On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day each year, I sit down with my journal and look back over the ending year at what went well and what didn’t. Then I decide what I want more and less of in the coming year and plan ways to make those goals happen. The year seldom goes the way I’ve envisioned, of course, because of all the unexpected things that will come up, but at least I have a plan. It’s easier to adjust an existing plan than to keep coming up with one from scratch all year long. This is a tradition I’ve come to rely on at each year’s end.
Only, at the end of 2013, I was laid flat with pneumonia—and on top of that, I couldn’t read or write because the illness or one of the meds I took for it made my eyes and head hurt so. Consequently, the year ended and 2014 came in without my usual stock-taking and goal-setting. I’m only getting to it now in mid-January as I dig out from under the piled-up correspondence and backlog of work that had to be put off while I was sick.
I’m not sure that mid-January isn’t a better time to do the yearly inventory and plan anyway. It seems to me that I’m taking a more realistic look at things than I usually do in the optimistic, holiday glow. One of the main things I’ve fixated on is the need to revamp the systems in my life. You know, those sets of habits and schedules that keep daily life functioning and keep us on track with our deadlines, obligations, and ambitions.
I hadn’t really revamped mine after I began publishing novels. I adjusted to cover the demands of the publisher to promote my books and the need to travel more on book tour—as a poet, those had not been a necessity. I adjusted to meet the frequent deadlines, another thing that had not been a part of my life as a poet. No one cares when your next book of poetry is done. You write your first and try to get it published for years. Then you write the next, and even if one or more publishers are waiting for it, they aren’t expecting it at any time in the near future. I had deadlines with the grant cycles, of course—poets live off grants much more than off book sales, which are usually miniscule—but my life in the past few years had essentially been transformed into something wild and alien to the life I lived before my first novel won a national novel competition. And every year, I tried to make it work better without making fundamental changes to the way I was doing things in my daily life—because that’s hard and takes much time and thought. That basically meant adding more and more work expectations and watching everything else in my life fall away.
While ill, I had time to really think about all of this, albeit in a dazed, doped-up, miserable way. And I came to the conclusion that it’s not working well for me. Oh, the novel-writing/publishing part is going well because that’s where all of my energy and time have been focused, but most of the things I did to provide stress relief, enrich my family and home, and basically create a happy, healthy life had fallen by the boards from lack of time.
This is not the first time I’ve come to this kind of discovery. I’m a quadruple Scorpio, and my base tendency is to go into something with all my energy and focus. I’m usually left picking up pieces and making major adjustments later. Passion is the great theme of my life, and balance is the great lesson I have to learn—again and again in new ways.
In 2014, my aim is to focus more on balance in my life. I intend to keep the energy and forward progress in my career as a mystery writer, but I want to restructure the basic systems of my life to make it possible for me to include more non-work time with my husband and family—Ben’s seen plenty of me only because he’s spent all his vacation time with me on tour—more important health activities—exercise has been one of the important things to fall by the wayside and I must find a way to eat healthier when on tour—and more relaxation and de-stressing activities. (Microsoft Word’s autocorrect kept trying to change “de-stressing” to “distressing.” What is it trying to tell me?)
That means I have to look at the habits, schedule, and priorities of my life in a different way and change them to keep what’s working well and change what isn’t. It also means that all year I’ll be making adjustments as I see that this or that part of the system isn’t working as well as I thought it would. That’s the way such transformation happens. I’ve been through this kind of thing before.
This is not a New Year’s resolution. I’m looking at systems rather than specific goals—for example, how to set up a system to eat healthy and exercise while traveling rather than a goal of losing so many pounds. I’m looking at how to make it easier to do the things I want to do this year for a healthier, more balanced life.
Now that we’re in the middle of the first month of the new year, how are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions, goals, or plans? Are you on track? Have you decided to revamp them? to pitch them? And is anyone else out there always having to relearn this “balance” lesson?