habits · mindfulness · motivation · new year's resolutions

I’m Struggling, Can You Help Me Figure Out My Challenge for 2021?

Welcome 2021. We begin the year of how-the-fuck-do-I-make-a-plan? And I’m not even talking about grand plans; regular old-style plans and small wishes and intentions feel hard. For me, it’s six days into the year and I’m still trying to figure out both my Word of the Year and my challenge. I usually have both well in hand by now. This year I struggled mightily to find a word. As for the challenge, I’d love your help.

A bit of background. My cousin introduced me to this Word of the Year practice more than a decade ago. As I wrote last year in my January post, “The idea is to distill your hopes, dreams, ambitions and challenges for the coming year into a word. What’s the one word you choose today to describe the year you are aiming for? A word that aspires to something greater, but doesn’t set you up for disappointment. A personal word that captures both who you are already (and you are just dandy the way you are!) and how you can refine that existing excellence. A word that will inspire you for the 364 days to come.”  

Past WOTY’s have included presence, grace, renewal and attention. Last year’s WOTY was becoming. I was feeling open, excited and daunted by the challenges ahead. I almost cried when I read how optimistic I was feeling at the beginning of the year. Even though, I also mentioned that I didn’t know what my big project was for the year. I was sure the project would emerge and be so energizing.

Oof.

In the end, there was no big project last year. There were lots of medium and small projects—1) figuring out how to fluidly adjust to the virtual world, when my collaborator, Julia, and I had to cancel the very first weekend retreat we had planned for our new venture, ImagiNation Playshops (embodied emotional intelligence workshops, facilitations and coaching); 2) almost moving to Montreal from New York City and then having that whole plan dissolve at the 11th hour (with significant financial loss); and 3) just plain figuring out how to navigate pandemic normal and the constant low level (sometimes high level) fear that I (or worse, someone I loved) would get sick and …

Plus, there was my sprained ankle in September, followed by agonizing shoulder pain that came out of nowhere, and which I now think may have been generated by all the internal stress and angst of the decision to move to Montreal. A move I’d longed for in my dreams, but which turned out to be way less straightforward logistically and emotionally than I’d expected. As if the pandemic and the US election weren’t enough turbulence and stress, I’d added tearing my life up by the roots. My shoulder is healing. Slowly. I can put on my coat now without feeling like my whole shoulder has dislocated and needing to sit down and recover. And, I am still wondering what my big project will be this year; except now it’s next year and that was supposed to be last year’s wondering.

Aargh.

Wise old elephant. This image came up on Unsplash when I searched “tears” and it just struck me as appropriate, even though I don’t think the elephant is crying. Captured my feeling of pleading with the universe for an answer. Probably the elephant is feeling joyful and I (and the photographer) are totally projecting. Photo by Amy Elting on Unsplash

So, what’s the WOTY that captures this state of ongoing not-quite-sureness? Here’s last year’s list of possible words: “[I]lluminate … grow … strong … steady … being …  belonging … becoming … run … light … recharge … strong … vitality … engaged … present … discerning … happy … incandescent … yes … flow … curiosity … change … renewal … reliability … radiance … spontaneity … pleasure … simplicity

I like the potential these words embrace. This is a year about expanding and making space. I want to get to the end of 2020 and feel like I’ve tapped into new personal resources.”

Oh man. Again, I read those bright, shiny words and I want to cry (okay, I did). I had such plenitude in my spirit. Except this … I do feel like I tapped into new personal resources last year. We all discovered reserves of strength and resilience we didn’t know we had. There is one word that jumps out at me off that old list: recharge. But that’s not my word for this year. The word feels premature. After reading Nicole’s post on January 4, a word started to percolate that felt right: enough.  The “I am” before that word is implicit. I want to practice feeling enough-ness, practice being grateful for the enough-itude in my life and practice relaxing into the gentle comfort of enough. At the same time, I want to use enough as an engine to get motivated around a writing project that’s been percolating in my brain for the last many years, to stay energized around the workshops we are creating at ImagiNation Playshops and to be curious and open to what other projects arise.

Yesterday I was playing with all the permutations that capture the fullness and nuance of my WOTY:

  • Enough-ness
  • Enough-itude
  • Enough-ing
  • Enough-ed
  • Enough-ment
  • Enough-y
  • Enough-es
  • Enough-ly
  • Enough-ful
  • Enough-ist

Yay. I have my word.

How about the challenge mentioned in this post’s title? Challenges are my version of resolutions (but not): “There’s something about resolutions that always feels like someone/something is chastising me to do better. And I was never very good at sticking to resolutions. But I have developed a habit of setting myself a challenge for the year. And, weirdly, I generally manage to stick to my challenges. Could just be that the word is more motivating. My challenges are usually ways of being that I want to try on for size, with no commitment to extend after the year is over.”

A friend calls these challenges my annual devotional tasks. Last year’s challenge was not buying anything from amazon (except books/tv/film). That proved to be more pointed this year, but I stuck to it. Though, full disclosure, there were a few household items that my partner bought on amazon, that I used. Like the hot plate, because the gas is shut off in our New York apartment, so our stove top is out of commission. I may keep up that new habit, my ongoing protest against the consolidation of wealth into fewer and fewer companies (and therefore individuals’ pockets). My other challenge was not to shop for clothes/shoes in the alternate (even) months. The no-shopping task was a bust—not because I didn’t stick to it. I did. But because it brought me no peace of mind. In 2018, I challenged myself not to shop for clothes/shoes for a whole year. I felt clean and clear by the end of the year (actually by about 3 months in.). While I never intended to extend the challenge beyond the year, I hoped it would make me more mindful. It did, but then that mindfulness started to fade. I thought I’d re-up my attention with the alternate month idea. Nope. Instead, I spent the last week of every even month obsessing about what I might buy during the upcoming odd month. I can’t tell how much of that was also COVID driven. In the midst of a general sense of deprivation, the added denial of not allowing myself to buy something fresh to wear (at home) felt like an extra layer of no-you-can’t. Yes, I recognize that I’m privileged to even be able to contemplate buying something new. So, there’s that, too.

This year … what? I’m struggling to come up with something. After the 2020 we all had, I’m not inclined toward a you-can’t-do-this-thing challenge. And I’d like my challenge to have a generative or contributive element. I’ve thought about creative/artistic writing projects. Write a new poem a month and offer it up to friends in written and audio form? But then, as much as I think other people’s artistic efforts are generative and contribute to our collective fullness, the idea that my own work might do the same appalls me. Egotistical. Delusional.  I know. I only just chose my WOTY and already there’s not a whole lot of enough-ful-ness in my feelings around my work. Sigh.

I wanted to write something cheery and intentional, to inspire myself and you. Instead, I wrote this, a mess of confusion and unknowns.  

Where are you at? I’m in need of your wisdom and insight.