child had to make something of every experience, interaction, and engagement to become the person they are at five. That is much the same for us and our goals. 

All we know is that we have a goal and we only have five years to accomplish it. Maybe it will take longer than five years to achieve. Maybe we will face unexpected challenges, delays, or obstacles but when we give ourselves a limited time period in which to work we give ourselves the thrust we need to move forward now. 

We have to step forward because to delay would make us late for our deadline. If you’re late for your flight you miss it. But if you’re late for a personal deadline we learn something. Whether we move forward towards our goals or not the time is going to pass. To me it just feels better to look back and see progress.

I recently found a goal list my partner and I created outlining our plans for 2020. We had one goal, to get our house ready to sell. And then we brainstormed a dream house. We wrote a list of all the things we wanted in our future home and what it would look like, feel like, need to be our perfect home. And here I sit reading through the list in awe. All but three items on that full page list were included in our current home. That is something to celebrate and something to acknowledge – we made that possible. 

We set a goal and gave ourselves a deadline and we missed it by a year – we wrote the list at the end of 2019 for 2020 and then COVID hit, an unforeseen and unprecedented challenge. We were grateful for our cozy home and to have a safe and clean place to live. But facing that challenge we recalibrated, realigned, reaffirmed our commitment to the goal of a new home. In 2021 – we moved. 

We moved into a home that checks the majority of our boxes. We could not have predicted COVID all we could predict was that the time would pass whether we took the initiative or didn’t. Fortunately, we took the initiative and because of that we get to live our dream instead of just holding it. And I will confess looking around myself and seeing my dreams come to life is significantly more satisfying than holding them close and never diving in to see what might happen. You don’t need to finish everything at once but sometimes giving yourself a shorter amount of time to accomplish a goal gives you just the right push to get it done.

What dreams do have that you have given yourself a timeline to complete? Do you set one year, five year, or ten year goals? How do you stay accountable to accomplish them?

Abundance and Gratitude at Thanksgiving

Today as we prepare for the coming Thanksgiving holiday and all the bounty of harvest, hearth, and home, I am reflecting on abundance. I am reflecting on the wealth and beauty that we have in our possession already. I am full. I know I often reflect on gratitude and this is the perfect week to remember all of those things and people that I am grateful to have an hold. I also want to hold still and absorb the abundance of joy and connection this time of year brings. 

Like many of our holidays since COVID-19 took hold nearly two years ago this year’s celebrations will be scaled back and shaped differently than years before. On Thanksgiving 2020 we took a totally different route to our celebrations. We usually gather with extended family and even borrow chairs from the local funeral home to accommodate the crowd that gathers at our long tables. Last year, instead of that annual gathering of cousins, family, friends, and long lost relatives we stayed home. We hosted no-one and celebrated our own small family gathering. It was gorgeous. I broke out the fine china, used a fresh cocktail recipe, and old traditional foods. Everything was smaller than usual, but it’s intimacy made the experience so much richer.

Because there were so few of us, we did not have the constant flow of conversation or people popping in and out, we prepared our meal, dressed for dinner, and when the days preparations were done in the blink of an eye we let the children bathe and put their jammies on early. We decorated the tree, we savored each  other’s company and when we toasted our health we truly meant it. Our time as a family took on a new sacredness under the light of our small hearth and the glow of Christmas lights. 

This year we have yet to determine how we will celebrate the day. Like many families, not everyone in our circle is vaccinated and while our children cannot yet be vaccinated we will not be gathering. Instead of seeing this as a disappointment, we are going to focus on our good fortune. How lucky are we that we have so many people in our lives with whom we wish to spend the day? How fortunate we are to have enough to food to share. We are truly blessed with health and love. We are surrounded by the spirits of those who have gone before us and by the love that fills each of our hearts when we are together as well as when we are apart. We are also fortunate to know and love so many people with so many perspectives. The diversity of our community is what makes us all stronger. 

I am grateful for all of these things and more. I am surrounded by wealth and abundance. It is my good fortune and joy that there is so much food, family, love, and light to share on these shorter and shorter days. There is nothing easy about this disease but it has given us a new perspective. It has given us back to the outdoors and spending time outside with friends. It has given us opportunities to deepen our connections with those friends and family that truly fill us up. And it has given us the time to draw comfort and consolation from the world by rekindling the love we build in our homes. How fortunate we all are and how grateful I am that this season is upon us and that we have such an abundance of blessings to celebrate together either virtually or just in our hearts. 

