Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Goals, Wishes, Intentions

I'm not big on resolutions, New Year's or otherwise. More often than not, all they do is set me up to fail, or put me in competition with others, and who needs that? However, I do see a great deal of value in taking some time to clarify where I'm going in my life, if it's where I want to be going, and what I'd like to see different.

Years (as in, decades) ago, a friend suggested making a list of goals instead of resolutions, and to break them down into 1-year, 5-year, 10-year, and lifetime goals. I did that for quite a while, and I still have the notebook I kept them in. It's fascinating to look back at what I thought I wanted, 30 years ago -- what I have achieved, what I no longer want, and what is no longer possible.

Along the way, I realized that some of these things were within my power to achieve, but others were not. I might long for them, but I could not bring them about, or not entirely by my own efforts. For instance, finishing a novel or studying Hebrew are things I can choose to do, but my children being happy, however much I might want to see that come about, is not something I myself can create. These things are wishes, not goals. Of course, many things are both. On my list is to write a work of enduring value -- I can write the best stories that are in me, but how they are received and how they endure the test of time is another matter entirely. I have no say over that.

For 2007, the year I turned 60:
1 year:
Finish (a specific book I was working on)
Transfer family videos to DVD
Celebrate becoming a crone
5 years:
Keep writing good stuff
10 years/lifetime:

Be active and happy
Do something activist and outrageous

As I wrote down goals and wishes, year after year, I found that they changed in other ways. The specifics tended to be resolved or discarded, but things emerged that were more general and had more to do with quality and spirit than measurable achievements. The example I just gave -- writing something that would speak to people long after I'm gone as opposed to selling a novel or selling a particular novel -- shows this change. The farther out in time the goals/wishes, the less they resembled "resolutions." I've started to think of them as intentions instead.

Yet, the universe does not cooperate with our best intentions. I can wish for and intend to have a year that is one way but get presented with situations and challenges I had no way of anticipating and end up with something quite different, marvelous or heart-breaking. Part of the shift from resolutions to intentions is the introduction of flexibility, of a suppleness of response to whatever life brings. Life is not limited by my imagination (or my fears). It is an adventure, not a fixed syllabus.

For 2013, the year I will turn 66:
1 year:
Draft (new project)
Finish revising (trauma recovery project)
Attend college reunion and visit dear friend

Let the people I love know how precious they are to me

5 years/10 years/lifetime:
Keep writing good stuff
Live a happy life

Be of service to others

Photo by Cleo Sanda (1962-2012), may her memory be a blessing.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I, too, prefer the idea of setting goals or intentions -- along with a specific action plan - rather than "resolutions" which are frequently too vague or too dramatic to last much beyond the first few weeks of January.

    The slow, restful months of winter are the perfect time to reflect on where we are and where we'd like to be in another year's or five years' time. Your post this morning has reminded me that I'd like to carve out some time for myself this week to invest in similar introspection and productive dreaming.