Originally Published: December 29, 2019
Revised: December 30, 2020
It’s that time of year when we take some time to look back on what we accomplished in the past year and to plan what we will accomplish in the next year. It’s often a time of disappointment when we realize we didn’t strike off nearly enough of last year’s goals and we start off the New Year on this foundation of disappointment, determined to succeed in our goals this time only to lose enthusiasm within the first month of the year.
What is it about New Years’ resolutions that we fail at so quickly and so badly? Why do we set goals for ourselves that are impossible to achieve and then spend the rest of the year berating ourselves for our failures?
Two years ago, I stopped making a list of New Years’ resolutions because it only made me feel bad about myself when I couldn’t follow through. Instead, I created a list of experiences to try, rather than a list of things to do. This list included lifestyle changes, such as exercising for a minimum of thirty minutes per day (rather than losing X number of pounds); improvements to my marriage, such as implementing date nights; expanding my cooking repertoire by trying to make new recipes and trying to eat new foods (instead of setting a goal to eat healthier); having new experiences, such as traveling to places in the world I never would have considered traveling to (e.g. the Philippines) or trying new restaurants; and starting a new business as a blogger and a crafter.
When I look back on my life experience list at the end of the year, I feel so much better about the experiences I had and the little changes I made in my life overall. The best part is that I don’t have to feel bad about what I didn’t do or experience because I can carry forward those life experiences to the next year. There’s no pressure to accomplish something.
This past year, 2019, has been a year of reflection and figuring out who I am, what my life purpose is, and who I want to be. After much reading, studying, praying and reflecting, I have come to realize that life is not about “doing”; rather, it is about “being.” As Rick Warren states in The Purpose-Driven Life, “We are human beings, not human doings” (Warren, 177). God did not design us for checking off things on a to-do list; he designed us to be—to exist, to live, to have relationships, to be present. What we do doesn’t matter as much as what we are.
I wish someone had told me this when I was searching for meaning and life purpose as a teenager. It might have saved me much pain and sorrow in adulthood. Instead of being encouraged to discover who I was and what my strengths and talents were, I was told to graduate from high school, get a university degree, get a well-paying job, buy a house, save for retirement, get married, and start a family. So, like an obedient child, I did all those things in that exact order (except the last—I have not had any children), checking off each item on my to-do list. But once those items had been accomplished, I sat back and asked, “Now what? Where do I go from here?”
It seems the only thing I have to look forward to now is the retirement I’ve been saving for. But what about all those years in between? What am I supposed to do with the next forty years of my life while I wait for retirement?
Nobody in this task-driven society has been able to give me a satisfactory answer to this question, and after checking off six out of eight life goals on my to-do list within the first decade of adulthood, I began to experience a crisis of life—the proper term for this is a mid-life crisis (although I’m considered to be on the young side to be having a mid-life crisis).
I began to ask the question—Is this it? Is this all there is to life? I had a university degree, a job in the financial industry, a house, and a husband, so why was I finding it more and more difficult to have the motivation to get up in the morning? Why wasn’t I happy when I had accomplished so much?
It took about a year of searching for the answer to my questions before I came to the realization that I wasn’t happy with my life because accomplishing tasks on a to-do list isn’t the reason I exist. I exist to have a relationship with God and with other people. This discovery conflicts with the formula the society I live in has created for my life. Society has removed “relationships” from the equation to living a happy, successful life and replaced it with “doing” things and “buying” things, which only widens the black hole in my already vacant heart.
I’m glad that I reached the mid-life crisis stage much earlier in my adulthood than some other adults do because I’m still young enough to turn my life around and make the necessary changes to live a more meaningful and purposeful life.
For 2020, I have decided to try something a little different. Rather than make a new list of life experiences to have, I’m making a list of what I want to be this year. I don’t need a to-do list or a to-experience list to remind me of what needs to be done or what I want to experience. What I need is a to-be list to help me live more in the present, find meaning in everyday encounters with others, and simply enjoy life in the here and now.
So this year’s to-be list involves practicing the fruit of the Spirit as a part of my daily life, including:
- loving others unconditionally and without judgment;
- finding and experiencing joy in all aspects of life;
- feeling at peace with who I am and where I’m at in life, as well as in God’s direction for my life;
- being patient with others;
- being kind to everyone regardless of how they treat me;
- filling my life with only good things and reflecting that goodness onto others;
- trusting in God’s direction and will for my life without question;
- acting out of gentleness towards others, never out of anger; and
- getting my life back on track through self-discipline (by taking better care of my mind and body so I can be healthy enough to take care of others).
In addition, I would like to work on two key characteristics that will help to deepen my relationships with other people, which are humility and vulnerability. In order to do this, I will need to practice forgiveness and extend grace and mercy to those who have hurt me in the past or will hurt me in the future and vice versa (because let’s face it, we’re all human and we make mistakes, so it’s very likely someone will hurt me and I will hurt someone in the future).
If you are struggling with making your own New Years’ resolutions for 2020, may I suggest foregoing the traditional list and instead spend time searching for and finding your own life purpose. It’s never too late to start on a journey of self-discovery. And who knows, perhaps you may discover a whole new you by this time next year.
May 2020 be a year of self-discovery, living with purposeful intent, and new paths to follow—with love, joy and peace waiting at the end of it all!
With love and blessings,
A Small-Town Girl at Heart
You are not alone.
You. Are. Loved.
I hope you find love, hope and peace in these words.