Your Best Year Ever?

Statue "Resolution" installed as part of a City of London’s Street Scene Challenge initiative.

There’s a lot of hemming and hawing about New Year’s resolutions: the last few years it’s become fashionable to be against them. Ninety percent of them are broken, experts say, and gyms love January as a month they rake in more income than at any other time of year.

If that’s what you’re looking for, this is a different kind of post. It’s a post in favor of making goals — which of course could be made during any month — and the momentum gained by a fresh start when the calendar turns a page, not forgetting that beginnings are also about perspective: 2012 is when the Mayans thought the world would end and this has led to some of the most entertaining tweet/quips on social media.

We have seen in the New Year as couple in a variety of exotic destinations: Dubai, Jordan, Ireland, Vegas, and Doha. This year, feeling pummeled by a hectic work schedule and life with a one year old, we passed aside bragging rights in Jamaica for a spa retreat in nowhere, GA.

If you interview (or read) successful people, from any field, they tell us over and over again that goal setting is what separates those with good intentions from high achievers. Goal setting and then the tenacity to meet those goals.We can’t blame the New Year for not giving us the resolve to make our dreams come true. We can only blame ourselves for not believing enough that we can live that life, the shimmering one full of the pleasures of doing what we are good at, where we are best selves, not owned by our possessions, but using them for good.

For me, the end of the year is a ritual, not imposed by others but by my tendency towards a love of nostalgia. 2011 was hard in many ways as it brought seismic changes in both the wide world and my own tiny one. Last year I wanted to be in better physical health (too much good eating and not enough movement) and devote myself to writing full time.

I set New Year’s resolutions most Decembers; evaluating what I would like to change about the way things have happened in the months to come. Writing in a journal daily, my rough, unedited, rambling, prayerful morning pages in the tradition of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, also helps prepare me for this annual tradition. An average journal takes me through about three months of ups, downs, and all arounds. When all the pages are used up, I return to the front and make a list of all the lessons I learned during those three months. This means four times a year I get to reflect on the themes, battles, victories that make up the twelve months of that particular stage of my life.

I have piles and piles of these books as I’ve been writing daily since 1996. Some day they may be read by our child(ren) or even grandchildren. For now they are a testament to time spent with drawing from the world in an effort to better understand it.

And that’s what I love about the New Year. You get a chance to stop and start again. Like pushing stop on a DVD. You have a choice: you can pick back up where you left off, or you can start anew. I have made exercise a weekly habit: some weeks have more workouts than others.  I quit my job to write full time and have published three ebooks. Instead of seeing the odd week, like this vacation, with no work outs (since I’ve left the workout DVDs — without which I am lost — at home) or the delay of a book I had scheduled to release in December, I choose to relish the weeks I hit my 120 minute goal of cardio and nearly 410 copies sold of three titles.

This gentleness to myself is something I picked up along the way. Something else  I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t set any goals at all.

What about you? Have you had success with New Year’s resolutions or goal setting at another time of year?

Oh and for 2012? I’d like more of the same please… I’ve still got some pounds to lose and stories to tell.


The Revolution Within

It started on January 25 and hasn’t ended yet: the revolution that was 30 years in the making –the popular uprising of millions, young/old, male/female, in Egypt. What the peaceful protesters in Tahrir – Liberation – square want is the remove of the 82 year old dictator Hosni Mubarak. Implicit in his stepping down is the conclusion that his son, Gamal, will not be immediately ushered into office, or indeed ever hold an official position in the Egyptian government. It is the end of an era — of U.S. backed foreign interests in the Middle East, of a population so downtrodden many described them as “lazy”, of life long dictators siphoning national funds to finance their vacation homes abroad.

Living in Qatar brings me geographically closer to the eleven day old uprising than my home base on the East coast of the U.S. Working for a Middle Eastern company and with a largely Arab staff (three people from Egypt) brings it directly into daily conversation about the well being of loved ones, fact versus rumor, waiting and hoping, hoping and waiting that “he” (aka Mubarak) will leave.

Add to this the larger circle of friends and colleagues at surrounding universities with ties to Egypt, mix in the excellent 24 hour coverage by Al Jazeera English on TV, the radio, via Twitter, and bake in the heat of friends posting status updates live from Egypt and you have a region more or less glued to the breaking-news ticker.

Against the backdrop of this history-making bravery, people I know personally are writing in international newspapers like The Guardian about being teargassed while trying to protest peacefully. Against this milieu of people saying what they mean, standing for what they believe, and in general living while they are alive, my petty irritations and conflicts seem so small.

In the midst of  international tumult and the constant broadcasts of pent up desire for freedom, it’s not entirely surprisingly that this week, after a long self-enforced silence, I broke and said what I was really thinking.

What I actually said may not be that important ( this isn’t like saying don’t think about elephants) but rather the way that I came to say it.

I had enough with the lack of respectful practices, disorder and chaos a particular set of people kept bringing into my life.

Since July I thought of ways to get out of being tied to them: over maternity leave, I was hoping we’d grow apart.

And as we started sleeping regularly again, I realized nothing had changed – though I had a seismic shift in my own life with the introduction of our new baby. With said baby, an odd thing happened. Instead of making me the crazy person everyone warned me of, the baby actually brought stability. Suddenly I wasn’t checking email all day and most of the night; I was home for meals instead of wandering from event to event. His presence called me home>

But more than being around. He gave me a reason to live a better life. I wanted to be more for him – happy, present, living up to my ideals.

