for when goal-setting starts to feel like striving

This past Tuesday, after a week of family, traveling and not much down time, the familiar end-of-the-year panic hit me.

Taylor and I are hanging out at home, with nothing really on our to-do lists, and all of sudden that becomes a real problem in my mind.  My mind starts yelling at me, “It’s the last week of the year! You’re not doing anything! You’re so unprepared for 2016!”

And just like that to-do lists and made-up tasks threaten to take over what was supposed to be my week of rest at home. Anyone feel me on this?

In a moment of clarity and grace, I recognize my soul isn’t in a great place and I hit the stop button. I get alone, pull out my journal, and start writing. As I’m processing my thoughts and this anxiety that’s crept into my heart, I realize this isn’t a one-off occurrence. Thinking back over the past few years, I can recall this specific anxiety making an appearance right around the end of the year. Its voice is familiar, and sounds a lot like, “You’re not enough” and “You’re wasting your life because you don’t have a plan” and “Look at how much everyone else is accomplishing. What have you done?”

In the past, I’ve responded to this voice in different ways. Some years, I give in completely and desperately fill my schedule with trivial tasks and to-dos that make me feel busy (read: important, worthy). I went back to work feeling exhausted. Last year, with all the best intentions, I responded to this voice by setting goals in different areas of my life, complete with specific action items for each goal. That lasted until about March, and then life got a little crazy and that process went on the back burner.

When the end-of-year-anxiety hit this year, the temptation to fill up my last few days of rest with meaningless tasks was in full force. The temptation to sit down and write out a list of goals, to make a plan for 2016 was strong. But neither one of those sat well with my soul. It felt too much like striving, like I wanted to feel like I was in control of my life, and have a handle on what’s coming next. In reality, as I look ahead to the next 12 months, I have no idea what they will look like. Truly. And I don’t want to pretend like I do.

So this year, I’m not setting goals. Not because I think goal-setting is inherently bad or harmful, but because I’m not in a place where that’s a healthy, life-giving practice for me. It too quickly turns into measuring my identity and self-worth by my accomplishments and performance. It too quickly turns into a crutch for control.

This year, I’m choosing to lean into the uncertainty. Instead of setting goals, I’m asking the Lord for a word or phrase to characterize the next year. Instead of asking myself what I want to accomplish, I’m asking “What do I want to be about?” And for me, in this season, those shifts are helping me walk into 2016 honestly, with an open mind and heart to God’s will and not my own.

 

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thank you 2013

It wasn’t until I was in college that I truly started practicing thankfulness. It happened one Sunday night after being challenged to write down five things I was thankful for each day, no repeats. 

I decided to give it a shot, and seven years later I’m still doing it. I’ve talked about thankfulness before here, but it’s one of those topics that I don’t believe you can ever really talk about enough. The more I actively practice thankfulness, the more joy I experience on a daily basis regardless of my current circumstances. When I stop and recognize all the gifts I’m given each day, I become overwhelmed with how rich I am. 

Since the end of a year seems to be the natural time for reflection, I could think of no better way to celebrate than by sharing the 2013 highlights of my lists.

2013 has been one heck of a year. Here’s to the past 12 months: 

– Marrying the man God created just for me. The amount of love and generosity we experienced from family and friends throughout the entire wedding season. Getting to spend the year living together and watching God begin to mold our hearts together. The incredible fun and joy that marriage brings alongside the hard work. 

afterlight

– Having the privilege of traveling to places I’ve never been with people I care about deeply. Costa Rica with Taylor, St. Louis to visit dear friends from Puerto Rico and Wilderness Ranch backpacking camp. 

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– Going to Colorado this summer with Taylor: getting to be together in the mountains that mean so much to us, seeing dear friends, and getting to care for and love on our Wilderness Ranch friends while they were evacuated due to wildfires. 

– Skyping with Shauna Niequist, and how God used that to give me the last push I needed to start a blog. 

– His faithfulness in small steps I’ve taken toward pursuing writing: new connections made, hearing stories of people I don’t know being impacted by the words here. 

The incredible opportunity to go to India with Light The World, and use my writing to help support JOYN, an organization who is doing incredible things to bring restoration to the people in Northern India. 

the JOYN family

– What God did in my heart while in India: reminding me that his kingdom spans the globe, that friendships and love can cross cultural, physical and language boundaries. That all people are valued and deserve to be treated with love, care and dignity. That joy doesn’t come from becoming worldly rich with material things. It comes from realizing how rich we already are, how valued we already are. Joy comes from restoration that happens in Jesus. 

– Taylor and I’s community of friends and family in Austin. How it has grown, changed and evolved over the last 3 years, yet has been sustained. 

 

– The Coulter’s, Francois’, and Coleman’s to walk through newly married life with. 

– A sweet puppy named Rio, who makes us laugh every day. 

– My dear grandpa: getting to see him more than usual this year, hear stories of his life, and have beautiful hand-made keepsakes in my home to always remember him. 

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– This truth: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

And so so so much more. 

I’m excited to walk into 2014 with expectant hope that I will experience more of God there. Let’s get this party started. 

Happy New Year!