In my last post of 2013 I talked about how setting a high-level theme for the year has worked better for me than detailed goals or the traditional New Year’s resolutions.
Several years ago I stopped making New Year’s resolutions. I found I rarely kept them, mostly because the goals I set weren’t in alignment with my true will. I resolved to accomplish things I thought I was supposed to want, and I set goals with little regard to my desire (and in some cases, my ability) to actually do the things that would be required to achieve them.
Instead, each year I select a theme – a high-level goal I want to keep in the front of my mind all year. My theme is a destination I want to make progress towards, not detailed travel instructions on how to get there.
This approach has been helpful because it’s kept me open. Too often we think success has to look like this or that, when in reality success can take many forms. A theme for the year was easy to remember, meaning everyday decisions were made with that theme in mind. The theme reminded me of what I really want to do, making it easier to walk away from distractions that look enticing but aren’t part of my true will.
This approach wouldn’t have worked ten years ago – I hadn’t built a stable spiritual foundation. For 2013 I didn’t need to set a goal for daily prayers – they’re already part of my life. I didn’t need to set a goal to exercise regularly – it’s a part of my life. I didn’t need to set a goal to write regularly – it’s a part of my life.
There are other spiritual practices that aren’t a regular part of my life and could benefit from goal setting, but these were enough of a foundation to allow me to make good progress with my yearly theme during each of the past three years.
But just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, when I think I’ve found The Way, I start getting the message that it’s time to do things differently.
This year needs goals.
The need for goals became apparent when I was doing my formal review of 2013. In several areas, I wrote something that can be boiled down to “this is OK for now but it’s going to need further attention before too long.” Perhaps it would be more accurate to say “what I’m doing now won’t support the life I’m building.”
Through a combination of good fortune, hard work, careful decisions, and the grace of the gods, I have a life I’m happy with. The foundations I’ve built – spiritual, physical, financial, relational, academic – support this life. But I haven’t arrived. I haven’t reached the mountaintop. I haven’t learned and done all I want to do and be. I’m not burned out. Fill in your own cliché for smug satisfaction or exhausted resignation – or for blissful contentment. I’m not there. I’m called to learn and be and do more.
The most I’ve ever been allowed to see is the next steps down the path. Want to know what’s on the other side of that hill? Climb it. Don’t want to commit to the climb without knowing whether there’s treasure or a bare field or a nest of dragons on the other side? Hope you like this valley – you’re going to be here a while.
So I climbed the hill. And now I can see what’s coming next. And I like it. But my current foundation won’t support what’s coming. If I want to get to where I want to be I’m going to have to build a stronger foundation.
This year needs goals. This year needs magic.
Thorn Coyle’s last book Make Magic of Your Life details a magical process based on the Four Powers of the Sphinx, sometimes called the Witch’s Pyramid: to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to Keep Silence. As I discussed in the book review, this process isn’t flashy or mystical or mysterious. It just works.
I know who I am, what I am, and most relevantly for this, where I am. I know what I want to be and do, what I’m called to do and be. I have the desire.
What I’m called to be is important enough for me to be persistent in doing what is necessary.
And so I dare to risk hardship and to risk failure in order to manifest the changes I need.
The silence leaves room for mystery, for things to follow the theme in ways I’m not expecting even though I’ve got a pretty clear picture of where I’m going.
There is a time and place for proclaiming your desires to the world, but this isn’t one of them. Suffice it to say I have four goals for 2014. Three of them consist of putting my house in order and one consists of making significant and tangible progress toward a life-long dream.
My no-goals approach has been so successful I now need to set goals. If that sounds like some kind of koan of self-helpism it’s really not. It comes from being committed to a vision and responsive to a call. It comes from keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t. It comes from not letting the perfect get in the way of the good, but also from not letting the good get in the way of the better. It comes from a commitment to excellence, a commitment to learning and growing so I can be of greater service.
My divination skills are so-so – I can’t tell if 2014 is going to be an easy year or a hard year, a pleasant year or a painful year. But I’m committed to making it a good year.