Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Aging Well
I hear that phrase sometimes when you see, say.... an old lady that looks absolutely great. You say "Wow, has she aged well." Or when you see an old lady that looks about another 100 years older than the 100 years old that she really is. You'd say "Wow, she has NOT aged well at all..."

But, that's not really what I'm refering to here. I'm thinking more in terms of lifestyles as we age, at any age. How we progress through our lives as we age as individuals. I think it's important that as we grow older, as we work through what maturity means for us, or what responsibility means for me, or spirituality or family or our place in our lifespan progresses through the years, that whatever that means for each of us, we are doing what we can to age well .... wholistically.

Sure, I also hope to be that old lady that gets a "Wow, has she aged well!" But that's really beside my thoughts here.

I don't do New Years resolutions. I don't necessarily believe that the start of a calendar year is the ideal time to start new things or make life changes. I know for me, my moods, ideas, responsibilities, growth, and changes are almost never related to 12:01am January 1.

BUT, it just so happens that my birthday is in January, so I think about these things coincidentally as the new year begins. Each year for the past few years, I've spent the first few weeks of January thinking about what I want my next year to be for me. Goals, changes, projects, finances, people in my life, whatever. There's no formal process for this. But I like to make myself take the time during this period before I start another year of my life to think about my life, what I like, what I don't like, and what (if any) changes I know I should really think about take action to make progress in those areas.

I'm not always successful at turning my review into actual actions. But, I tend to be sentimental, and a "reviewer". I'm constantly reviewing things and thinking back on things. So instead of turning that into an obsessive thing during the few weeks before my birthday when I'm thinking about my upcoming year, I try to think about it in productive ways of my place in life and if this is really where I want to be now, and if not, where I want to go and what can I do this year to move towards that.

I'm sure this all sounds much more proactive and goal-oriented than it really is. But really, it's just something that I do to take stock of things and ask myself some questions. And I really haven't been doing it for that many years.

Last year when I turned 30, I realized that I really wasn't happy. And I've been unhappy for a long time. And, when I thought about it, I couldn't really pinpoint what was making me unhappy. So, I decided that I wanted to start my 30s making a bold effort towards happiness in my life because I don't want my 30s to start like my 20s ended in the happiness department. Time is just too precious to waste being unhappy for no good reason.

I decided I needed some help with this. So, I started counseling last January. This was a big deal for me. I'm still going and I'm still exploring "me" and my quirks and foibles and how I can be happy inspite of how much I make myself crazy. But it's been fabulous (especially the drugs that have come with it....).

That's a big confession for my blog, but I'm feeling really open right now. My expectation for starting my 30s happier and healthier came with one major caveat for myself, and that was no deadline. I didn't want the pressure of "I have to be happier by 31!." I wanted this to work and to be helpful, so I wanted to just work through all that it involves in a way that it really sticks and really makes a difference. Because if my 30s are going to be happier as a decade, I can't start it with a quick fix or by not paying attention. A bandaid fix isn't going to last. Plus, it's not cheap. So I have to make it count as I go.

Much of the past year, truthfully, has been even LESS happy for me than 29 was. But, it's a process. It's digging in and putting words to fears, anxieties, struggles, hopes, dreams, disappointments, and figuring how to look all of that in the face and make myself feel better about myself, my world, my life. It's making changes that are hard to make, it's accepting things that are hard to accept, it's basically an overhaul of the past 30 years of being a certain way and figuring out the best ways to keep who I am but turn that into a happier me. It's part of my aging well agenda. And it's leading to understanding myself better, being happier, and getting past what is WRONG to what I can make RIGHT. It's genius.

So that was 30. Next week I face 31.

I haven't spent time with many specifics for 31. I haven't laid out a plan. But I've got a general idea of what I want for myself this year.

1. I want to get promoted at work. I want to respect my job. I want to be happy there. I want to succeed. I want to commit.

About 4 or 5 months ago I was having a REALLY rough time at work, in part due to being a mess outside of work. I was messing everything up. I wasn't focused. I dreaded going to work everyday and I had a really hard time making it through the day with any ounce of sanity. Plus, I wasn't really the nicest person to work with on most days.

