“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? . . . What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? –Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
The day after Christmas we took down the tree. I was sorry to see the twinkling white lights and sentimental ornaments from decades of Christmases returned to their boxes and placed in the dark storage room so soon. But we had forgotten to water the tree so we couldn’t wait.
My husband, Brian, had to work that evening, so after the final green needles had been sucked into the vacuum cleaner with one last hardy blast of that earthy evergreen aroma, I put on my sweater and went to a movie.
After the movie, I went on a little walk and reflected on the past year. It was an honest look at my life: the satisfying fulfillment from goals that were met; the depressing details of dashed expectations with the ones that weren’t; and incredulity over unexpected events I could have never foreseen.
My year-end meditation led to some conversations with family members. One person expressed deep regret, to the point of tears, over a mistake made with serious outcomes. After validating their pain, we explored together what new choices in life the event had led to. As the narrative expanded, a place was created for self-compassion and forgiveness, and insight of how the ‘mistake’ led to previously unimagined possibilities.
Post-Christmas may find us worn out, which can give way to disappointment over unfilled hopes we had for ourselves in the past year. Crucial to feeling empowered versus discouraged, requires asking ourselves important questions: What did I learn about myself from this experience? Were my expectations realistic? Are there parts of myself or reality that I choose not to see?
This kind of inquiry can lead to important self-discovery, insight, and even awakening.
In my own inquiry I realized I have been over-focused on outcome and under-focused on process during the past year. As you may already know, last summer I was part of a journalist’s panel discussion in Salt Lake City, Utah, on the famous Gary Gilmore case I had covered as a young reporter. (See July 28/14, Finding Peace with Life’s Contradictions, in the archives.)
The morning after the panel, I was approached in the hotel lobby by Nina Schiller, the wife of Larry Schiller, who had produced, The Executioner’s Song, the movie and book about the case. Nina works for a major publishing house in New York City.
“You should write a book about this,” she said to me. “I am!” I replied. “Then we need to help you get an agent,” she said, clasping my arm and leading me to her car where Larry was waiting to go to the airport. “Larry,” she said, “We need to help Tamera get an agent for her book. What about Ike?” “Ike . . . .” Larry replied thoughtfully, “Yes, I could see Tamera and Ike working well together aren’t we having dinner with him in a few weeks?”
They quickly gave me instructions for writing a brief proposal to send to them and left with good wishes. I stood in the road stunned by what had just happened.
As soon as I got home I spent two solid days writing my little four-page proposal. On the morning I was to send it to them I looked at it and realized I had some big problems with the direction I was going. I called Larry and talked it over with him. He gave me some important advice and steered me towards a rewrite.
For weeks I couldn’t wring one word out to assist me in embracing one of the most important opportunities of my professional life!
Readers, I wish I could say it is finally written. It is not. I’m disappointed. But, what has happened, is that I have found my voice for the book.
I had one more conversation with Larry, who has been a mentor, and came to see I was immobilized because I was writing the wrong story! With an important shift of direction, a rough draft of chapter one, just fell right out my head and onto the page. The one person who has done a first reading of it, another writing colleague, had tears in his eyes and gave me the nod that I am on the right track!
Then quite unexpectedly, an overview of the final chapter came to me one random day during the holidays. That’s all on paper too.
I can’t control whether an agent will like what I have to offer. I can influence my ability to write regularly, even if it’s just a short time each day. I can trust outcome, even if it’s not the outcome I imagine.
I had paralyzed my own process by being over-focused on the outcome of the proposal. When I entered the process of discovering what I really wanted to write about, the book began to write itself. The prospect of writing a proposal now feels more manageable. Once that is completed, I will just write and trust what follows.
I now have hope for my New Year’s goals. But it is hope based on the grounded work of showing up for process versus getting lost in fantasies and fears about outcome.
As the last days of 2014 unfold, notice when you’re giving into ‘failure narratives’ because you didn’t make the progress you wanted to on last year’s goals. Instead, explore what you learned, different ways you could approach the goal this year, or if you need to re-evaluate your goals or timeline.
Forgive yourself and ask, “What can I do?”
Join me next week and I’ll share with you more on incorporating process and practice in goal-setting for 2015.
In the meantime, Happy New Year! I hope you can celebrate life in its whole – honoring both setbacks and success.