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?






Parenting in the Big Picture

I had a crisis of confidence last week. My already truncated available time for writing was being impinged by a dental appointment for one kid, a canceled after school activity for the other and some sort of malaise that had me off for about 24 hours. As I forced myself into the seat to try writing something, anything, I simply just didn’t feel good and I felt the panic start to rise. I called the hubby for a moment of venting, frustrated that this creative life I desperately want, I seemed to sabotage at every turn. It’s interrupted and pushed aside and then when I have a few hours or moments and don’t feel well and simply want to sit my butt on the couch to rest, I feel guilty. Like desperately, beat myself up mentally, ready to give up guilty because aren’t I just wasting everyone’s time and forcing us into this crazy budget tightening onto one salary for my own selfish desires?

Yeah. That.

Luckily, I’m married to a guy who is not only practical but insanely supportive of this journey I’m on and knows me better than I probably know myself. His response floored me. Not just ebbed the panic or stopped the gush of guilt or placated, but stopped me in my tracks. It was an epiphany moment that not only cleared my own vision about my specific writing challenge in that moment, but opened my eyes to a larger understanding.

What he told me was that writing was like investing in your 401(k). You invest your money, but you don’t check it every day. It’s built for the long term. You will have up days and down days, but overall, you want a pattern of growth over the long term so that when you’re ready to retire, it’s ready for you. That doesn’t mean ignore it, it doesn’t mean throw your hands up the moment it gets tough, it means that some days are good, some days are bad, but no one day defines the entirety.

Mind blowing, right? Maybe just for me.

Then, I realized, not only did this long term view apply to my writing, but it applies to my parenting as well. There are some days when I just don’t feel in it to win it. The kids are at each other’s throats. The questions are endless. The answers are ignored. The crankiness is turned up. The lack of sleep catches up. The toys aren’t right. The screen time is taken away. The patience is short. The time is fractured. The desires misaligned. The schedules busy. The fridge is empty. The weather is rainy.

Then there are days that are just magic. The complaining is limited. The helping is rampant. The hugs are everywhere. The reminding is brief. The giggles are silly. The laughter is ongoing. The playtime is peaceful. The patience is plentiful. The chatter is two-way. The games are all-inclusive.

Regardless of whether it’s a bad parenting day or a good one, it’s the long term strategy, right? The child you’re turning into an adult. The memories you’re building that have little to do with whatever homework you’re nagging about or if the dishes were piled in the sink on Tuesday. The love that you’re sharing. The stories you’re reading. The time you’re spending. Yes, there are days we just want to end, tasks we wish we didn’t have to complete, schedules we wish we could free, but our ultimate commitment, our children, is still the top priority. And so we keep trying. We put them to bed and we binge watch something on TV and shake our heads when our spouse asks if we want to talk about one of those days and we go to sleep that night and try again the next day. We pack the lunches, make the breakfasts, drive the carpools and take deep breaths. We keep trying. We learn from yesterday’s mistakes. We put away the bad day before, we work on the day we’re in and remember there are more days in front.

Then, hopefully one day we’ll look back over this long trajectory of parenthood and our kids will tell us we did a good job. Not a perfect job. But a good job. Maybe even a great job. You’ll sit around a wedding rehearsal dinner table or a hospital bed as you meet a new grandchild or a Christmas tree with paper strewn about and toys underfoot again and your grown children will reminisce and laugh and tell stories and they won’t be about the days you hurried through, the days you didn’t feel the magic. They will be about the love. The fun.

We watched our youngest in a preschool performance this morning. He’ll only do this performance once. He’ll only be five for 9 more months. He’ll only be at preschool until May. As stressful as it was to create a costume and arrange our schedules to be there on a day where I’m also scheduled to be at the older’s school later and plan and run an adult meeting tonight, it was the big picture that granted serenity — time is fleeting and I want this moment to appear in my mind’s eye when I look back, not the remainder of the day’s logistics.

So, if you’re struggling today with today, focus on the end goal. Today might be a wash. That’s okay. There’s always tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Let’s give ourselves permission to let go of the minutia and instead live our lives focused on the bigger picture, the overall portfolio of their childhood that turns them into these strangely independent, individual adults that will jump onto their own roller coasters of life. That’s the end goal. Let’s make the long term investment.