I’ve always loved the idea of New Year’s resolutions—the clean slate, the fresh start, the optimistic resolve—but for all my ever-so-good intentions, I never quite seem to keep them.
So this year, I’m trying something new. Instead of establishing a list of goals and struggling (and failing) to reach them, I’ve decided to think in terms of possibilities.
Inspired by an essay in Wise Bread, I took 20 minutes out of Christmas morning to scribble down 100 things that I want to do—things that, at some level, seem to be calling to me. Nothing was too big. Nothing was too small. As more thoughts came to mind later in the day, I added them to the list.
By the time I was finished, I had some 85 items ranging from going to Thailand to taking a photography class to buying a KitchenAid mixer. To someone else, this compilation might appear a weirdly random assortment. To me, it makes total sense. Reading it makes me happy.
Let me be clear, this is not a to-do list—it would take me years, if not decades, to accomplish everything I wrote down, and besides, that isn’t the point. What I was after was something more intangible, a framework for thinking about what matters to me and how I spend my time.
Looking over my list, I was instantly struck by how the things that call me come in clusters. Travel is a big one—no surprise—but so is organization, or rather the idea of creating a more ordered home and with it a more ordered life. Creative work, time in nature, and cooking with friends are other recurrent themes.
I was heartened to see that my big changes of recent years—most notably my move to western Massachusetts from the Boston area—have made it far easier for me to spend time in ways that feel meaningful. It was good to feel that I’ve been heading in the right direction.
And as interesting as what I wrote down was what I left out. Many (though not all) of the things on my list are inexpensive or free. Big-city glamor is in notably short supply. Making waffles, playing mini-golf, cross-country skiing. Stringing white lights around my living room windows. Re-learning how to knit. Corralling kids to make a gingerbread house and holiday cookies next year.
Thinking in terms of possibilities seems especially appropriate for Plan B Nation, where we need to be open-minded and strategic if we’re to move forward.
Rather than choosing a single concrete goal—say, getting a job at X organization–we’re well advised to think more broadly. What is the essence of what we want? (Meaningful work, an income adequate to support us in other life goals, interesting colleagues.) What are some alternate paths to these same ends?
I imagine consulting this list many times in the year ahead, especially whenever I’m feeling at a loss or stuck. Twelve months from now, I’ll definitely be curious to see how many of the items from the list made it into my life. But again, that isn’t really the point. These aren’t goals so much as potential paths: They are stepping stones, not the destination.
© 2011, amy gutman. All rights reserved.