In most video games, the way to win is by upgrades; whether this is upgrading towers to keep thieves and marauders at bay in a tower defense style game or training a character’s skills in an action game. Typically certain criteria must be met in the form of upgrades and achievements in order to make any progress in the game.
I’ve been drawing that parallel when in comes to my plans for 2016. For the first time that I can remember, I’m not just scribbling out a long list of things I want and hoping I’ll stumble upon those goals by dumb luck.
I do not have New Year resolutions. However, I have a clear idea of where I would like to be in three months, in six, and in twelve. You’d think someone my age would have already developed 5-year plan, but I haven’t. That’s next.
Don’t ask me how it took me this long to realize I have almost no answer to, “What do you want to do with your life?” Thus far I’ve got by with vague ideas about the far future, like traveling and moving out and keeping bees. But this past week I forced myself to sit down for more than 5 minutes and really evaluate myself and my life course.
Small digression: I’ve recently plunged headfirst into the world that is Tumblr. While I do find a lot of useful resources and inspiration, mostly thanks to the Christian blogs I follow, I also find a lot of strange self-help tips. Among these is this idea: your life does not have to be controlled by a to-do list, your value determined by how much tangible progress you make every day.
While the notion is good in and of itself, me and my weird unemployed brain took it a little too far these past few months.
For a long time I’ve obsessed over having something physical to show for my efforts. Perhaps this comes out of being a girl whose primary hobbies are reading and writing, I don’t know. But suddenly I felt pressure to prove that I was not in fact wasting my time.
So I made lists. I micromanaged those lists, and with every square I ticked of, the experience meter in my brain would go up. But in the midst of the list-making and attempts to develop habits and routines, I stopped actually living.
Life had become a process, a routine, carrying me from one experience to another with all the appearance of life but none of the truth of it.
Then I found the aforementioned notion on Tumblr. That threw me for a loop. Between it and my mother’s insistence that excessive list-making is bad for the brain, I was soon floundering in a sea of inactivity. Once obsessing over a to-do list, I now obsessed over avoiding the very appearance of having an agenda of any kind.
And so, in my tripping, breathless, dizzy way, I found myself on the precipice of a new year with not even the slightest notion of what I intended to do with it.
Yes, I know life means growth. Yes, I understand the concept that humans are always growing, always learning. But as much as my head understood that, it had failed to translate it into my own life.
I’ve mentioned before (probably several times, because I muse over these notions so perpetually that I forget to mark when I write them down) that I try to challenge myself to push my own limits. And with certain very specific things, like my weight or physical strength or number of words I can write in a day, I manage well enough. It’s something immediate and tangible and I can easily track my progress. But with more broad notions like “get a good job” or “save money” or “study more”, things get tricky.
Now we make our circuitous way back to those plans for 2016.
What do I want to do with my life? That was the first question, and one I often ask.
I want to be useful. I want to help people find their way. I want to take my experiences and show people their own strength. I want to expand other people’s horizons. I want to expand my own.
Still vague, I know. I have yet to settle on a specific course that will best help me accomplish these lofty ambitions. I used to think the first step was getting a husband, and we know how that’s changed. It’s hard to take 17 years’ worth of thinking and turn it around.
But then came the question I had been failing to ask myself all along: what will it take to get me to where I want to be?
And finally I got it through my thick head: life is not outcomes, but journeys.
All of those mantras they throw at teens like “The person you are tomorrow is determined by what you do today” and “You are what you do” hadn’t really sunk down into the roots of my brain all these years. Yes, I grasped the concept, but that was all it was. I didn’t do anything with it.
Now I am.
This year is the slow part of the video game: upgrading. I know I want to serve people. I know I want to travel. But I also have a desire to establish a haven, complete with goats and bees and a garden and a tree house.
It’s still not a very concrete plan, like being a lawyer or a photographer, but it’s a start. And that is me; I operate with senses other than vision. My future is a muddle of colors, but there are sounds and scents and flavors I can make out. I’m still working on the picture part.
Now my list for 2016 runs something like this: by March, have a steady job, an established exercise routine, and at least $100.00 in savings. By June, have $300.00 in savings, another draft of my WIP complete, a query letter written, and a garden in place. By December, have taken at least one college course (possibly another language or the first step in photojournalism), winnow down my possessions to necessities, and at least $700.00 in savings.
I know it doesn’t look like much (though this isn’t everything on the list), but it’s more than I’ve given myself in the past. Also, a lot of the goals are smaller than I can probably manage. The idea is those goals are the bare minimum, and I have all the room I want for overachieving.
In this, I’m looking to achieve not an end but experience that will help me on my way. I have goals to gain more knowledge, more practical skill, more resources, so I am better equipped for what the future may hold, so I am better able to make something of it.
And in everything, I’m striving for balance: not wearing myself too thin, not burning myself out, not locking myself in to one specific course just yet.
Maybe my growth is smaller than some people’s. After all, I’ll be 22 this year. Some girls my age and younger are married and starting families, or are finishing college, or have taken survey trips to possible mission fields. Meanwhile, in my plodding, methodical way, I’m still starting out. I’m learning to be ok with that. Not content to stay still, but to accept every step forward, no matter how small, as progress. To me that’s all that will count at present. And I’m still excited to see where I’m at in the next few months.