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Dreaming a Better Year (now that the pressure is off)

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. The holidays are crazy-busy and packed with overwhelming expectations about family and merriment and, in some extreme cases, heinous reindeer sweaters. Is it any wonder then that the typical New Year’s resolution calls for herculean self-control and results, six months later, in the world’s most expensive Elliptical Power 3000 plant stand?

On the other hand, I enjoy learning about other kinds of traditions related to New Year. Well beyond the black eyed peas and collard greens, some families use the early part of a new year to evaluate where they’re headed. Members of one family choose a word for the year—“health,” “kindness,” “gratitude”—and use that word, posted on the wall, to guide their daily decisions.

Another family I know talks about a vacation they’d like to take, and how each member of the family can help make that happen; during the year, they find it easier to walk away from a mediocre movie at the Cineplex or another American Girl doll because they know they’re working toward what they most desire.

When my husband and I were newly married, our goals were mostly about travel and finishing our education. Within several years our list had expanded to numerous other categories:career, health, finance, spirituality, and hobbies. One particular year we discovered we weren’t likely to achieve what we really wanted if we stuck to the current trajectory. That conversation, and the goals we created, changed our lives in measurable ways. We designed a five-year time line, giving ourselves one year to meet little goals, three years for medium, and five years for big. And five years later, we found that sheet of paper and realized we had met every one of those goals. We had relocated, purchased our first home, changed careers and started a family. And we had accomplished those things as partners.

After 20 years together, we have our planning sessions down to a science. We take the morning off, take a walk together where we discuss the past year, then head to a quiet restaurant for breakfast and a dream session. We talk about ideals: What would we like to experience individually? As a couple? As a family? How much would we like to save? How much would we like to give to charities and which ones? Do we have fitness goals? Spiritual growth ideas? We are careful not to stretch too far beyond our means (a month in the Riviera), but we do challenge ourselves (two family trips of a long weekend and a week, plus a couple’s weekend getaway and a chance to see my best friend up north).

We gnosh on veggie omlets and figure out what it’s going to take to meet our goals, budgeting our time and finances. We reality check each other, negotiating over hot coffee and stacking up creamer cartons to illustrate our points. We are passionate but unified. At the end of the meal, we have a messy list of dreams and ideas wrangled into clearly-stated goals—many of which we’ll meet during the next 12 months, some of which will take a bit longer. We are tanked up on caffeine and aspirations, and by the end of that meal, we know ourselves and each other better. We know where we are and where we’re going, and we know if we’ve chosen the right traveling companion. (So far, so good!)

Whether you’re in a partnership, or a single caregiver, or flying solo, I encourage you to give yourself a restful period after the holidays. Donate the ugly sweater and take a nap by the fire. Then, when you are awake and refreshed, consider what’s most important to you. Make some dreams about the year to come, and get creative about how to make some of them come true.

Any day can be the beginning of your new year.



Award-winning humor columnist and author of the true crime memoir _No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder_ (Penguin Group, 2009). Inspirational speaker on issues of survivors' rights, women's issues, and general you-can-do-it-ness. Marketing consultant.

One thought on “Dreaming a Better Year (now that the pressure is off)

  1. Good article! More of us need to take that practical, no-nonsense approach to life.

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