Three days ago, the Times Square Ball dropped, closing the door on 2019 and opening chapter #71 in the story of my life. Sure, I could die before it’s over, but the chances are that I’ll see another year, another smile, and another tear. So, it’s time to outline the next chapter, write in new characters, and add fascinating backdrops. A well-planned plot could deliver intriguing twists and turns with surprising outcomes. This chapter, I tell myself, will be even better than the first 70. And when the time to chase rainbows comes to an end, 71 will stand out a divergence from the ordinary. But, it won’t happen sitting on my couch. So I best start planning.
The last time I made a New Year’s resolution —stop eating sweets — was decades ago. Weeks leading up to this particular moonless night I indulged on sweets without guilt. Although my pants were fitting snugger by the week, I continued treating myself for the effort I was yet to make. It’s conceivable that my good to the last bite —moist brownie with nuts — was sliding down my esophagus as Reykjavik’s fireworks lit up the sky. Well, unlikely since our time zones are five hours apart. Partying with friends, a couple of drinks in my tummy, everything seemed possible. The next day, sober and looking for Tylenol, I’d lost touch with “the sky is the limit” feeling. I don’t recall making subsequent New Year’s resolutions. It doesn’t mean I didn’t, only that I don’t remember if I did. My quit sweets resolution waned and waxed before the first full moon of the year shone on the Earth’s people.
I’ve never been a “stay put” kind of gal. For years I was chasing kids, then in retirement when not trying something new — singing in a chorus or cross-country skiing — I flittered from this quest to that undertaking. This appetite for adventure is why I suggested to my granddaughter, Moira, she move to a new city to teach, and didn’t flinch when I learned that almost college grad, Sophie, wants to work as a stunt performer. My bucket list is getting more temperate with time, no martial arts or tour de France. Nevertheless, the coming year must include surprises and wonders. Hands hovering over the keyboard, the page on the screen remains blank. I can’t think of a solitary “aspiration” to put on my 2020 list of resolutions. The ones that remain from previous years, swim under a waterfall or learn a new language, no longer interest me. The swim under the waterfall remained on my list because it looked good. It’s a little like all the pillows on my couches people have to remove so they can sit. I’ve removed them as well.
What’s going on? Have I reached an age of no-want and no-do? There has to be something I want. Perhaps a New Year’s resolution to be happy and content for longer periods. There is no lack of “how to be happy” books to help me. But happiness is fleeting. Sunny today and cloudy tomorrow. Moods are predictable and expected. I doubt that I have the awareness or know-how to alter that reality. My laptop goes into screensaver mode, a solid blue screen. Resisting the urge to call it a day, a question comes forth: What about exploring your deeply held values?
Although I’ve never discussed my values with friends, I bet we’d agree they matter. At a recent Christmas party with a group of women, we talked about the plight women often face at the death of a spouse—how married couples seem to forget about widows and how long the nights. It was a timely topic for a group where learning of a friend’s death is more common than buying a new car. Identifying our values and learning to live by them offers us a roadmap to a destination of our choosing.
When we are clear about our core values, what matters most to us, every decision we make is made easier. Becky volunteers for turtle control, leads “clean up the beach” efforts, stops to pick up trash when she walks or runs, and brings her coffee mug to meet me at a coffee shop. Her actions speak to her value of good stewardship of Mother Earth. Identifying and living our values gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, good habits, improved self-control, and better relationships with others. Introspection, know ourselves, may be the greatest gift we can give ourselves and those in our orbit. But like most worthy achievement, Santa can’t deliver it. The riches of the richest can’t buy it. It’s for us to earn.
For Ágústa Kristín, truthfulness was her North Star. But I can’t borrow my mother’s values. We should also bury the notion that values have something to do with how we are perceived. Values are about our inner world, and for us to discover and live by. They shape the foundation of our character. When we know who we are, we also know who we are not. Without knowing our values, we risk adopting other people’s values and becoming just another faceless person in the sea of humanity.
Self-awareness, knowing who we are, is a question great thinkers spend their lives uncovering. Socrates, who lived before Christ was born, said: “To find yourself, think for yourself.” One of our founding fathers observed: “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” And my granddaughter Amanda’s favorite writer (Brené Brown) said: “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” In other words, knowing ourselves is hard work and being ourselves even harder.
So how do I find my deeply held core values? How do I tease out one quality that contributes to what I might tag as a “state of grace” or “deep contentment.” Pondering this question, instead of writing a list (brave, authenticity, gratitude, etc.), I ask myself: Looking at a snapshot of your finest hour, what values capture that moment? Identifying three, I boil it down to one: Be Here Now. Instead of ants in my pants, creating real or unreal stories to keep me away at night, checking my phone, or rehashing yesterday, I’m 100% engaged at that moment. It’s as if nothing else matters or exists, easy-peasy and restorative.
What we focus on expands and rewires our brain. For it to work, I must keep my intent at the forefront throughout each day: Be Here Now. It’s the title of a book by Ram Dass, who died at the end of 2019, whose message centered on self-reflection. Every day, alone, in relationships and interactions with other people, I’ll repeat it to myself: Be Here Now.
Will this be a sustaining voyage of living by this value? Time will tell. With Be Here Now as my North Star, and a barrel full of determination, I have a chance to go beyond the mind (and ego). In 2020, Be Here Now will be the wolf I feed.