Yet the difficult group relationship continued, with them walking through personal boundaries and in general wrecking havoc in a way that kept me fighting to stay positive and upbeat.

A long Christmas vacation during which I contemplated how to end this increasingly negative interaction. Returning from a long holiday — was difficult but I was much stronger than I thought. I was able to minimize the ever present irritations better than before. Though things were not perfect, I convinced myself to make the best of it, holding the baby close, and real friends closer – the rest receded a bit.

In the background though, like piano keys stuck together, a discordant note kept plunking.

They weren’t going to change. And my ability to ignore them was wearing thin as their discord further intruded into my resolution to live a life worth living while alive.

Last weekend the world couldn’t look away, and I was no different, watching mouth agape as pro-government thugs storm into the square astride horses and even on the backs of camels, beating those they came across with whips. It brought back childhood memories of students standing in front of tanks in another T-named square, Tienanmen. Unlike the Chinese, the pro-Mubarak supporters, paid thugs or undercover police, didn’t have the honesty to wear their uniforms into the square but came in dressed like everyone else to dilute the reputation of the peaceful protesters.

Like the Egyptians over the years, I had grumbled and complained about this group crowding my happy days and happiness. But I wasn’t ready for action. I wanted change but I didn’t know if I could deal with the discomfort. Was it easier for things to stay as they were? Could I weather the storm that this major shift would bring in my life, the life of my family?

In the middle of this week I, alongside  the example of millions of Egyptians who had finally tired of dictatorship above all else, had enough. We were ready to pay the price, come what may of having our say and reaching for impossible dreams. That of self-sovereignty.

I finally said what I had to say. Without emotion or drama or shouting. In a clear, unshakable voice, I spoke what had been on my mind for several months.

As the flags wave in Tharir square, we don’t know what will happen. And without this toxic group in my life, I’m not sure what will come next.

But the sight of Christians protecting Muslims gives me hope that Egypt won’t be overrun by the islamists as everyone is saying. Rather, unlike Iran or Iraq, Egypt will rise out of this revolution strengthened and renewed for the first time in three decades. This may sound idealistic, and no one is saying it won’t be messy. If you haven’t already seen the images of protesters with blood soaked handkerchiefs, then you don’t know the lengths people are willing to go to have their say.

The people of Tunisia and Egypt and have inspired me and even youth all over the Middle East region.

We can all create a life that we want, rather than the script the West (read: those who thought they were in charge of us) write. We don’t have to be puppets of anyone. It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be the hardest thing we’ve done.

But we know what life under dictatorships is like. The promise of freedom is too compelling to turn away any longer. Live the best life you can. After all, you know what the other option is like.

In what areas do you need to have a personal revolution? And from what parts of current or past history can you garner strength?

2009: The Year with No New Clothes

We’re down to the last two weeks of the year that was 2009. This time last year I was convicted of the amount of clothing bursting open the doors of my closets and also my penchant for idle shopping. These two factors were heightened by life in Qatar where consumerism takes on new heights because much of the population is very affluent and rest are borrowing money ala middle class America to keep up appearances.

I gave up shopping in 2009 as a way to bring this impulse under control and you’ve been kind enough to read along with my (mis)adventures. At times I did better than others but in most instances I was confronted by the truth that set me out on this quest: there were many lovely things in my closet I wasn’t wearing through no fault of theirs. I simply couldn’t see many things because they were so crammed onto hangers or in drawers.

Two unexpected things happened from this self-imposed diet: I was much more careful with the items I chose when it was my birthday, anniversary, or other gift giving opportunity. I would identify the one thing I really wanted and when it was given to me, I treasured it like the new possession it was. The second was more inexplicable: trimming back on clothes raised an awareness of the multiples I had of other items such as the twelve bottles of perfume on my dresser that I determinedly worked my way through. I suddenly wanted to use up things to the best of my ability and it also made it much easier to let them go: whether a bottle of mousse or sandwich I couldn’t finish, I realized the value of stopping when you’ve had enough of something. And you’re that much less likely to order with your eyes rather than your appetite if you see how much is leftover on your plate.

The other slightly wonderful aftereffect is that slight tinge of guilt when I wander the racks this holiday season. More often than not, I’m saying no, rather than yes, to most items. The sales tags which used to scream to me $15!! now clearly explain why a certain item was overpriced to begin with.

I set out in 2009 wanting to be content with the things I had and maybe by default, my life. I certainly developed an appreciation for the tried and true items like handbags or shoes.

The natural question is what is next in 2010. Giving up something is a good way of shaping a habit.

I’ve been contemplating the idea of giving up my time in 2010 to do something that was a central part of my weekly activities before I moved to Qatar: communal worship. The fact that services are on Friday morning – the equivalent of Saturday in the Middle East- made it a weekend in reverse. Private worship is something I never gave up and to this day do a devotional in the morning in bed. But you miss an important aspect of spirituality if you only pray by yourself. There is a missing element when you forsake gathering with other believers. The question is: am I missing it enough to make it a year long commitment?

Are you contemplating resolutions? Or ridiculing the January ‘lose weight’ promise? Tips for successful year long campaigns are welcome.