As I began to heal and find more energy later in 2015, I was able to cross off a fair number of items on my 40 Before 40 list. We’re now halfway through my available time and I’ve completed 15 things and made progress on another five, so I think we’re in good stead overall.
Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:
#6. Play tourist in my “home city”
I’ve been working on playing tourist since I first announced this list, and I’m finally ready to declare this goal completed. This fall, I visited Hakone Gardens, saw the Silicon Valley and Smuin ballets, and walked across the Golden Gate Bridge.
I also reconvened a group that dines out at new restaurants and tries interesting cuisines, and bought tickets to see a variety of shows during 2016, including the San Francisco Ballet in February, Sebastiao Salgado in March, and Wicked in April.
I managed this primarily by paying attention to special offers through Goldstar and Travelzoo. You can’t beat fun outings and good prices.
#8. Develop and release a free course for my blog readers
In September, I released A Call to Beauty, a 12-week e-course designed to inspire readers to see all of the beauty in our human experience. The course was offered for sale with a pay-what-you-like feature that allowed you to pick it up for free, if you chose.
It’s a series of 12 emails (one per week) that offers a theme for contemplation, exercises, and downloadable wallpapers as a daily reminder of the practice.
The next session begins March 14th and registration will open a month prior. For more information and to join in, click over here.
#16. Try Stand Up Paddleboarding
In August, while visiting family outside Baltimore, Mr. Watson and I tried Stand Up Paddling. My sister-in-law and our nephews introduced us to it at Middle River SUP on Sue Creek.
I really enjoyed it and was able to kneel, sit, and stand back up several times during the adventure. I’d definitely SUP again and I’m glad we learned on a calm creek versus in the ocean, where my sister-in-law first tried it.
#17. Attend a concert at Mountain Winery
In September, Mr. Watson and I attended a Gipsy Kings concert at Mountain Winery.
I was first introduced to the Gipsy Kings while studying abroad in Prague. Their greatest hits were always playing at a bagel shop I frequented. Since then, Mr. Watson and I have seen them in concert a couple of times and it’s always a wonderful experience. The Mountain Winery only added to that with its stunning architecture and valley views.
#19. Start a personal photography project
I started working on Project “What Will You Be?” last March. Through the project, my goal is to inspire at-risk youth to fulfill their potential through academic and career success—by showing them real-life, culturally relevant role models.
The project is on hold a bit while I work on a few new things, but I’ll pick it up again soon.
#36. Host holidays at home—with guests
This one was originally on my 40 After 40 list (not yet published) because I’d thought I couldn’t host holiday dinner before we owned a home. Well, I’ve since realized that perfection is the enemy of the good and so, when Mr. Watson’s and my Thanksgiving travel plans were canceled last-minute, we decided to invite some friends over for Thanksgiving dinner.
It wasn’t a home-cooked meal and we weren’t seated around a large table as I’d envisioned, but it was just right for where we are here and now.
And on that note, I’ll declare the past six months of 40 Before 40 list progress a success and move on to the next six months. As usual, there are fun things in the works but I’ll update you on that in July.
What exciting plans do you have for 2016?
P.S. I just updated Roundup #2 with photos from our 10-year anniversary celebration in May. Have a look, if you like.
This is my third-annual recap and realizations post and, for this one, I’m going to try something a bit different (for reference, here’s 2014 and 2013). Instead of getting into the nitty gritty of everything Mr. Watson and I attempted and accomplished in 2015, I’m going to stick with one big lesson we learned:
Focus on what you want.
Not why you can’t have it.
Not what might happen if you can’t have it.
Not what you could have instead. And, for the love of all that’s holy,
Not how you could make something you don’t want work.
Mr. Watson and I tend to take a strategic outlook toward life so we ask ourselves ‘how’ a lot, e.g., “How could we buy a house this year?” As a result, sometimes we come up with wacky answers, “We could move to Pittsburgh where home prices are ⅓ to ¼ the local price.”
Then we make pronouncements such as “we could totally make that work” even if it’s not our dream.
Sometimes we even convince ourselves that we don’t know what we want because we don’t think what we want is possible (this is a huge one for me!).
Kate Swoboda of Your Courageous Life said, “Most of the time, when people say they ‘don’t know’ what they want, they really do. They’re just afraid to name it and claim it.”
Agreed. I would add that sometimes we say we don’t know because we don’t think we can have want we want and so, instead of naming that big wish, we go looking for alternatives that would suffice.