What are you looking forward to this holiday season? Are vaccinations making it easier or harder for you to gather with loved ones? What are you most grateful for this year?

Intentional Interaction

Today feels like a day that I am chasing to catch. Even post-meditation I am 15 minutes late for a call. And I am just going to make the call, show up for the appointment, be present. It feels like with the world opening up, vaccinated friends reaching out to gather, the joy of being present and in the world safely, it feels tempting to slide back into that pre-pandemic mode. The usual, “What friends are we seeing this weekend?” It’s a dance of overbooked, constantly moving forward, hurried compulsion to attend every event, be engaged in every gathering, and not only to show up but to sacrifice quiet nights at home, restorative rest, and the peace and comfort of having nowhere else to be. 

First, I want to say that it is such a gift to be included and invited out into the world. Second, I want to say I am going to respectfully and gratefully drag my feet because I don’t want to go. I want to be ready when the world arrives at my door or when I venture out into society. I want to consciously and deliberately make healthful choices for myself and my family and right now that means breathing deep and being still. 

I am not in a rush to get back to, “regular life.” To be honest I prefer the solitude and reflection of time to myself. But I also get FOMO. The first time I remember this happening was in high school. A friend called me repeatedly and I avoided the calls, I remember hearing her voice on the answering machine and thinking yes, but no. I was super disappointed a few days later when I gave a listen and realized I had missed her brother’s graduation party. I’m sure the event was fun but I was not there for it. And I was disappointed to miss the party. I wanted to support my friend and her family but I needed that time for myself. As I age I realize more and more how much I myself need this time to be quiet and alone. How much work I am quietly doing in my own mind and in my own space to create, build, and design my own life – and that is time consuming. 

Building a world in which I want to live takes a lot of time and I’m not talking about the larger exterior world that we all want to save or are working to make better. I’m talking about my own little unit, my own little house, my own mental wellness, solitude, get dinner on the table and the laundry folded and the emails answered world. And sometimes for me that’s enough. Sometimes it feels like too much and then I have to get even more micro. My gift to myself is patience and forgiveness. I’m going to go slow and I like it that way.

Are you plunging back into social interactions with friends and family? Are you wading in cautiously? How do you check in with yourself to make sure you’re aligned before you engage?

Making Space for Connection

I caught up with a friend today, or rather we both spoke in half sentences as he answered work emails and I shared what was happening in my life in vague platitudes. To be honest, it wasn’t a great moment for connection or conversation. It was a great moment to remember that sharing these experiences side by side is a different type of relating. 

We were not coming together to better understand one another or even to provide insight, we simply missed one another and wanted to share the comfort of having a dear friend by our side, even as we each went about our separate lives.

It felt good to simply co-exist with a trusted friend. In that conversation we each gave the level of focus that we were equipped to give and mutually respected each other’s boundaries. Many of us are already operating at max-capacity so carrying the burden of another person’s troubles may be too much. So too can the emotional investment of re-hashing our own challenges feel overwhelming. But there is comfort to be found in the simple sharing of a moment with a friend. 

It was like doing homework at the same table again, familiar, comfortable, and easy. There was no pretense and no effort made to impress or guide the conversation toward some goal or purpose – we were together and that was enough.

He had to wrap the call early in order to handle a work emergency. I was grateful as I needed to empty a gallon of pond water from my toddlers boots and redirect him to the tub. We both knew that each of us was giving full attention to the priorities of the day but also making space to share our day with each other.

More than anything this conversation made me proud of us. Proud that we have such a sturdy relationship that is not based on this moment, or this one conversation. It is a dance we’ve been doing for nearly 20 years – nurturing one another and our relationship through countless ups and downs. Trusting that when the time comes for us to support one another we will arrive with hearts open and be there for each other.

