The older I get, the more consistency and moderation seem to be the keys to a happy, well-adjusted life. Unfortunately, those aren’t really my strong points. I often worry I only have two settings: either way-too-laid-back or pushing-myself-way-too-hard. I tend to oscillate between the two, sometimes within the same day.
In case you’re getting lost in my cloud of ambiguity, I’ll try to offer at least one concrete example. I love to-do lists. Christine loves to-do apps, but I love to-do lists. I use them as a sort of disorganized mind-dump. Typically, I never even reference them after writing them down. The act of writing them out is usually enough for me to mentally organize my life. I write them all over the place: notebooks, napkins, on backs of receipts and envelopes, the corners of crossword puzzles. This habit comes in phases though. The times I have energy, I write list after list, packing my free time with errands and chores. Then, I inevitably burn out and and spend a week exhausted and unmotivated, planning nothing, doing everything only when it absolutely needs to get done. Eventually, I regroup and repeatedly kick myself until I start a new list, and the cycle continues.
I do consider myself a competent person. I get everything done that needs done. But ultimately, I want to better about self-care. I want to be aware of my personal needs, when I need to rest or slow down. I want to learn to listen to my body when it tells me I’m pushing too hard, rather than only realizing it the next morning when I wake up sore and in pain. I want to stop viewing my health as an obstacle, something to put on the back burner in pursuit of all of my other goals.
I’m not sure how to fit that in a concise bucket list bullet point, but there it is.
When I think of our relationship habits, the one thing we do consistently is financial planning. At least once every two weeks (often several times a week) we sit down with our budget together. We look over our spending, talk about upcoming life changes, and evaluate our priorities. Over our years together, these planning sessions have turned into much more than crunching the numbers. They’ve given us the space to compromise and communicate. They’ve pushed us to be intentional with our resources, to evaluate what exactly it is that we are doing with our money, time, and energy. And, every once in a while, we’ll have a mind-blowing insight into our lives as a result. In the middle of our last one, my wife made an astute observation. She said “We’re right on track.”
About eight months ago, we made a one-year plan together. Then, the goals we put down seemed impossible: Christine wanted to quit her job, get accepted into a bootcamp, and get a new job in a completely different industry. I wanted to work, take prereqs, volunteer, ace the GRE and get accepted into grad school. Our plan was to live off my (very meager) salary until she got a job. At the time, we were certain we would crash and fail (or at the very least burn out). Now, eight months later, Christine is right: we’re right on track with our plan.
I’ve been working on a crafting project the past couple months. I keep putting it down and picking it back up again. It’s something simple: a circle of French knots radiating outwards. Just simple enough for me to obsess. Every time I make a knot, a small part of me is certain that I’ve ruined it. They’re too lopsided, too sloppy, too close together. But each time I pick it back up again, I love it. It just takes stepping away to see the forest rather than the trees. That’s how I feel with life right now. I’m doing a juggling act: two jobs, volunteering, classes, GRE, grad school applications, family stuff. And every day it all feels on the verge of failing. But Christine’s right (as always): we’re on track. We’re doing this. I just need to remember to step back and see the forest.
The thing about self-improvement is that it goes in cycles; constant change isn’t sustainable. You make goals, you work at them, and you succeed. You make new goals. You work at them. You fail. But hopefully even on the failed attempts, you end up further along than when you started. Whether you succeed or fail in your goals, you certainly aren’t going anywhere at all without them.
Goals are shorthand for your ideal life. What kind of person do you want to be? What do you value? What do you want out of life? As I’m still pretty young myself, I note mainly from observation of others that those answers fluctuate a fair amount through a lifespan. Right now my answers are all about creating things, learning new skills. While I am young, I’ve been out of school long enough to forget that feeling of novelty, of both curiosity and uncertainty, that comes from doing something brand new. It’s kind of refreshing to be trying things I’ve never done before, without the pressure to succeed, without focusing on the gap between where I am and where I think I should be.
All this to say, right now I’m in the upswing of the cycle: full of new goals in which I have yet to either succeed or fail. Bright horizon of possibilities, right? It is a pretty addictive feeling, that’s for sure. Check back in a few weeks, and we’ll see where it leads, I suppose.