Which brings me back to the big 2015 lesson: What do you really want? We each must determine what we want before we move ahead to the next step: Creating that reality.
As an example, here are two things I’m very clear about wanting:
- To own a comfortable home so we can make the decisions about paint colors and countertops and whether or not to have pets.
- A small group of friends who want to see me regularly (every month or so) and who don’t make me feel guilty about my introversion or energy level. I’m doing the best I can, I promise!
There are some other things I’m not 100% clear about so I’ve adopted two questions to guide my decision-making in 2016 and help me focus on what I really want. Here they are:
Question #1: Is it meaningful?
Anytime I make a decision, I’d like to consider whether that course of action is meaningful to me or not. Here are a couple of examples:
- Do I want to work with a new foster child? > Well, will doing so add meaning to my life? — Yes, it is a cause and organization that matters to me. Sounds like a good idea!
- Do I want to join that board committee? > Will doing so add meaning to my life? — No, it feels like a ‘should’ instead of a ‘want.’ So the answer is thanks, but no thanks.
I’m using my values and feelings to guide my answers. If you don’t yet know what your personal or career values are, here’s an exercise to help you figure them out. On the feelings side, it comes down to whether you truly want to do something or if it feels like a ‘should’ or someone else’s expectation. It’s that simple.
Question #2: How do I want to spend my days?
This question is an important check on the first because:
- You don’t want to be writing checks your body can’t cash, as they say in Top Gun, i.e., you don’t want to be taking on too much even if it is super meaningful to you, and more importantly,
- Thinking about how you want to spend your days keeps the focus on dreams that fit your lifestyle. And the secret to happiness (after practicing gratitude) is enjoying your day-to-day life.
As we move deeper into 2016, I’m looking forward to keeping the focus on what I want—and encouraging you to do the same—by remembering what’s meaningful and how we want to spend our days.
What lessons did you learn in 2015 and how are those lessons guiding your 2016?
One of my favorite things about life is how we’re always learning and growing. There will never come a time when you’ve learned it all, when you’ve mastered life. There are always new lessons and opportunities.
For the past several years I’ve chosen one word to help guide my experiences, to remind me of something I need to learn or remember that year.
My word for 2015 was accept because I had a lot about my life and situation to come to terms with, including flagging energy that was standing in the way of what I wanted to achieve.
Accept served me well. Whenever I bristled against the restrictions of my body or situation, I remembered to accept where I was and what I could do now. As a result, 2015 was a year of deep healing, both physically and mentally.
I spent a lot of time alone, not lonely, just alone with my thoughts and at rest. It was wonderful, actually. I know some of my friends didn’t quite understand where I was or what had happened to me, but it was exactly what I needed at the time.
As I began looking toward 2016, experiencing greater energy and excitement than I’d had throughout much of late 2014 and 2015, I knew this would be a year of greater action.
In fact, I considered the word action as my word for 2016 but, as I took on more responsibility and engaged in more activity, my body reminded me that I must rest as well as act. I’m not fully healed and, as an introvert, my need for downtime exceeds that of the extroverts I know.
Therefore, my word for 2016 became:
Although I know there’s really no such thing as balance in this complex, beautiful life of ours, acknowledging the ideal reminds me that action and rest are two sides of the same coin, interdependent and inextricable.
Whenever I choose a word, I look up its definition to ensure I know what I’m surrendering to. Some of my favorite definitions of balance include:
: a means of judging or deciding
: equipoise between contrasting, opposing, or interacting elements
: equality between the totals of the two sides of an account
: an aesthetically pleasing integration of elements
: the juxtaposition in writing of syntactically parallel constructions containing similar or contrasting ideas
: physical equilibrium
: the ability to retain one’s balance
: an amount in excess especially on the credit side of an account
: mental and emotional steadiness
(full definition here)
And so I’m entering this new year with an eye toward balance and, in particular, balancing several seeming dichotomies:
- Action and rest
- Introspection and external engagement
- Self-care and caring for others
- Consistency and experimentation
What’s your word for 2016 and how do you expect it to help guide your year?
The new year is upon us, bringing to mind thoughts of what was during 2015 and what’s next for 2016.
My gal pal Eliza and I were talking the other day about how we like to begin a new year. Neither of us do resolutions—too confining, too fueled by ‘shoulds.’ Instead, we both choose a word or phrase to guide our intentions and I like to ease into the new year instead of storming the gates.
