In the 1939 classic movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, the Tin Man, and Scarecrow confront their fears in the dark and scary forest as they travel along the yellow brick road to the Emerald City. Witches and wild animals—and all sorts of imagined risks—lurk in the darkness. Lion jumps out and reminds them they need courage, along with a brain and a heart. Together, arms linked, they set off on the path to reach their individual goals.
Were you missing any of these essential comrades on your journey through 2020? Did you make informed decisions, connect to your heart, stay on task, and summon the courage to add new goals or direction as you tread day-by-day through the year? Although I tried to stay focused, the effort to overcome distractions and fears felt very imbalanced. In retrospect, I spent way too much time and energy consuming and making sense of the barrage of information and less time envisioning and creating what was important to me. I know some generous people who jumped right in to assist those whose businesses were destroyed or who needed help with the necessities of living. Helping others takes us beyond ourselves and gets us in touch with our heart.
This past year felt like a cauldron of bewitching spells interfering with our personal goals: a global pandemic; racial crimes, distrust, violence, fear; political upheaval; financial insecurity; and consequential climate events—hurricanes, cyclones, floods, and fires. Adding to the global and national crises were the local dilemmas of finding toilet paper, rice, and other staples; keeping and adapting our jobs and workspaces; ensuring a roof over our heads and food on the table; educating our children; and importantly, avoiding (or recovering from, or helping someone else deal with) COVID-19. We spent so much energy and resources on just getting through and surviving each day.
Maybe survival was our actual goal in 2020. Although, I doubt it was anyone’s New Year’s resolution last year! As the calendar turned to 2021, I avoided looking back on 2020. Like many of you, I just wanted to move on. (Although, it has been said that the things we avoid are the things we most need to pay attention to). For those of you who welcomed new babies or pets or jobs or moves—congratulations! I’m happy that you had a celebratory event in 2020. And I’m grateful for family and friends and children of friends who shared photos and videos of their new additions and family adventures. Thank you! It gave me an escape from the mundane routine of isolation and helped me feel a sliver of your joy.
Were there silver linings? Of course, if we look for them. Some of us updated wills, organized financial files or photographs, talked logistics with family, shared meaningful stories and reflections, virtually connected regularly with friends and family, or called someone to reconnect with from the past. What did you do or learn? I might not have done much or accomplished much, but I had many opportunities to learn something new or meet new people online. Once I got past the tasks of preparing and adapting and then moved beyond the inertia, I signed up for writing webinars, zoom sessions, and online classes. It gave me structure and something to look forward to. Many events were free or low cost as experts and authors expanded their networks to share their expertise or books. I’ve “met” so many authors without having to travel or venture out after dark!
Resolutions and Goals
What are your goals for 2021? Are you afraid to make any? Or maybe you are on track—or have already broken your contract with yourself. Less than a week into the new year, an advisor I talked to on the phone asked about my New Year’s resolutions (and if I made any). He told me that he had already lapsed from his resolve not to eat fast food and exercise every day. I responded that his resolutions of “never” and “every day” felt ambitious during a pandemic and added, “my goal is to just get through each day.” We laughed, but I was honest. I had been dealing with progressive spinal nerve pain for a month. The pain and the inability to stand in the shower, stand and cook, or walk outside for fresh air and a sanity break were taking a toll. I literally still am just getting through each day.
While my distractions and fears aren’t as ominous as wild lions and tigers and bears, I’m faced with a complicated decision of when to have more surgery. Can I wait? How do I function and live with this pain that zings along the nerves when I stand, walk, bend, or move in my sleep? Some days, I’m desperate to do it. Other days, I remind myself that the surgery might not resolve the pain, or it might create new problems, like the last spinal surgery when the drill overstepped its bounds and invaded the spinal column, wrapping the sacral nerves in its cold and insensitive grip. I continually weigh the potential risks with perceived benefits, just like I do with COVID-19 risks.
Having a son with leukemia and adapting to thirty-five years of chronic illness taught me to take life one day at a time. I still plan, but I’m always aware of how a sense of control is an illusion. My focus has served me well this past year.
Dorothy’s intention in The Wizard of Oz was to find the Wizard who would help her reach her goal of getting back home to Kansas. In the end, she discovered that the answer was not with the Wizard but within her all along. Her friends helped her realize that she already had the courage, knowledge, and heart to access her passion and reach her goal.
So many events of 2020 were external to us, and we had no (or little) control. We did what we had to do to stay safe and alive. But living is more than surviving. Where’s the joy in that?
Overcome Distractions and Fears
We may not anticipate the challenges ahead, but we can find the courage to overcome distractions, face our fears, and act on our goals. How? By staying grounded, focused, and centered on the moment at hand. Start close in, David Whyte advises.
Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
want to take.
We must start where we are, even if we are in a state of confusion or fear. Clear a space in your mind and heart, so there’s room to grow. (You can’t add to a cup that’s already overflowing). Breathe in and out. Don’t overthink it. Just attend to it.
Getting started—taking that first step—is the hardest part. I tend to question myself or over-analyze the situation. My mantra, long before Nike adopted it, has been to “Just do it.” It gets me out of my comfort zone and past my fears. Do you have a mantra?
Sometimes, it’s the small things, done consistently and a little bit better each time, that give us the confidence to move forward. Pick something you want to improve on or do for yourself or others. Then let go, drop into the intention, and surrender to your heart. (It’s not about trying to make it happen but letting go of the outcome/expectation). Listen to your own voice and take one small step to claim as your own.
Just beyond yourself is the road you need to take, the path that honors your heart. That’s how you know it’s where you need to be. Go ahead—take the first step. Start again in this new year.