I have a magazine page taped to the wall of my room. I’ve had it for about 12 years now, torn from the pages of a Shape magazine. It shows a woman standing on what must be a cold beach, as she has a long brown wool buttoned sweater blowing back to reveal a beige knit sweater beneath. She’s also wearing a knit scarf, jeans, and brown boots. She stands on the sand with her arms spread eagled above and slightly behind her head; if her figure was inverted 90 degrees, she would look like she is diving into a deep pool. Her eyes are closed.
The text next to her reads: “Think about a time in your life that you’ve really succeeded at a personal goal. Chances are, you focused on it with intent, shutting out distractions and doubt. Focus is knowing what matters to you and committing to it. It’s choosing to ignore the white noise in your own head. When you truly target your mind, your actions will follow–and that is the surest way to write your own future. What are you going to focus on today?”
For a long time, I’ve had trouble answering this question. It’s not easy to sit with the knowledge that you don’t know what you should be focusing on.
Sometimes, in my urgency to choose something, anything, I’ve deliberately picked a crazy goal so I would have something concrete to work towards. That was how I started to run distance races (and why I’m paying for PT now, to deal with injuries sustained from abruptly beginning and stopping training regimens). That was how I decided to go to graduate school. It’s how I started writing theater reviews for zero money.
While I have no regrets about doing any of those things, I will confess that they sometimes felt more like grand gestures to myself than carefully considered plans I intended to pursue long term. It’s easier to run like crazy for four months and then stop completely, than to make a commitment to life-long physical fitness.
So, I knew I was once again making a gesture to myself, when I thought that I wanted to read roughly the equivalent of a book a week for 2017. I lovingly made a list of 52 works, ranging from short plays to medium size novels to War and Peace. I want to commit to reading more, so why not set a challenge for myself?
The tricky thing is avoided early-onset burn out. Of course, I instantly abandoned my carefully curated list for some new books that popped up on my radar the first week of January. Of course my library instantly sent me 3 books I had been on hold for, assuring there would be no time to read them all. And of course it is January 21st, and I have not blogged a word about this new endeavor (even though I have read/listened to about 3 books, so I am on schedule).
But it’s OK. My grand gestures always begin promptly and strongly. So maybe it’s OK that for a new, sustained commitment with no expiration date, I’m off to a messy start.