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Ring in the New Year With Some New Commitments to YOU
I’ve never really been one for New Year’s resolutions. When I used to try to make them, I couldn’t stick to them. And I like to just live my life setting goals and achieving them, when I can, with no time limits or restrictions. But in the spirit of the coming New Year, I feel there are some things I can recommend from my repertoire of how I learn, live, and grow throughout the year.
Devote some time to a hobby. I am passionate about researching my British family history. When I get started on a genealogy project, for myself or for a friend, I can spend hours on end – entire days, even – sifting through census records and certificate indexes, piecing together families in my Reunion software. I also love geocaching, and it’s especially fun to go with friends or my son, and sometimes even my husband, who tolerates more than encourages my hobby. When I am engaged in these activities, I am in “the zone.” I’m having fun, I’m using my brain, and I feel as though I am achieving something. But if I don’t do them, there’s no accountability to anyone and I am not being evaluated. It’s really important to have something you can turn to that’s meaningful for you and gives you great satisfaction, but that can also be put aside for a while when the necessary activities of life demand your time.
DVR a favorite show or two and catch up when you can. Graduate school has really gotten in the way of my television enjoyment. I actually don’t watch much TV, but I do have several shows I really enjoy. (Currently, Glee, Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, Bones, and Medium top the list.) But I can’t watch them every week. In fact, I can’t watch them most weeks. So once in a while I will stay up late and catch up on two to three weeks of a show in one sitting. I get to fast forward through the commercials, and I feel as though I am enjoying something that is for ME. (Well, Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory are shows I watch with my husband, so that’s nice too.)
Choose something you’re passionate about and then pursue more knowledge in it (educationally or otherwise). I already talked about my two big hobbies. They’re both related to geography, and I use technology in both as well. I also teach computer technology classes and am an incurable geek. I have always wanted to earn my Masters degree, and a little over a year ago I got started on finally achieving this dream. It has been important to me for a long time, and now I am finally getting it done. Funny thing, though, is that a lot of what my fellow students in my cohort have been learning along the way are things I have taught myself on my computer over the past few years. I can’t ever stop learning. I really enjoy figuring things out and playing around with new gadgets and tools. It’s made completing the requirements for my degree a lot easier, and people sometimes come to me for help. I think it’s prevented a lot of stress for me that others have encountered as they’ve faced a steep learning curve.
Make sure you’re never too busy for the person (or people) most important in your life. Deadlines and work commitments come and go, but a few well-spent moments with your child, parent, best friend, or partner are priceless. There have been times when I have barely been able to pull myself away from the computer (between work stuff and school stuff) to spend time with my son. So in the middle of it all there have been times I have just declared my life a “no fly zone” for anything that got between us, packed up the car and my kid, and headed over the mountains to the coast. We found the best climbing tree ever, and we explored a coastal cave with a friend. We took pictures and hiked trails and held hands and ate pizza. My son is only getting one childhood, and I don’t want him looking back on it as a time when he can only picture me sitting at a computer. As the saying goes, no one ever lay in their death bed regretting that they never spent enough time at work.
Drive like you have a back seat full of eggs and your great grandmother as a passenger. So often when I am out driving, with somewhere to be and stuff to do, it’s tempting to get a bit aggressive and put my own needs above those of everyone else on the road. But I often have my son in the back seat, so I need to watch what I say and be careful what I do. And if I take a call on my cell phone, even on speaker, he commands me to “get off the phone!” Nothing like a kindergartener to keep you grounded. I have to keep reminding myself that every other person on the road has their destinations and goals and agendas too, and theirs could very well be more important than mine. I just imagine that everyone else has a woman in labor in the car and they’re heading to the emergency room.
