I'm sitting down to reflect on my year and, I have to admit something to you, dear reader. In 2020, a year when we faced a deadly pandemic, murdering police and calls for social justice, an atypical election cycle with attacks on our democracy, and business-not-as-usual, I, a self-proclaimed over-achiever, took on too much. In summary, last year I committed and completed the following: writing a daily poem and posting it here, my first year of classes towards my MBA, practicing and teaching yoga (in-person at first, online you-know-when), being an engaged contributor at my full-time day job, meeting my consulting clients' needs, and being a loving spouse who shares the workload.
Here's my caveat: even knowing it was a tough year, and hindsight being 20/20 and all, I still don't think I would go back and take anything off my plate. Wild. Right? So, with that personal clarity, I wanted to share with you the top insights I gained from taking on too much in 2020.
Image credit: Franz Bachinger on pixabay
• I control what occupies my mind
Despite the overwhelming amount of options my attention span is inundated with, in the end, I get to decide what information, entertainment, distraction, etc., consumes my mind. If you've been following me for a while, you probably saw that I paused my own reading of books for leisure for the first half of 2020. My intent was to pause for the entire year and over summer break, my will weakened and after that, I reasoned with myself that I could balance the urge to read with the rest of my commitments, which I did - sort of. I also stopped thinking as much though. I let the books become what I wanted them to be, a distraction, and it was fine because it was what I needed. At the same time, I haven't read any leisure books so far in 2021 and already I see my thought patterns changing. I also notice a correlation between novel reading and social media. When one goes up, the other goes down. I'm most heartened by my awareness. Because I am aware of what wants to pull my attention and what happens when I follow those different paths, I can better decide how I want my mind occupied.
• Having purposeful downtime is not wasteful.
I could have called this one 4b because it's definitely related. Since I control how my mind is occupied, I'm also in charge of whether I'm being "recharged" or just "draining the battery". If I choose downtime that makes me go braindead or forget that there is life "out there", then I'm not actually refueling. Choosing downtime that helped me feel refreshed and energized, such as a walk and a phone call, or making art, made a big difference on whether I had the energy and enthusiasm for school after work. Sitting down and reading a book made me want to stay sitting and stay reading. The new year gave me a good chance to "reset" and I'm finding my way forward on this one again.
• It's humane to be human
Being human must come first or I can't be anything. When I pay attention to my physiological needs and responses I am better able to concentrate on the tasks I decide to get done. This insight was taught at the school of hard knocks of 40 hour work-from-home workweek followed by evening school work. I could no longer rely on my walk to and from the bus station to stretch my legs. I could not count on having every weeknight for hikes or biking. I needed to be intentional in how I moved, sat, and slept. Yoga was a big help and when I practice more than 3 times a week, I can get away with more inactivity during the work day. The fewer the yoga sessions though, I better be moving on my 15s and lunch! Setting a routine helped and getting outside. I feel so much more human when I can feel the wind on my face at least once a day.
Thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me this long on my 2020 reflection, for tolerating my mildly obnoxious humble-brag as I worked through those insights. I hope they help you and me in navigating what is coming our way for 2021.
I spent a large part of my day sitting at the side of an IT person as they "fixed" some issues with my technology. I was thankfully able to work on things at the same time. I thought about how "fixers" are so important. People willing to pull up their sleeves and stick on an issue until it's solved. In my work today, that means casting magic spells in software and applications, on the farm, it was spinning a wrench or wielding a hammer. So here's my poem today, a farm-kid poem, about fixing things around the farm with my dad.
To negate all those reasons we come up with for self-loathing, here are some reasons to love yourself.
I started reading I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb for my digital bookclub and wow, healthy dose of perspective there. And yet, her tale, her plight, is so easy to follow, so easy for me to call forth the feelings I expect she felt. While I can never know exactly what it was like, her words help me relate. And, I think, that's a gift of humanity, to be able to relate in many different walks of life, if we make the time.
It's a rainy Sunday here in Minnesota and my thoughts are drifting to the past again. Today I'm thinking about the numerous hours spent as a kid riding "shotgun" on the tractor wheel hub with my Dad while he drove the Allis Chalmers about doing chores.
Tonight's poem is another personal walk down memory lane. When I set out on my poetry challenge 2018 I didn't really know what themes would reveal themselves and looking back on the 59 poems of the start of the year I'd say nostalgia is featuring heavily. I know these poems are probably not as interesting to you reading them as they are to me writing them, however, even if all their good for is inspiring you to reflect on your own fond memories - and maybe pen your own - then I'm satisfied.
