In the New Year’s Eve reflection I posted last night, there are a few lines that say more about my year than anything else I wrote:
All of that [skill, experience, enthusiasm, potential, will, and grit] I had, but it wasn’t enough to move me forward. Outside of the umbrella of my former university, I was restricted… When the low-grade stress became a scream and I thought I was exhausted, I conferred with a lawyer and started the process of applying for permanent residency independently… [Now] I’m meeting a new year with the ability to move.
Yet I’d always had the ability to move. This ability changed my year, but it wasn’t magically bestowed on me just in time to deflect a crash. I’d always been able to think new thoughts, see new options, test alternatives, fail, and test something different. But I’d allowed my context to overrule my powers of attention and persistence. Over several months, I beat myself against the rock of Circumstance, and so I suffered. But when I started acting so as to shape Circumstance, the restrictions I’d experienced shifted. Not immediately and not all at once, but not a moment before.
Looking back, I’m glad I experienced this, because now I know what doesn’t work.
Throwing oneself at Circumstance but not identifying actions that could shift Circumstance—that doesn’t work.
It’s not that the external restrictions I faced last year weren’t real. They were very legal and very real. But the internal restrictions I faced? Those were unnecessary troubles, and for the months I let them lead me, they limited the options I saw and judged feasible.
Where I Erred
Trained to listen respectfully to authority figures, I took it for granted that they knew what they were talking about. But instead of speaking about me and my case, some spoke about averages—I’m not average—and others spoke from fears and worries that I don’t live by. Not everyone has the expertise to evaluate my experience or potential or risk load, and no one can be as invested in my continued progress as I am. The rules and cautions they offered weren’t about me or for me, but when I accepted them as though they were, I earned the limited perspective that resulted.
At the same time, I was inconsistent about focusing on the future I knew I wanted and taking small, steady steps toward it. I was tempted, every so often, to appease my uncertainty, to drop my goals and do what others deemed more responsible, or to seat my projects at the kids’ table while I gave over my prime energy to the visions of others. And I was impatient with everything, especially with myself.
One of my new friends uses the phrase “Begin Again” as a touchstone. I love this phrase!
In learning the wisdom of the turtle I’m gaining a lot of experiences to retrain the impatience in my blood. My relocation last decade swung me into high, productive activity within the first 3 weeks, but this decade’s relocation is about building deliberately without an institutional safety net. I still have resources and support, but some of the logic and tools I need this time are different than those I used before.
Last week, I read the 1902 pamphlet As a Man Thinketh by James Allen for the first time. I’ve seen it referenced in several books over the years and it’s a classic in more than age: it represents the spirit of its milieu, the US and Europe pre-Titanic and pre-World War I. Those were years in which popular writers and preachers were equally convinced of the power of mind and thought, the science and surety of human progress, and the role of optimism and innovative action in individual and social development. Out of this milieu came Ernest Holmes and the Science of Mind tradition; its contemporary progeny includes a whole swathe of motivational presenters, “life coaches,” and the new trends in “life design.”
During that same period, my denomination emerged as a contrarian voice. As Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart argue in Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream, the SDA tradition countered the spirit of the age with fatalism about human nature and teachings about impending international calamity, not hope for salvation through science and will. With the unmitigated disasters of the 20th Century’s first three decades, Adventist fatalism seemed justified, and its suspicion of progress persists today.
Despite that backdrop, I feel fortunate to have been exposed to some of the mind-thought-goal-action writing men of the late 20th Century, from Norman Vincent Peale and Earl Nightingale to Og Mandino, Zig Ziglar, and Robert Schuller. My mother, who sold encyclopedias and other books when I was small, absorbed the developmental teachings of these writers to help her sell. She also encouraged my siblings and I to reflect on them on our own. I’ll never be a clone of these men and haven’t always applied their approaches, but I looking forward to rediscovering them and testing their validity for myself this year.
- Did you join the resolution crowd this morning with a vague intention, or have you set specific and measurable goals for yourself?
- Have you already figured the actions you need to take to make your goals happen? Who around you is on board with your plan? Check the quality of your social network to minimize peer resistance once you get started.
- Will success depend on you “hanging in there” with gritted teeth? Or is there a vision that you can return to and be motivated by when the work gets intense?
- Plan for a little forward motion every day, your stretch target just ahead to help draw you forward at a sustainable pace. Stay in motion.