The holidays can get so busy, can’t they, in spite of our best efforts to remember rest and mindfulness? Afterward there’s often a feeling of letdown because that special time of year has passed and the status quo is back—with the added stress of resolutions and expectations.
Eliza and I envisioned another way to begin 2016, one focused on gratitude, self-care, mindfulness, and gentle visioning, while remembering the importance of action in bringing your goals and dreams into being.
Inspired January is our vision. A series of 31 prompts, one for each day of the first month of the year, it invites you to rest, dream, explore, and ease into what’s next for you.
How you engage with Inspired January is up to you. We will be guiding the journey by posting daily photographs on Instagram and we invite you to join us there. Of course, you may also choose to keep your process private through journaling, meditation, or creating in your preferred medium. The prompts are designed to be flexible and invoke your imagination.
If you decide to create visual work, we hope you will share it with us and your fellow participants on Instagram, using the hashtag #InspiredJanuary.
Unlike other photo-a-day projects, this one isn’t a challenge. It’s an invitation. You’re welcome to pop by when the spirit moves you, whether that’s just for one day or all 31. Either way, Eliza and I will be there, welcoming you and sharing our own journeys.
We hope to see you there, and happy new year!
P.S. I’d like to give a shout out to my gal Jody for designing such a beautiful graphic for this practice. Thank you, Jody!
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been wondering how to have a more conscious Christmas. Every year, I learn a bit more. Some of the things I’ve been considering this year are:
Is it better to get a locally grown tree, a living tree, or a high-quality artificial tree that will last for many years?
What is the best type of holiday card to send?
How can we stay present amidst overburdened schedules and family expectations?
Well, according to the experts, the tree preference is #1) Living, #2) Locally grown, #3) Cut tree that wasn’t locally grown or an artificial tree.
To save paper, experts also prefer e-cards versus printed cards.
And as far as the social issues go, it’s the same thing you do all year: Try to be mindful of your calendar, practice good self-care, and stay present.
Here are a few of the things we’re doing at Casa Watson to have a more conscious Christmas this year:
- We decided to buy fewer gifts and to be more mindful of the types of gifts we buy or add to our wishlists.
- We’re looking at Fair Trade options before making purchase decisions.
- We’re asking for digital goods or experiences instead of stuff.
- Our Christmas cards were printed by environmentally conscious Paper Culture.
- The adults in my husband’s family are participating in a Secret Santa gift exchange, as we have for years. It’s fun and means less shopping!
- We’ll recycle spent wrapping paper and reuse gift bags—as we do every day.
- We purchased a living Christmas tree this year. It’s a drought tolerant variety that should fare well in California and give us a few seasons of use before repotting or planting.
- We only decorated indoors to save on electricity and—let’s face it—time.
- We’re incorporating natural elements into our decorations, including wood and pine cones that can be composted afterward.
- We’re using what we already have versus buying new ornaments.
- Last weekend, hubby and I decided that it didn’t yet feel like the holidays at home so we put on some Christmas tunes and spent some time together decorating the tree and our home. It was nice quality time.
- We’re keeping mindful of our personal commitments. Since we’re both introverts, we need a lot of downtime between holiday visits and sometimes we have to say no to kind invitations.
- Because people matter, though, we invited friends to join us for Christmas dinner. This is something my grandmother always did and, while I found it a bit uncomfortable as a child, I’ve grown to appreciate it as an adult living across the country from her family.
- Throughout the year, we try to eat consciously. This is harder with the endless snacking options around the holidays, but we’re staying mindful of when to indulge and when to abstain, and savoring those treats we do choose.
- We’re also trying to be conscious of our expectations and stay in the moment. It’s so easy to get caught up in the schedule, looking ahead to what’s next. As I write this, I’m taking a deep breath and remembering to relax and enjoy this moment of peace and quiet before my mom arrives tomorrow and the festivities really begin.
Because we can always do better, here are a few things I’d like to work on next year:
- If we need more tree lights, I’d like to go with more energy-efficient and longer-lasting LED bulbs.
- I’d like to explore recycled and eco-friendly wrapping options.
- I will be more conscious of buying locally and from small businesses although I must confess that I love the ease and crowd-avoidance of online shopping.
- Both of our work schedules got a little hectic this December. In my case, I probably took on too much between launching a new program and planning a surprise Instagram challenge for January. Next year, I need to account for that by making more room for holiday downtime.
How are you celebrating a conscious Christmas this year? Let me know in the comments.
P.S. For additional reading about eco-friendly and conscious holidays, check out: