I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Kind of like how I refuse to give things up for Lent. Maybe I would give sometime up if I thought it would really benefit God, but giving up chocolate always seems to me more selfish than selfless.
So what’s my problem with New Year’s resolutions? I’m not really sure, but I see two possibilities:
1) I’m not a huge fan of self-reflection. It makes me uncomfortable.
2) They never seem to work. Why set myself up for failure?
I always figured that if I had something I legitimately wanted to change, I would certainly not make a NYR regarding it, because that would be pre-determining failure for the thing I actually cared about. And if I didn’t care enough about the thing to not make it a NYR, why bother?
At the beginning of 2013, however, I found myself—inadvertently—in that most uncomfortable state of self-reflection. (And by “beginning” of 2013, I think I mean middle of February. Perhaps I thought that if I started my NYR after everyone else had already failed, I would have better chances of success, even if I had only eleven months to resolve them.)
Of course, stubborn individual that I am, I could not bring myself to set “resolutions,” so instead I made a list of “2013 Goals.” Now, as a newly-official professional athlete, I know something about goal-setting. Or I should.
So even as I wrote my “goals,” I recognized that I was doing myself a great disservice in writing this particular list. For, other than fooling myself with word choice, my “goals” were a lot more like the scorned resolutions that set one up for failure.
My goals were not “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based). In other words, I had no plan for achieving the “2013 Goals”–all I had was the following little note in my new iPhone (which I also had a goal regarding, namely, to not become one of “those people” who cannot seem to exist without her iPhone):
-Manage time better
-Learn bus/metro in DC
As I said, nothing SMART there. What is “more?” What is “better?” Are these possible? When? And most of all, how?
I must say that, for setting such despicable goals, I did surprisingly well at some.
Learning the DC metro system came about pretty early on. I picked up a side job catering. I starting during the Inauguration (which was pretty cool, even for someone completely oblivious to politics), and did a few other events during slow times at my other jobs.
As most of the events my company caters are in downtown DC, many in the Smithsonians and other big, famous buildings (that even I had heard of), it is almost better to use the metro system even if one has a car (which I do not). So, I started the “how” by purchasing a SmarTrip card, by downloading the Metro app to my evil (but highly useful) iPhone, and by thinking of the unpaid hours I spent getting to and from work as an adventure rather than an inconvenience.*
Now, though I’m but no means a pro at the system, I have a pretty good working knowledge of the Metro, even if my use of it has dwindled considerably. If I was to set a goal regarding using the Metro more in 2014, I could. But to make it more “Achievable,” I would probably also need to resolve to live closer to a Metro stop, or to live on a bus line that doesn’t stop running at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday nights.
“Write more” was the goal I was perhaps most passionate about, but was the one I most despaired of achieving by about May, when I had written perhaps less than the year before. But somewhere around that time, Debra Rienstra interceded and invited me to write for this new blog the Calvin English Department was starting…
The monthly deadlines proved to be a somewhat painful, but necessary, aspect of achieving this goal.
“Read more,” was up there with “Write more” in terms of passion, but ended up being the biggest failure (aside from “Manage time better,” which was such a “DUMB” goal that I can’t even begin to measure it, even if I did happen to be relatively successful).
I believe I started quite a few books, but I couldn’t even tell you what most of them were. I only remember finishing one, and that only because it was forced upon me by my coach.
I guess you could say, then, that I may have read “more” than the previous year, as I never specified that my goal was to finish books, and because I could certainly not tell you how many books I started or finished in 2012. But that shows less my success and more how unmeasurable and unspecific my goal setting really was.
I had thought that I might abandon all these goals in 2014, but the uncomfortable phenomenon of self-reflection seems to have persisted into the new year. And I really do love to read. I also have reason to have new hope for the reading goal this year.
When I was visiting some Calvin friends over Thanksgiving, we decided to start a “book club” of sorts. One with the very minimal (and therefore achievable?) goal of one book per season. And since I actually finished the first book on New Year’s Eve, perhaps I can count this goal as a success for both 2013 and 2014.
My 2013 goals have taught me more about goal setting than the “SMART” acronym, however; technically, I was supposed to have already known that. Instead I re-learned something else I already knew—knowledge without action does not produce results.
Perhaps more importantly for someone such as myself, who is stubbornly independent and hates asking for help, I decided that there might be something missing from the SMART acronym—or maybe it is just cleverly disguised in one of the other elements.
Sometimes the most important element of a good goal is support—which can come in many different forms. Sometimes it is a job that forces you to learn new skills. Other times it’s the positive reinforcement of your former professor confirming that your writing is good, a monthly deadline, or a few friends with whom you can work towards a goal together.
*In the words of G.K. Chesterton, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”
Calah Schlabach (’09) is a Calvin graduate who—let’s just be honest—majored in cross country and track while minoring in English and writing. After a year or so of global wandering, she discovered the sport of triathlon. Calah is currently working as a professional triathlete.