I am also grateful that we make a point to take the call and catch up, even if the interaction is brief. It is wonderful to be fully present and focused on the situation you are in and the person you are with, of course. But that isn’t always reality, reality is sometimes managing chaos while juggling responsibilities. Much of life has slowed down due to COVID, however it has also sapped our emotional energy. Sharing what we have to give with the people we love is always a gift and it is something I am truly grateful for today. Sometimes just going through life together is enough.

Keep Calm and Carry On – Like Children

Hope has to be my default. There is no other way. 

A friend called to share that a co-worker was recently diagnosed with COVID-19. Their mutual boss demanded the co-worker come into the office. The co-worker re-iterated that with a positive covid test they were not coming in, they would return at the end of the required quarantine. 


“After fourteen days.” 

“Fine, then you better be here.” 

In a typical time in history this might have been viewed as inconsiderate, rude, or even callous. Now it just makes me laugh. Are you kidding me? We are living in intense social angst, each of us separately and communally confronting our own mortality and your focus, your hyper-focus, is on when this person may return to their office. You poor person, clearly your priorities have not yet adjusted to our current reality. 

And that’s what this is, this is reality. The low-grade constant anxiety, the ongoing waves and resurgences, the fear for the safety of those we love and ourselves, that is all going to be with us going forward. The difference will not be in the disease but in how we face it. We can shelter in place and hide. We can demand the world operate as usual, pretending it does not exist. Or we can do what children do, resiliently go with the flow. Children ride the waves, have you noticed this?

Let us consider what this time, this experience has been like for our children. Even if we are able to insulate them from the violence of this disease there are some cultural shifts that will forever be a part of their memories, if only a part of their lives for a brief time. The wearing of masks when they leave home or go out in public. The fortresses of plexiglass that surround their desks. The loss of social engagements, rites of passage, and closure that many of them have missed because it has not been safe to host prom, graduations, or birthday parties.

Now, these are small sacrifices in the face of impending death, but to children who are so small already, is any sacrifice tiny? Is any loss a little one? The impact of this disease on their lives will extend long beyond vaccines and returns to “normalcy.” However, one fact that seems to flicker on my lips as I consider these deep and enduring realities is that I am impressed by how in the face of these challenges little people forge on. 

They play, run, jump, wear their masks to the park, and carry on. There is no fear for the future or mourning for the past, only gratitude for the present and maybe the hope for ice cream later. There is a sense that they are rowing hard, but they are doing their work with no fanfare. Children carry on and carry within themselves a torch. A torch that endures this darkness. A torch that is not dampened by circumstance but that burns within them. It is their resolve to go on, regardless of the challenges they face. It is that spark for life and that willingness to go on, move forward, just keep swimming I admire most. 

It inspires me to see so simple a concept exercised so beautifully and without calls for attention. The simple, daily, repetitive marching forward. They push the boundaries, test the limits, see how far they can go today. It may be only slightly further than yesterday but that’s still further than they went before and isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that a win? Indeed it is. We carry on, we march forward, for that is the only option we have today.

Happy Anniversary?

As we commemorate this first year anniversary of COVID-19, this collective moment of awareness reminds me of where we were a year ago. The language of a brief shutdown, flatten the curve, stay home stay safe, we’re in this together – all of it hopeful and calling for unity. As daily updates from Governors called upon citizens to step up in order to save the lives of loved ones and strangers alike. 

Yet as the curve turned into second and third surges our American cynicism kicked into high gear. We joked about phrases like, “avoid it like the plague,” because as American’s we in fact do not avoid the plague. We are such a social society that the idea of being alone, even if collectively, instigated feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out), loneliness, and fatigue. 

Here we are a year later with more than 500,000 deaths at the hands of Covid-19 so many of us have lost jobs, health, and loved ones. Yet, we have also triumphed. We have multiple vaccines, we have (most of us) gotten the hang of wearing our masks regularly, and we are all eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring and with it the hopeful eradication of this disease.

Perhaps unintentionally, or in answer to this reckoning, I have taken a stance of radical generosity. I keep a bucket list, a running tally of the things I hope to do someday. Some are personal, my own writing cottage, a lake and a small boat to paddle. Some are big, visit all 50 states, play a grand piano in an empty house… also, learn to play the piano. Not all of them will get done – but playing chopsticks in an empty house still counts and I did that last year so technically, the goal was accomplished but it stays on the list, in case I do ever take lessons I want the satisfaction of really scratching it off. 

