I have a New Year’s tradition where I write my goals for the new year on a paper plate. The hope is that I won’t discard the plate; I’ll keep looking at my goals and making progress toward whatever it is I desire. Sometimes, I achieve my goals and sometimes I forget what I’ve written on the plate. Usually the plate ends up in the garbage. None of it feels entirely fulfilling. As a matter of fact, most of the time when we achieve a goal, we simply set a higher goal to reach and it feels like life is a series of challenges, a marathon that never ends. It can feel exhausting.
This year, I have a different type of goal. As I look back at 2016, what stands out to me is the passing of many celebrities, the passing of my beloved maternal grandmother and the tragic passing of my thirty-one year old cousin Jonathan. It’s become more important to me to set goals that are truly fulfilling. We don’t know when our time will be up. There is nothing wrong with trying to reach the ideal weight, the ideal money in our bank accounts, the accumulation of real estate, the publishing of books or whatever our hearts desire but these material things are fleeting. Once the goal is accomplished, that initial euphoria goes and there comes a sort of emptiness, at least for me.
My grandmother and cousin lived lives where they pursued their passions and each in their own way made a difference in the lives of many. As I write, I can hear my husband saying, “don’t be so hard on yourself. You make a difference in our lives and the lives of your students.” But I feel there is more that I can do. I’m talking about stretching myself and being of value to others even when it’s not easy or convenient. I’m talking about making a difference in someone else’s life without always focusing on myself.
On December 29th a wise family member said to me while we sat at the dinner table enjoying Christmas pudding, that our life is a gift and there’s no store, no mall that can buy time or the breath. Our purpose is to benefit others and that is the ultimate goal to set: how can we be of purpose and value to others? She said life is like a coin. You either spend it wisely, lose it or you waste it. I’ve come to feel that the pursuit of my own goals is wasting it. I feel that the path to fulfillment is to spend my coin wisely by being of value to others, even if it’s only one person. Hopefully I’ll be of value to many people. Maybe it will be through writing. Maybe God has different plans for me. I didn’t write my goals on a plate this year. Instead I’m trying with every interaction to be more thoughtful and more helpful to others.