Today is my birthday and I've been humbled and awed by the outpouring of love and well-wishes that have come my way from my family and friends. I know I've said this before and I'll say it again. I really do live a charmed life.
Bonus poem alert!! Evidently I have plenty to say about toenails, or really, the idea that we all have physical bodies that are going to do their own thing, which was today's theme. I was going to settle with just one but decided that each has it's own charm. Without further ado.
A nod to Brene Brown for the title to my poem. I think her interpretation of the term "wholehearted" is exactly how I felt when reflecting for today's poem. I have found that when I am living authentically, when I am saying yes only to those things that ring true for who I am and want to be, then I have a life of joy and ease.
One of my favorite mantras in yoga is Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu which means "may all beings everywhere be happy and free." My yoga instructor actually said this mantra in tonight's class - after I had written my poem - and it echoes my day's theme. I wish joy and ease for all beings everywhere and so, I'd like to share my poem, my "recipe," for wholehearted living.
We've had a glorious snowfall come through here in Minnesota. I really love winter, snow especially, so I'm happy to see the drifts piling high. I worked from home and didn't get many steps being camped at my desk all day and was ready to get moving after work. For our evening exercise, my husband and I decided to get outside with our shovel and help neighbors who'd gotten stuck in our un-plowed roads. We had plenty to do!
Drivers were getting stuck everywhere and we weren't the only people with the same idea. There were several neighbors with shovels and we gathered up and put our force to one vehicle at a time to clear the roads for the plows to come. It was FUN! I am not certain if other communities do the same thing when they face adverse conditions but I was proud that I belong somewhere that we work together to help each other. I do know folks in my state are typically called "Minnesota Nice", and well, I'm pretty sure that's what I was seeing today and I loved it.
I was inspired by the balmy 40 degree Fahrenheit weather, and motivated by a colleague, to walk outside for my jaunt to the bus after work today. My outdoor stroll was too sensory not to write into poem form.
I was inspired to write today's poem by a topsy turvy Friday. Typically, my Fridays are a heady combination of fun and productivity. I love wearing jeans and comfortable-yet-professional tops to work on my "day-before-Saturday" and am, in general, in a good mood. Today's Friday, however, really tried to get me and I'm happy to report, I persevered!
Soup in the lap, bloody nose in public, and a bona fide work kerfuffle had me fretting. So, I did my usual mode of processing and talked it out. I got some wonderful support and sympathy which called to mind wise words my father says when little things cause frustration. Wise words that encourage perspective on how really good I have it and the realization that all it takes to overcome is some elbow grease.
I titled it "Infrequent Friday" because it's rare to have a Friday that challenges me and that's part of the perspective too. I really do live a charmed life.
A few weeks ago I had an unsettling incident which was the theme for my poem today. As I was waiting for my bus one day before the holiday, I was punched in the head by a stranger who was obviously suffering from mental health issues. It was definitely a shock. At first I agonized over what it was about me that attracted his violence. I kept going back to that thought, until I realized that this wasn't about me and that I can't change how I go about in the world because of it, other than to raise my awareness. Coincidentally, the book I'm currently reading is the incredible disaster analysis book, Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley, which helped me frame the assault by stranger in a different light. She talks about people experiencing disassociation or freezing when they should be taking action as a natural response to fear, and that's what I felt I did. Froze.
She also talks about what can be done to overcome that paralysis and how to prepare for next time. Which is exactly what I'm doing, gleaning all the lessons from my experience and other great resources so that in the next situation I'm ready and aware.
Without further ado:
"Keep it simple, stupid!"
I still remember the encouraging voice of my elementary school teacher who repeated that phrase if ever we lost sight of our project goals or tried to beleaguer a topic in an essay. Elementary school teachers sometimes send us on with the most remarkable nuggets of wisdom that come resounding in our minds at the most opportune moments.
This certainly was the case for me recently when I eagerly sat down at my kitchen table with my 2016 goal board ready to complete my much-anticipated "introspection and reflection" prior to goal setting for the new year. My grin slowly drooped into a frown as I surveyed my annual progress. I had set 19 goals. I had set 19 goals? Why had I set 19 goals? I began to tally my achievement and realized I had created a goal board that would have made me feel unsuccessful no matter the outcome. I had set 19 goals. 19. for one year. I'm only one person.
After I tallied the results, I found that I had achieved 40% of my original 19 and it didn't feel good. In an attempt to cheer myself, I then reviewed how I did "categorically", meaning, if I had set three measurable goals that all related to health and I achieved one - then I "sort of" met my health goal. When I broke it down into categories I had met a goal in each category, but it felt empty, and I knew why. I had failed to KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID.