One of the items on my list is to pay for a child to go to summer camp, a child who would not be able to attend without support. And this week, I did it. I don’t know what child will benefit from this gift, my only hope is that after this year that has taken its toll on all of us that some little person may enjoy paddling around a lake, horseback riding lessons, or just singing songs and eating s’mores. Whatever it is that this child needs I hope they have it at camp, I hope in some small way to make their lives better, even if only for a week. 

Camp to me has always been the Haley Mills Parent Trap dream, uniformed children in bunk beds, reading, hiking, swimming. Children from all over the world coming together in an idyllic setting to play, grow, and learn. Mountains, horses, and sing alongs. And while I never had that experience myself, our family was more the day camp kind, I want to give that gift to another family. So this year I did it. 

Honestly, I feel proud of myself and that feels like a warm tea pot gently tipped and began filling me up with warmth, safety, joy, and contentedness. I want that for the child who receives this gift. I want that for all of us. After this year, in spite of this year, I want that for all of us. This is how I got it, how about you?

Out in the Cold

I just stood outside in the cold for an hour – and it was glorious. I ran into an acquaintance while out and stopped to chat under a sporadic and flickering street light reminiscent of a horror film. Having not seen her in nearly a year and living in the midst of covid there was much to say. But more than what was said there was an incredible feeling of being seen, making connection, and communing with another human being. At any other point in life I would have rushed through the greeting, dancing on the fine line between polite pleasantries, a comedic back and forth, and end scene. Now, these commonplace moments are not so common and I cling to them desperately. 

As Kurt Vonnegut said, “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.” And he’s absolutely right, I’m just sorry it took a pandemic for me to learn it, although in fairness, don’t we all learn this lesson post-retirement anyway? This fact has been right in front of us all along and I for one, have been completely annoyed and ignorant of the beauty until covid struck, and took all of my other, “more important,” things away. 

The beauty of farting around is something my Dad has known all my life, as I have been told on several occasions, on the bus, in line at the grocery store, “It must be so cool to have him for your Dad.” And I agree, because I love my dad, and I’m not a monster, who disagrees with someone in line to buy produce? Isn’t that one of the unspoken societal laws we all agree to in civilized society? We make small talk about weather, compliment each other’s nails or hair, and ask where did you find the oranges? As if they were not located in the same precarious pile they have always been in for eons in every grocery store since the beginning of time. And would be impolite to deny such simple pleasures and conversation. But the beauty of seeing a kids jersey and asking about the game, noticing a harried parent and offering a word of comfort, or seeing a cake and offering a “happy birthday,” that’s the connection piece my dad has known all along.

I learned this basic truth standing in long lines at the post office with my grandfather. At 19 I was bored and annoyed to inch up a foot just to get closer to the surly clerk in order to ask a question that easily could have been answered with a Google search. My grandfather looked forward to these trips – To The Post Office – as if he were visiting an old friend. He always left with extra stamps, many that would never be used, extra bins and priority shipping containers that he would delight in bringing back with precious cargo the following week for customers who purchased items from his small business. The man loved to chat and would ache for the opportunity to talk someone’s ear off. Now that’s an exaggeration because the person in conversation with him was fascinated and engaged… his children and grandchildren were dying slowly on the nearest bench, willing the time to pass, this moment to end so they could get to whatever we thought was only slightly more important or interesting. We didn’t listen to the stories, we’d heard them so many times, and yet, now that he’s gone, I wonder what his opinion was and what he said to get a reaction or make a friend, or a sale.

Because I now take unspeakable joy from the interactions I share with friends and strangers alike. I value the moments, cherish the time, and I stand in the elements in a darkened parking lot as my toes freeze one by one in the 32 degrees with pleasure. Sitting in my car now, as each one prickles with anger at my behavior and comes back to life I feel grateful and truly alive. The strange realization creeps in, like a dog on hardwoods, we were always supposed to enjoy these interactions. We were always supposed to take the time to chat. There is nowhere more important than here and there is no-one more important than the one we are with right now. This is what it means to be alive and engaged with life. Standing in a church parking lot, talking to an old friend for so long it hurts, farting around and feeling enraptured with joy at the opportunity to do it.