Customize your ring tones. This has a partly self-serving purpose, but it’s mostly for fun. I have an iPhone and I need to make more custom ring tones for it. For most calls, I get the opening of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” which is apropos for my life pretty much always. When my Mom calls me, it’s Peer Gynt – Morning by Grieg. That’s also my alarm clock sound. Very sweet and peaceful. When my sister or any of her girls calls me, I get the “mama say mama sah mama coo sah” part of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.” And for my husband, it’s the very well-known Serenade #13 in G by Mozart. Each song has its own special meaning, and if I hear one when I am driving or in the bathroom, I know who it is before struggling to get my phone and answer it. The reason I need to make some more is because I have some other friends who deserve to be heralded in special ways too and I have run out of custom ring tones. Even if you don’t have the ability, time, or patience to make your own ring tones, you can buy them or just use different sounds that come with your phone.
Give yourself permission to say no once in a while. For my personality type, this can be very difficult. And I think most people genuinely want to help others and see people happy. But people usually don’t know just how over-committed you are, and it’s okay to tell them where you stand. As I have already confessed, I am rather geeky. I get a lot of tech support type questions at work and from some of my friends. It’s not in my job description, but I will help when I can. But that means some people come straight to me now instead of following proper channels. I have learned to say no. However, it usually sounds something like, “I can only help you next Thursday between 3:15 and 3:30 PM.” People usually don’t want to wait that long, so they figure it out themselves, give up, or find someone else. So if you don’t want to say “no,” find a way to say no that sounds like “yes, but” and sets specific parameters for what you can offer.
Give yourself permission to put things on the back burner. I talked about my hobbies and I talked about TV. Sometimes, the things we WANT to do have to take a back seat to the things we HAVE to do, at least for a little while. But I have also seen some really neat things I would like to play with and learn . . . only to decide I have to pass them by until my life is less hectic. Google SketchUp is one of these things. I know how easily I lose track of time and the world around me when I am really engaged in a family history project. 3-D drawing would probably suck me in and get its claws in to an extent that would really interfere with my productivity.
Don’t buy things you don’t need, especially if you don’t have the cash to cover it. I really want a Wii, with the Fit and Music accessories. Like REALLY. But when would I play with it? How can I justify spending money on something I really shouldn’t be using as a distraction right now? Instead, I have decided to reward myself for completing my Masters degree by getting the Wii then. It gives me time to put aside some money for it, and by then it will have evolved and/or dropped in price and be a better product anyway. At least that’s what I tell myself. Develop some self-talk that enables you to have peace with your own cravings that you have to defer.
Get a pair of comfortable shoes that you love and can wear anywhere. You may want to buy an extra pair. Oh my gosh! I have to tell you! (You’re my new audience, since all my friends and co-workers have already heard this story.) I had a big fat dividend check from REI, plus a coupon for 20% off one item, so I went shoe shopping. I’m not very active, actually, so I read up on what some of my really active hiker friends like. I went in looking for KEEN brand shoes. Found a really good pair for $99, minus 20% with the coupon, and with the dividend I was able to get the shoes plus a few other things.
Look for the silver lining in every situation. Last year, as summer approached, I learned that the full-time job I work each summer would only be part-time for 2009. I then signed on to teach a summer school class where I work to help supplement my income. I came up with a fun idea for a class, but enrollment has been down across the board, and not enough people signed up to make the class viable. Turns out I was in for the toughest semester yet in graduate school and I really needed the extra time to devote to my projects for my two classes. And then, I found out one day, when I visited work and checked my mailbox, that I was entitled to partial pay for summer school because I had signed a contract. So I had a check waiting for me that ended up being just in time to pay for my Fall 2009 grad school tuition. So what started out as a cause for stress turned into serendipity. In my faith belief system, we call that “a God thing.” Whatever your beliefs, it’s just like in the Sound of Music where Mother Superior says, “Sometimes when God closes a door, He opens a window somewhere else.” When something bad happens, take stock of the situation, re-adjust based on your new circumstances, and keep moving forward.
That’s how I plan to tackle the New Year. Are you with me?
Image is from Flickr user *Sally M*, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.
Diane Main is a Google Certified teacher who teaches technology integration in San Jose, California.