I know. Really, I do. It used to happen to me, too, so there is absolutely no judgment or shame from my perspective. In fact, I have great empathy and even compassion for those who still feel compelled to set goals for the New Year.
Society seems to expect – even demand – that I vow with conviction and sign with my own blood that I will drop 20 pounds by summer. Or stop cussing. Join a gym. Stop drinking on weekdays. Or even have my book published by Groundhog’s Day/Mother’s Day/4th of July/Christmas/a certain decade/etc.
Back in the day, when New Year’s Eve would find me at overcrowded, overpriced parties pretending to have a good time, I would hear the same conversation repeated over and over as I moved from one group to the next. “Boy, I’m really going to regret the hangover tomorrow, but I’m laying off the booze in 199_ so I’m going to enjoy it tonight!” (Cue Prince, “So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999…”)
The next group would echo the refrain, only about dieting as they feasted on phyllo wrapped baked brie, mini-quiches, and sundried tomato anything. “I’m determined to fit into the bikini I wore when my husband and I went to the Bahamas, the year before our son was born,” a lovely woman would earnestly confide to me as she described the latest diet she was going to try.
Jesus was proud of me in that moment. I successfully resisted the urge to remind her that her son was turning 13 and this was the same goal she had shared with me for the past four years.
After years of succumbing to the peer pressure of writing down the same goals year-after-year in my journal, then my Palm Pilot, Blackberry, Franklin Covey Planner, and finally, my iPhone, I stopped.
Not because I had not lost weight on Atkins, or stopped drinking altogether for several years. I stopped because none of these “achievements” had made my life any better. Happier. Less stressful. More productive. More sure.
And then there were the years when life happened, and the goals I had written down were replaced by the goal of trying to stay alive. Divorce. A new marriage with new challenges. The death of my beloved husband Dennis. Losing my home. Losing my job. A new marriage with new challenges. Again. My own cancer. My uncertainty about my career and what comes next – what I want to come next.
Woody Allen once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.” Setting goals has become as sure a way to give God a side ache from laughing as anything else I have discovered.
But setting goals is very different than setting my sights on an outcome – a destination. For me, the two should never be confused or interchanged.
Setting goals means a step-by-step process. I will lose three pounds every week, beginning January 8th. Starting February 5th, I will lose one pound a week until swimsuit season.
Establishing a vision for my life, however, is a very different thing. It makes space for the unexpected twists and turns in life. It makes a place for God to interject His purpose for a particular season of life, even one that is unforeseen. Uninvited.
These days, my vision is clearer than it has been in several years, despite the fact that my sight is significantly clouded by my current landscape. The drugs that keep my cancer recurrence low also cause weight gain and chronic joint pain, similar to that of rheumatoid arthritis. Exercise is vital, but painful. And a job that keeps me on the road and crossing multiple time zones every week makes a regular exercise routine a hope that borders on a New Year’s Eve resolution. So my vision is one of a lifestyle that includes more walking, and yoga on the days when I am home and can drop in at my yoga studio.
Sugar and wine are bad for my weight and, potentially, a trigger for cancer recurrence. But there is also something to be said for enjoying life’s pleasures shared over a second glass of wine and a decadent dessert at the dinner parties I love to host, or nights out with beloved friends. This means I welcome a year of moderation and celebration that can also include sparking water, sweet fruit, and delicious conversations.
Goals and vision are two very different things. My challenge is to distinguish between the two. One revolves around a checklist; the other, a longer, more holistic, view of life.
Scripture teaches us: Where there is a lack of vision, the people perish. From where I stand, life has never looked more beautiful. It’s all a matter of whether I focus on the goals or the vision.