A festive evergreen-and-cinnamon simmer pot bubbles quietly on the stove, spreading the scent of home and good cheer. The tree is dressed, surrounded by an audience of enthusiastic presents, while the stereo casts out the lilting strains of a haunting Christmas melody. In the kitchen, pies bake. Last-minute arrangements are made to impress visiting relatives with over-cleaned floors and counters. Cookies are snagged as mid-afternoon treats, and in the evenings crystalline lights along the roof edges twinkle in the darkness.
Merry Christmas, all!
While 2016 has thus far offered, as everyone knows, more content for assessment than is the scope of this blog to cover, I’m going to concentrate less on the external and more on the internal.
When first I conceived the notion for 2016’s personal challenges (writing 2000 words per day, reading for 15 minutes per day, and editing for 15 minutes per day), I knew I was setting a high standard. For those unaware, during the course of 2016 I worked full time, went to school part time, and took on freelance jobs here and there. During 2015, I struggled with the challenge of writing 2000 words per day, without any other specific goals or challenges claiming my time—at least in any official capacity—and without the urgent demands of schooling. My reasoning for increasing my challenge goals for 2016 after a year of (successful) struggling was the refusal to step backwards. I already knew I could write 2000 words a day. I wanted to see if I could do more.
But each year comes with its own costs, distractions, and idiosyncrasies, and I was faced with several expected, unexpected, and should-have-been-expected stakes on my limited schedule. I struggled. I really struggled. I gave myself a few days off twice this year for fear of burnout. I took days off work for the express purpose of reordering my routine to better equip myself moving forward. And, as long as I was moving forward, I was okay with lowering my goal from 2000 words to 500 in July and scrapping (after an obsessive reading binge at the beginning of the year) my editing and reading goals.
I’ve related some of my struggles on this blog already, and some of my successes, too, so I’m not going to waste time and space reiterating them. Each year, however, I consider a one-word holistic theme that describes the year. In 2013, that theme was endurance. In 2014, it was patience. 2015’s theme was learning.
I bandied about several ideas for 2016, depending on how I felt at a given moment. Stress was on the list for a while, but I thought it tended too much toward the negative, and I don’t like basing anything on emotion. A leader for a long time was organization.
But I think the word that best sums up the year is prioritization. I had my hubris handed back to me on a brass platter (the situations weren’t elegant enough to justify silver) on several different occasions. My moments of idleness became not just moments of weakness, but moments of destruction. In my mad rush to do the things I needed to do after having procrastinated, I split my concentration between too many tasks, which left me not only exhausted and frustrated, but confused, defeated, and compromised. My studies suffered. My writing suffered. What energy I had I poured into work, as it was there my contractual obligation lie.
Don’t misconstrue my words; I enjoyed 2016. I cannot pick any event out about which I can complain except those I brought on myself, and on those instances I lose any right to gripe. I love where I work. I had my ups and downs with my stories, but I would wager significantly fewer downs than in previous years. While I didn’t improve as much this year as I would have wanted, I know I did improve. I’m content with that.
The trick for me this year has been to establish the priorities of my life and learn how to balance them. For the longest time, I ran off of a list of daily to-dos, most of which were impossibilities no matter how conscientious I was with my time. Then I would grow annoyed because I had “failed” to finish my list. Somehow, I always placed the blame on my liberal lack of discipline, or the distractions of a hundred other tasks. That’s not to say that discipline wouldn’t have solved the issues at hand, but lack of discipline, I have discovered, is really just a symptom of a larger weakness: lack of focus.
And so I look toward 2017. I fix my gaze on a more realistic prize, one still measured by numbers (500 words per day, continued), but measured, more importantly, by consistent balance. Following the guidance of various advisers, I have narrowed my concentration to three priorities:
- Finish draft of, edit, beta-reader test, and polish Cursed
- Take and pass the financial planning exam and, once passed, climb the hierarchy of Bloom’s Taxonomy through real-life and simulated application
- Improve health by losing final ten pounds alternating a regimen of cardio, weightlifting, and stretching; maintaining a healthy diet; and retiring to sleep before 10PM
Broken down even more, they come to three active verbs: write, study, condition.
Of course, I still have other adventures I want to go on and tasks I want to finish and skills I want to learn. There will still be times when distraction or tiredness reigns. But I’m going to do my best to keep those goal-killers at bay. Instead of waiting until the end of 2017 to affix a theme to the year, I’m starting off with a theme I choose in foresight, not one I merely find in hindsight. It is an attribute that stands not only as a generic theme, but as a goal, a reminder, an admonition, an encouragement: focus.