Another Year in the Books

Last year, I resolved to focus on one word. That word was forward. Rereading that post a few days ago, I smiled. I sounded so ambitious and excited.

I remembered where I was emotionally and what I was hoping to accomplish.

I remembered the roadblocks, the physical and mental ones, that had been holding me back. The obstacles that always (always, dammit) popped up when I was feeling the most momentum.

I remembered the book I was writing then. Or at least the book I thought I was writing then.

I remembered the thrill of the run, the progress, the determination.

And yet somehow I forgot.

I forgot the promise of progress.

I forgot that I controlled the steps.

I forgot the plan.

At the beginning of this December, it sure did feel like it. I was halfway through the very rough draft of this next book and realizing that I needed to rewrite that first half. I was feeling stiff and stuck and thought that the entire year had been dominated around our move.

After some thoughtful reflection (because what else is happening when you’re stuffed on ham and cookies and cake and your husband is watching a football game you don’t care about but you’re too exhausted to leave the couch), I realized I haven’t been standing still. Not at all.

2016 still ended up being the year of forward. Boy, did it ever.

2016 was the year I decided the book I was writing wasn’t the book I was writing. The real book I was writing was now a historical fiction. I researched. I read. I researched some more. Despite the cursor’s lack of movement across the page for many months, I was building a foundation for the book. And although it felt like stagnation, I can see now how far I’ve come in that year. How different this book will be. How much I’ve had to learn, and still need to learn, in order to finish it, to make it work.

2016 was the year we moved. A move away from all we’d built for our children, our family. We endured their tears when we proposed the idea to them. We suffered their blame when they didn’t want to leave their school, their friends, the only home they’ve known. And we endured our own sleepless nights trying to pull all the logistics together. We wept for all the familiarity we were leaving behind. We uprooted one painful root at a time and took our tree to North Carolina. And although we replanted that tree, we are still nursing it, watering it and adjusting to the new soil. Six months later. I wonder some days how long will it take. How long before I feel as entrenched, before I know the right balance between extended family events and incubating our nuclear one, before I get back to the most effective writing routine? But even I can see each step is a step forward in our new life.

Despite the destination being completely off from where I thought it would be a year ago, I suppose it was still the year of forward. I just didn’t anticipate the universe taking it so literally.

So 2017.

My kids are at a wonderful elementary school with a principal I love. She is not only elegant and graceful, tall and direct, she is warm and passionate and smart in a way that’s apparent in her hello. And you can tell she absolutely, unequivocally loves what she does.

Not only is she the principal, she has brought a new principle to the school. She has instituted a growth mindset at the school.

Not sure what growth mindset is? Watch this. Read this.

But in a nutshell, the idea is that our brains are constantly growing. That the growth mindset allows us to enjoy the challenge as opposed to focusing only on the outcomes.

For example, ever told (by yourself or someone else) that you were just not a math person  (raises hand) and allowed that to justify your subpar performance in math without putting in too much extra effort? That’s an example of the fixed mindset.

Ever train for a marathon? Did you tackle the training step by step and trust every run’s expanse of your running prowess until one day you actually could run the marathon when at the beginning you couldn’t run more than four miles? Growth mindset.

(Really, watch and read the above links. It’s a much better explanation than these sad examples.)

In the classroom, however, it means that the students are taught strategies on how to tackle problems when they run into challenges. “I can not” is not a valid response. That when something is new and hard, students can’t…YET. The students focus on their effort. Their growth. Mistakes and wrong answers are simply parts of learning. FAIL is now the First Attempt In Learning. It’s a fascinating field of psychological study and it is slowly seeping into my parenting and how I approach my own work as I am aware of when I am employing a fixed mindset. It’s been interesting to see where I am fixed and where I use a growth mindset naturally. Relationships? Totally growth. Academics? A little fixed, I have to admit. My public relations career?  I looked back and found I approached that with a total growth mindset (and realized I was also lucky enough to have growth mindset bosses at nearly every turn – thank you MJ, MB, SD, LZ, PG, and MO). My writing? Completely, utterly fixed mindset.