Not that I'm 100 percent NOT a mess as a whole today, but I've had a heart to heart with myself about my job and I've decided it's time to stop playing around with it and half-heartedly being there. It's time to commit. Not to say I do poor work. I do a good job on a normal day and I always keep a commitment to a certain level of good performance and integrity in my work. But, I could really rock that job if I set my mind to it.

I want a raise. I want higher status. I want more responsibility. And I've already begun. I've gotten two new clients in the past two weeks. I've been to meet one of them in Florida. I'm cranking out reports and agendas and meetings. I'm knocking heads, I'm keeping everyone on task. I'm speaking up in meetings and tossing around ideas with the bigwigs. I'm now working from home some nights and some on the weekend to make sure I am not missing anything, and to show my bosses that I am really in this. I've found that if I check email even just once on a Saturday, shuffle some emails around (making sure to copy at least one boss on a few of the emails) it has already boosted everyone's confidence in me that I am taking care of my business. I had to have a heart to heart with myself about that, too. Bringing work home. But I've realized that if I want the raise, the promotion, the respect of my peers and bosses, it's going to take some hard work for awhile.

Plus, throwing around some key marketing words and phrases from time to time (even if I have no idea what I'm talking about) works WONDERS for people's perception that I am capable to handle the job. I am REALLY good at picking up things from people, observing and learning how to use words or phrases or processes (and eventually learning what they mean). That's been an asset.

So, I'm on it. This job thing.

And it's already paid off. Today, two different bosses came over to my desk at two separate times and gave me huge props for some conference calls I led this week and dealing with our new clients. That's a huge deal. So, I'm on my way for this goal. I'm already catching the attention of the higher-ups. And that is good. I mean, after all I am 31 years old. I have been with my company for two and a half years. I am past entry-level positions and depending on others to make sure I am doing my job. I want to grow up a bit at work. I still feel like a kid in a grown-up's job sometimes. But that's not the case anymore. I'm the adult now.

And strangely, I've found over the past couple of months that I really enjoy my job. I'm actually having fun there during the day, crazy as it is any given day. It's nonstop almost everyday. But, I enjoy the people I work with. I'm settling in to a new groove of professionalism, organization, and just really working hard to be available as a resource and contribute to the organization, treating everyone with kindness and respect. It's like something has clicked in me lately, and things are starting to come together in a way that works for me at my job. I'm keeping up with details, focused, and looking for more ways I can make a difference beyond just being a task-master.

Of course, my goal is NOT to become one of those workaholic nuts that works all the time, on the weekends, evenings. If I ever get to that point, I'm OUT and it's time for a career change. But for now, I'm seeing what I can do to get ahead, and that's a big step for me. I've never seen myself with a "career" or getting the hang of this marketing thing, or having goals to move ahead in my job. I'm a "creative", not a marketing brain. But I've found that I am good at the marketing and the details if I make the effort to learn and stay focused.

In fact, I shouldn't be sacrificing the time to blog right now.... ha! But I am. And I've discovered that working at home in my pjs on my Macbook while I watch American Idol really isn't so bad after all.

2. I want to work on my personal connections.
Over the past year, I have flaked out at some point (and as a general bad habit) on pretty much everyone I know. I'm terrible at keeping in touch, whether you are close by or far away. I've checked out. I've shut down and holed up. And I want to get back to my relationships and responsibilities with friends and family. They are important to me and I need to be sure I am showing that in every way possible.

3. Along that vein, I want to spend more time with family. Not always in quantity (although more often is good), but also in quality. And this has already happened a lot over the past year or so. I've just got a really great family - my parents, grandmas, aunts, uncles, cousins and their family. Um... and the puppies, of course. I've been able to see family more over the past year, spend more time with my parents, and connect with them. I want to be sure they know what they mean to me, and I have a history of not communicating that very well. I want to improve that and continue enjoying time with them. They are super precious, after all.

4. I want to take better care of myself.
Over the past year or so, I have developed some bad habits that I want to go away, and I want to work on other good habits that I need to make a priority. I truly hate the word "habit". I don't think we really do things out of habit. We choose to do or not do things depending on our levels of selfishness, self-centerdness, laziness, or appearances. I need to brush my teeth every night, but when I don't it's because of laziness. Not necessarily tied to a habit. The habit is either that I DO brush my teeth every night, or I DON'T - a habit either way. But my actions are motivated by whether I care to stay awake for another 3 minutes, or if I decide I don't care about my teeth tonight and I'd prefer to snuggle under my electric blanket and get to sleep right now. The bottom line is, they really need to be brushed every night, and I kinda want to do that.

Of course, this issue isn't related just to my teeth or any form of hygiene, really. I want to make more time to read, and choose things to read that improve my life and help me age well. I want to balance my time better, allowing for plenty of time for my introverted recharging rest alone in my house, but also to allow more time for spending with people. I've sacrificed time with people a lot to hole up alone. I want to eat better. I'll eat a Totinos pizza every night of the week because it takes no effort from me and it costs a dollar, and I can spend "cooking" time doing something else. But at the end of the week when I feel like crap, maybe 5 Totinos pizzas in a row wasn't the best idea. I want to keep my house cleaner. I go from one extreme to the other. I'm obsessively neat and clean, or I don't care. I've got two weeks worth of Sunday newspapers sitting next to me on the floor right now. I've got the time to put them away. I just don't care. But I want to find a happy medium of cleanliness versus letting things get out of control because I'd rather watch something I've got on DVR.

5. And part two of taking better care of myself is figuring some things out with God and getting back to relationship with Him. I've completely let that go over the past year or so. I just haven't been interested. I've been frustrated. I've been hurt. And most important, (and this will sound strange, but it's a good thing), I need to separate God from church.

I've let my personal relationship with Christ suffer. And I've simply gotten to a point where I don't know what to do with Him, and I don't know what to let Him do with me. And that has brought me to a place where I have to separate God from church. God is not hurtful or vengeful, but when we are hurt in our church or we are going through a time when it is hard to connect in communal worship or in other ways of worship with our community of believers, we cannot hold God responsible for that. We can't leave God out. We have to find ways to see Him and spend time with Him. He's not just at church.

I want to be back active in my church. But I think in order to do that, I have to connect with God again first. I'm searching and questioning and taking very small, baby steps to move in a more positive direction in this area. I've been very complacent about it. None of this is to say that my church is wrong or bad or incorrect or isn't a great place. I truly believe that it is a great place, and I have been very involved over the years in participating in the growth of my church. I've grown a lot there in my years there and it always hold a special place in my heart. I dearly love the people who make up my church community, and many of the people who are dear to me and who I call my circle of friends are in my life because of my church.

But, it's been a tough year for me. I haven't found the answers I'm looking for there, either in the building, in our worship times, in conversations with people, or otherwise. We're growing and changing as a church, and I am growing and changing and struggling with things that have left me weary of keeping up with much that has gone on for my church lately. So, I've checked out rather than keep trying to make sense of it all.

My journey to get back to it is to start with God and see where that leads me.

That is another big confession, but I will leave it at that for now.

This isn't the sum total of what I'm thinking about for my year 31. But it's a start and it's some big stuff. And my caveat again is that there is no deadline. If I accomplish all of this before 32, fabulous! If I am keeping up with it and staying serious and mindful of not being in exactly the same place that I am right now at 30 when I end 31 at this time next year, then I'm on the right track and I am satisfied with that. I just don't want to have this same list of things to mull over at this time next year.

I don't really do "action items". I do that with everything at work, putting together a list of action items (like a to-do) list, and them checking them off as I go. I try not to be that rigid in my personal life because I think all of the action items at work and at play would drive me insane and occupy all of my obsessive tendencies.

But last year I did have one action item, and that was to call a counselor and get in front of someone before the end of January to get started on the happiness thing. And I did that.

This year I've already picked up some books to get going on my search for God again. So that's my action item and I can already check it off my list, even though it was a completely random accidental opportunity for free books this week.... I started reading one last night and I didn't fall asleep or get frustrated, and it was actually a perfect chunk of reflection from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about finding out all of the ways God loves us, and everything else comes out of that. Good start for me.

I want to age well. And the key word I'm using for all of the 5 goals above and as I figure out what it means for me to age well is "want". Not need. I don't "need" to make these changes. It's not a chore or requirement. And to be perfectly honest, I could be just fine where I am, doing what I'm doing, not changing a thing.

But aging well is where I want to be and what I want to do, and that's just where I need to be as 31 stares me in the face next week.


Off to work now... in my pjs and during American Idol, of course.


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