I really don’t like the idea of New Year’s resolutions. It’s not because most of the popular ones are superficial or shallow (as someone who wrote a weight-loss book, I know just how narrow my space to talk is by saying that.) It’s not even because they are cliche and nebulous (Not everything needs to be a “SMART” goal, but you can’t expect much from a resolution of “play less video games and get outside more.”)
What bothers me about them is that people set these big, noble but vague goals for themselves, then get down on themselves when they fall off the wagon- as they inevitably will. It turns the elements of effective goal-setting on their heads and, as someone wiser than me said, “people overestimate how much they can do in a day and underestimate how much they can do in a year.”
Regardless of your personal commitment, keeping goals “SMART”- Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timed- rewarding yourself for achieving them, and working toward them slowly will add up to success more (and disappoint you less) often than trying to “sprint up the mountain” on Day 1.
Before you start writing those goals down though (and yeah, put them in writing,) you need to ask yourself two questions and answer them as honestly as you can:
Who are you? What do you want?
The pandemic has put plenty of people in difficult positions- which are both the best and worst times to ask ourselves these questions.
Whether it’s chefs finding themselves suddenly without work and looking at where to go next, or people figuring out how to do their jobs from home and wondering (away from office pressures and prying ears) whether the career they have is really the one they wanted, being stuck at home with the common distractions going stale has given people an immense and terrifying gift: quiet time with their thoughts.
Lately I’ve been catching myself craving quiet moments. I’ve even been late for work because, in the early mornings, I’ll just lie in bed. The bedroom will be dark and warm, and I’ll shut my eyes, but I won’t sleep. I don’t think about anything other than “this is nice” and “I really need to get in the shower.” Instead, I’ll just lie half-aware and breathe in the silence.
In fairness, it could just be very comfortable procrastinating. My attitude toward my day job has shifted, writing is opening up new paths to consider, and the pandemic has cast a heavy memento mori pall over the days. In those quiet moments in the dark (or walking aimlessly through the park on sunny days and cold nights,) I can see myself examining crossroads and staring at signposts, wondering “Where do I go from here?”
“I’m done doing things that don’t make me happy, but I’ve been doing them for so long I wonder what does make me happy?
I could focus on my writing full time and become a proper food writer. Or I could dedicate myself to books and make a living out of selling them, keeping myself in the industry just enough that I don’t lose touch. I might not even be “done” in the kitchen and should reconsider opening a pie truck.
Or I could focus on teaching- I could become a chef educator at a school, teach privately, or make videos through the blog and get a business going for myself.
Or I could just get out of bed, get ready for work, and stop freaking myself out.”
If this kind of choice paralysis sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone- and I’m sorry. None of us are getting out of it without some serious introspection, a firm reality check, and answering those two all-important questions.
Who Are You? What Do You Want?
In an exercise that philosopher Alan Watts would do with college students, he would ask them what they would want to do if money was no object:
When we finally got down to something, which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him, you do that and forget the money, because, if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way. And after all, if you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is, you can eventually turn it – you could eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way to become a master of something, to be really with it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. So don’t worry too much.– Alan Watts
Maybe both questions can then be merged into one- “What makes you happy?” In all likelihood, what makes you happiest is something that exists in the world already, that you probably already do, and would just like to be able to do more. For some reason, though, we have the most incredible trouble answering that question honestly.
Why? There’s no one grading us. We might not even tell another soul about it- no judgement involved. Why, then, do we stagger and trip over what makes us happy? Of course, there is the pitfalls of doing what you love for money. There’s a lot of unfun parts that you can’t skip over, and a lot of nitty-gritty bullshit that you’ll need to sort out, but ideally whatever it is you want to do will be worth it.
You are stuck in your home. There is a pandemic ravaging the world. The rules have changed, the gatekeepers are busy, and- in the worst circumstances- you have nothing to lose. Why hesitate?
We hestitate we aren’t used to thinking of ourselves like this. We are so used to “following the plan,” “paying the bills,” and basically running around trying to survive in society that many of us stop thinking about what will make us thrive.
So I’m going to link something here that I want to do to. It’s a personal questionnaire that I’ve mentioned before as I learned about it through Chris Guillebeau, who has himself written on this topic in his book “Born For This.“
A Simple System to Achieve your Goals
It’s a long questionnaire that asks some serious questions, and it will take you a while (as it should.) It’s something that I try to do every year around New Years or my birthday (with varying degrees of completion,) but the important thing is that it starts with being honest about who you are and what you want. In fact, it starts off with building then dismantling your dream life and narrowing down what you want to do.
Since there’s going to be a LOT of crossing out and highlighting involved, I strongly recommend using a pen and paper notebook rather than typing it all.
Where Do You Go From Here?
Freedom is narrowing your own choices rather than having them narrowed for you. It may not have been your call to lose your job in the pandemic, or to be stuck at home with more quiet and solitude than you thought you’d ever want. It’s here, though. It is– and you’ll be doing yourself a favor by thinking about how to deal with what is rather than what you wish had been.
What’s past is decided… but what comes next is up to you.