Why? I have a feeling people telling me I was talented at writing or good-naturedly saying they wished they could write like I did, all internalized into my thinking that I shouldn’t have to work so hard at writing. It’s a talent, so it should come easy, right? That because some writing comes easy to me, all writing should. Ah. There is the flaw, right? All writing is not created equal and only the best writers are the best writers because they continue to work on their craft.

Are you all still with me? Thanks. I know it seems like I’ve gone off the New Year’s Resolutions rails.

But not really.

2017. It’s my year of growth.

The year where I focus on learning, stretching, trying, challenging. The year of mistakes. The year of wrong paths. The year where I try on my own growth mindset. The year where failure is celebrated because it means I’ve learned something. The year of YET. I haven’t finished my book…YET. I haven’t found the right agent…YET. The list can go on and on and on.

As a family, we created a few other growth mindset resolutions. Each member answered the following:

In 2017, I want to learn…

In 2017, I want to help others in my community by…

In 2017, with my family, I want to…

And then a general, in 2017, I want to…

That general category, that’s where my paper says in big, capital, permanent marker letters: GROW.

And boy, did my boys smile when they saw that. Won’t that be wonderful for them to realize that growing doesn’t end? That even their old mom can still stretch her skills and learn something new and accomplish something fantastic and new? That you don’t ever finish growing up, you still continue to grow? I think so.

What’s your mindset for 2017?

 

 

 

 

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Finding Forty

I just turned forty.

I have a distinct memory of a surprise fortieth birthday party for my father when I was in the fifth grade. We decorated with a myriad of black balloons and over the hill decor. I thought forty was so old.

Now here I am. Forty.

And I don’t feel old. If anything, I feel a little weird to wear the forty badge when most days I still feel as insecure as my seventeen year old self. I wonder if there should be a test to see whether you have truly earned forty. Not just in physical time, but experience and growth. In a novel, a character is supposed to change or learn something about himself. I feel that maybe by forty, I should have learned more, changed more, done more.

Forty.

The first forty were momentous, to say the least. I learned to walk, talk, eat, read, write, add, ride a bike, drive a car, kiss a boy, make friends. I left home and went to college. I fought and won and lost. I got married, moved to DC, bought our first house, met some of the most incredible people I have had the joy of working with not to mention call mentors and friends. I attended showers and weddings and lots of early morning media tours with cold control rooms and bad coffee. I have celebrated weddings and births and said final goodbyes to two grandparents, an uncle, a mentor and a dear friend who was too young to leave us behind. I moved to Atlanta. I had two beautiful baby boys who are the sparkle to my every day. I stepped away from my career. I stood by family and friends as they fought disease, divorce and the occasional abyss of depression and anxiety. My body has made it through three surgeries, two child births, and one horrifying night with a crash cart. I have said yes even when it was scary. I took a leap of faith to honor the career I’ve always wanted. I have written a book.

Forty.

Halfway to 80, which is a life.

I stand on the precipice of this hill. It’s a wonderful view. Behind me I see strength in others and myself that I didn’t realize was there. I see faith and love and courage. I see how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go. Ahead of me, I see bigger challenges. I see my boys becoming young men. I see the work ahead for securing this new career in writing. I see my forties as being the opportunity to live the life I’ve been building. I see a freedom in taking these lessons and living unapologetically, deliberately, purposefully.

Forty.

I continue moving. Not just because time continues on like a treadmill and I have no choice but to take another step or fall on my face, but because I choose to. I choose to keep walking my path and seeing what is next. The first forty gave me the skills I need for the next forty. What a wonderful place to be: armed and ready and open to receiving the next thing, the thing I can’t predict.

Forty.

So maybe I am over the hill like those old decorations taunted my own father. But I can’t wait to see what’s on the hill behind this one. And the one after that. If the first forty is any indication, it promises to be quite the journey.

Forty.

Forward.