That’s number five on the quarter-sheet of printer paper tacked to the column next to my kitchen sink, overlooking the sky-blue-and-paisley piggy bank of spare change. Not on the fridge, among kid photos, quotes, and magnets. Instead, it’s at eye level where I rinse dishes and open the mail.
I don’t handle "have-tos” well. In fact, introducing one is the quickest way to make sure I dig in my heels and make no progress whatsoever—or get it done but don’t feel any sense of accomplishment—even if I’m the one who decided it was a have-to. I am much happier when I focus on things I want to do. The distinction is small, but the difference in attitude is freeing and the results much more fulfilling.
That’s why I don’t make resolutions. For the last three years or so, though, I’ve spent the final week of the year thinking about what I’d be doing during the upcoming 12 months. Then, I’ve picked five major accomplishments I’d like to make during that time.
Sometimes, the same goal stays up for a couple years. Or I might scratch something out within a few months because changing circumstances make it irrelevant. Ultimately, though, I get to check off most of the items as completed. Even the ones that aren’t “successes” (however you define that word) serve a purpose, whether it’s helping me make incremental progress or providing focus so that changing tracks becomes a conscious decision.
Since they’re hanging in my kitchen for the world to see, I have no problem sharing them here—along with a little commentary about how they came to be on the list.
1. Finish the first draft. That includes mentor revisions and first reviews. If I write a chapter a month, the writing, bulk of the research, first set of revisions, and first fact-checking of my initial manuscript will be done by next year. That gives me the last semester before graduation in May 2017 to layer in additional research, fix major structural issues, and refine the storyline. The month I earn my MFA, and perhaps even that very weekend, will mark nine years since Mr. Khánjání and his companions were arrested, so it seems fitting to complete the heaviest portion of the project by then.
2. Submit one article/month. On average is fine, commissioned or unsolicited both count. Right now, I usually work with clients who need marketing or business writing and digital strategy. To get where I want to go professionally, I need to earn bylined articles and essays in a variety of publications. I'm focused on making connections and creating a habit.
3. Put aside 6 months’ expenses. Keep a $0 monthly balance on all credit cards and maximize school loan. It took me 17 years to climb up from “in debt” to “broke,” and I’d prefer not to repeat the journey. The U.S.-Canadian exchange rate on my grad school loan is in my favor, and the difference covers my brief winter and summer residency costs. Other than that, I’m trying hard to pay as I go and build myself a solid safety net.
4. Run 2 5Ks. Complete at least one, no walking, before July 1. I’m a writer and a reader, so I spend my work time and much of my leisure time sitting. I need to fight inertia. Running is free, shows results quickly, and calls on my early experience sprinting and nordic ski racing. I just have to ramp up from “sit” to “run” to earn my finisher t-shirts.
5. Wear the blue dress. Extra points if it’s to an event, with a guy. I have too many clothes, because they span a range of sizes. I am at the top end, and my navy blue lace-overlay dress is at the bottom. It’s the closest I will come to wearing anything ever seen on Duchess Kate. (I’m built like a peasant, not a princess.) Wearing it in front of my mirror at home? Perfect. Wearing it to celebrate something? Indicates potential for something to celebrate. Celebrating the something with a dude who counts as a date? Requires a long overdue meet-cute.
Change is good, yes?