But all is not lost!
I resolutely turned to my 2017 goal board, and, brow furrowed with determination, I began creating a more manageable vision of what success would look like in the year to come. As I sat, I glanced absentmindedly at my Instagram feed and saw that, thehappyacademy, an instagram account I follow, had posted an incredible quote that echoed the lesson learned from 2016's goal setting gaffe. It read, "the key to fulfillment isn't doing more, it's doing what matters." I excitedly penned it to the top of my page as inspiration for my task. I then resolved to only select 4 goals, just 4, for my 2017. I put them into categories again (I can't help it, I like categories), and selected my measurable goals for Professional Development, Creating, Financial, and Health. I also paid particular attention to ensuring my goals were "SMART", if you've heard the term. The acronym stands for smart, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely (with attainable being the element I believe I missed the previous year).
I'm smiling as I write this because I think I'm on the right track. I've now discussed my goals with three people and feel good about accountability. I've taken my performance from last year, analyzed my trends, found an area of improvement and am working towards that continual progress. I'm now looking forward to December 2017 (wow, doesn't that seem a long way off) to share with you the outcome of my annual goals "introspection and reflection".
Feel free to check in on my progress! And, happy goal setting!
Let me begin by saying this list is not all-inclusive. I'm awed by the diversity of human ingenuity and how we can spend our days, and what I'm sharing here is a list of people in career fields who help the world go round. I know I've left many incredible jobs off my list so please, leave a comment on any I missed.
1. Airplane pilots
Oooo the rush! I love the rumble of the engines as we taxi to the runway, the subtle bouncing and jostling in our seats as our tires leave the tarmac and the surge of power and speed as the massive testament to modern engineering takes flight. I have huge respect and admiration for the folks who fundamentally allow our economies to be global by piloting jets around the world.
Earlier this year I had quite a few work flights back to back and felt awash with gratitude at the smooth take offs, the calm assurance as the plane and our stomachs lifted during turbulence, and the bevy of knowledge I can imagine it takes to operate a JUMBO. Furthermore, I love travel and would have much more limited options if it weren't for these brave and competent folks.
2. IT support/help-desk
Oh, the agony of the blue-screen-of-death. Nothing is worse than a bustling work day being brought to a halt by a technological issue. I see desktop support technicians as the glue keeping it all together. I also feel they are some of the most under-rated individuals and departments in most companies. Oh, you needed your sound and visual equipment to function flawlessly during that presentation to 300 employees and your IT folks set it up with nary a beep and fixed any bumps in less than thirty seconds with a nod and a shrug? Yes, I'm sure they did - because IT people are awesome and we should thank them and give their departments enough funding to keep the infrastructure running smoothly. No dollar would be wasted on better tech. Huge thank you to any help-desk support technician who has had to crawl underneath a desk to plug in your user's computer to "fix" it.
3. Application Programmers
Some of my most favorite people I've never met are application developers, seriously. I've gotten so much time back from people who saw a problem and decided to write some code to fix it. Case in point, Onenote. It's magical. I can have a brilliant idea and want to come back to it later, so what do I do? I just grab my phone or laptop, open the app, jot it in - and voila - it's saved for another day.
Need to buy a birthday gift? BAM! - amazon app. Need to check your calendar on the go? BAM! - calendar app. It definitely seems more exciting with the "BAM!"s but you get my point. Thank you app programmers.
I love baristas because a barista worth their salt can turn a bad day into a good one, make a good day great, and, for just the little while you hover at their counter - make it seem like you are a special person in this big, big world. My local barista, Natalie, is a wonder. Her welcoming smile is like a beacon to each bedraggled morning supplicant. On harried work days when an afternoon stimulant is required she is there to bolster with a knowing grin and affable small talk. To all the "Natalie"s out there - thank you.
5. Local Government
City councils, county government, emergency response folks, librarians - the individuals who hold these roles impact how we live every single day. I live in a city with incredible public servants. They embody equality, promote inclusive community, and make efforts to give a voice to every citizen. My local museums are awesome because of them. The county bike trails are amazing. The city's economy is thriving and our town feels safe.To all those who serve local government, thank you!
Creative enthusiast, gregarious naturalist, opinionated humanist, MBA, RYT 200. Amy Kay Czechowicz completed a poetry challenge for 2018, 2020, and half of 2023 by posting an original poem daily to this blog. She teaches yin and vinyasa weekly at Green Lotus Yoga in Lakeville, Minnesota and chimes in here from time to time with musings and rhymes.