The holidays always seem like a forceful end parenthesis to cap another speedy year. How did we get here again? I found myself thinking over the detritus of my son’s gleeful package unwrapping. So, dutifully, I made myself spend some time with my journal writing down the many events and milestones that transpired in that blur of last year. More and more research shows that the brain responds well to that which we put into words on the page. In fact, as Anya Kamentz wrote in New York Magazine, writing down your goals makes you more likely to achieve them. She refers to the work of a researcher, aptly named Jordan Petersen, who suggests this helps build a “growth mindset.” In fact, I think that’s my buzz word for 2016. Growth mindset. That suggests room for both success and experimentation (I don’t say failure anymore). I want to grow in my own life, and be around people who generate growth in their own.
“But the idea behind self-authoring is sound, as it taps into what researchers call a growth mind-set, the idea that adopting the mind-set that your strengths and abilities are not fixed, but can improve over time and with effort, can have self-fulfilling results.”
Before we dip deep into that growth mindset for 2016, I encourage you to also take stock of 2015. It may have been a difficult year for you personally, but I am not alone in believing that difficulty always has the ability to carve us open deeper with empathy, makes us more capable of becoming what the Buddhists call Bodhisattvas–making ourselves of service to others on the path. I can find hundreds of examples where a personal loss drove a person to make greater change in the world. I don’t believe that this means one’s personal suffering will (or should) go away, but I do believe in making positive change in the world, no matter how small, which needs us all so much. And this has been a year of great tragedy and suffering, calling on many of us to put aside our feelings of helplessness and do something. Look at what the #compassioncollective achieved (created by 5 authors, happily)–raising $1million dollars in 31 hours in $25 increments for Syrian refugees. Look at what the Humans of New York founder has done for the people he photographs.
Join me in taking stock of 2015. Get out a notebook and a pen (I recommend doing these by hand) and write down:
The three most difficult things you endured. These may be personal or global. They may be things that happened to other people, but which affected you. And if you can, ask yourself how that hardship changed you. I won’t go so far as to suggest that all negativity and pain makes you a better person, but it often brings insight, welcome or not:
How can I be of service most immediately to the people in my path?
- Watching people near and dear to me suffer through very big challenges. This helped me learn to take better care of myself emotionally and physically and adopt a more “service-oriented” mindset; i.e. how can I be of service most immediately to the people in my path?
- Some unexpected reliving of the most painful times of my childhood. Got back to therapy. Remembered to let go of what I can’t control.
- My son’s painful transition from end of summer to 2nd grade, which also came with a developmental leap for him, and showed me that I have more patience and compassion than I thought I did. It tested my ability to be present for his struggle in ways I could not anticipate. It reminded me that pain is most often helped, healed, and witnessed through love.
Pain is most often helped, healed, and witnessed through love.
The five most magnificent events that filled you with joy, pride, or hope. This includes your personal or work achievements; moments of peace; epiphanies, acts of self-care. These may have been hard won, with blood spilled and claws drawn, but you did it anyway:
The publication of three books: A Writer’s Guide to Persistence, which is my love letter to any struggling writer at any stage of the game, borne out of my own dark night of the soul; Writing Deep Scenes, with my dear co-author Martha Alderson, a book that will help pantsers and plotters alike; and my suspense novel Women in Red, which is about dance, but is really about the cost of not pursuing our true calling.
- After a 5 year hiatus when my son was born and little, building a thriving freelance writing career again that is not just a flash in the pan, thanks to the support and resources of a wonderful all-women (and gender non-conforming) fellow writers. Self-sufficiency is something I’ve struggled with in this life, and I finally feel like I am pulling my weight in the world, and setting a good model for my son.
- Publishing over 200 articles, blogs, and essays, including in publications I have long admired or which were “dream” pubs many years before, such as DAME, Pacific Standard, Salon, the Atlantic (forthcoming), the Washington Post, and many more.
- Signing a contract with Writer’s Digest Books for (and writing the first half of) a fourth writing guide, due out fall, 2016, titled: Writing the Intimate Character: Mastering
- Supporting my loved ones toward new vistas and dreams of greater purpose.
- Learning to live more in the here and now, taking deep breaths and baby steps.
My favorite places to read others’ work:
My favorite published pieces of my own this year:
The Water or the Wife, East Bay Review. A short story about literal drought, and the inner thirst that accompanies grief.
My Years as a Kleptomaniac. The Billfold.
They’re Coming For You. Survivor’s Guilt and New anti-semitism. Jewish Journal.
A Failure to Feed. Brain, Child
Why I Plan to Hover as My Son Becomes a Teen for STIR Journal