Hello 2021! That greeting feels so good, I am going to say it again. Hello 2021! This week, more than a typical, I feel the hope of a new start. The expectations and corresponding disappointments of goals set for 2020 have officially concluded, and 2021 has brought an opportunity to set new expectations and intentions. In my Living My Daydreams post, I wrote about the hopes and dreams I have for my life and also shared how I establish year-long goals at the beginning of every year. Needless to say, my 2020 goals took a little bit of a backseat when life drastically changed in March. One way to sum up the success of my 2020 goals, would be to compare them to a swimming goal of, say, 500 meters at a race pace. What actually happened was I swam 500 meters, but I doggy paddled. It was ugly, slow, and ineffective. But, I stayed afloat and didn’t drown. So, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t all bad, but it still felt a lot like losing. This year, my perspective on my process of setting goals and intentions has changed. My expectations of 2021 are reflective of the fact that we are still navigating this global pandemic. But, this acceptance brings a hope of setting realistic expectations, living daily with intention, and dreaming about what I want to carry with me into the future.
I have read many books about setting goals, and the two that stood out to me are Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis and Make it Happen by Lara Casey. One common theme for Hollis and Casey in their approach to setting life goals is the importance of incorporating hopes and dreams. Hollis describes writing out your ideal life in 10 years, journaling in detail about how it looks and feels. Casey writes about the “big picture” of who you want to be when you are 80, to consider what will have mattered and what will not have been important. Both of these prompts encourage readers to dive into what really matters in life. To be honest, when I initially read these sections of their books, I realized I needed to pause and reflect. In the past, if I daydreamed too much about the future, it would push me out of the present and, at times, cause me to miss the joy going on around me. But, this year when I sat down with the prompt of what I hoped for in 10 years (or 50 years), it felt a little different. All of a sudden, I was in a world without COVID-19. I was daydreaming and journaling about a world on the other side of social distancing, mask wearing, and isolation. This dream carried an unexpected amount of much needed hope.
Through continued reading, I learned an important step to dreaming about the future which prevents fixating only on the future (an important step that I previously would forget), is about bringing future hopes back to the present. This is accomplished through various thought-provoking questions: What specific goals and intentions can one set now that could help make that future dream come true? Is there a way to break down a goal into daily, weekly, or monthly tasks that will build slowly over time? Casey writes, “Little by little grow something good, good things grow over time.” I find comfort in this sentiment, a reminder that the little things do matter. Here is an example of how I have applied this to my life: In ten years, I want to feel comfort and confidence about where I am in life. Presently, there are days when my roles as a school social worker and parent to two young children feels quite the opposite of comfort and confidence. I feel overwhelmed, frazzled, and, at times, full of doubt. The day-to-day activities can feel very far from “progress” towards my future dreams. However, I have realized there are ways I can work to bridge the exhaustion of daily tasks with the hope for future comfort. One way I can create confidence and comfort in both my present as well as future is to take care of myself and my own mental, physical, and spiritual health. This self-care can be broken down into daily and weekly habits: Gratitude journaling, reading the Bible, praying, exercising, reading, writing, and prioritizing time to connect with friends. Each time I put energy into focusing on these activities, I know I am not only taking care of myself today, but I am increasing my capacity to find comfort and confidence in the future.
An interesting part of this process for me was the shift that took place as a result of the overwhelming unpredictableness in 2020. A lot of my 2020 intentions involved “thriving” in various aspects of life: personal, family, career, and hobbies. But, after experiencing continuous blows to my hopes and expectations for success last year, my intentions for 2021 have shifted to instead prioritize people, hobbies, and habits that fill my heart. I am learning that taking care of my heart involves focusing on my family, friendship, faith, and things that bring me joy. This shift seems significantly more important than “thriving” in something specific. I can thank 2020 for the opportunity to refocus on what really matters.
I journaled about my 2021 dreams and intentions prior to Christmas, clearly ready to put 2020 behind me. But it was on Christmas day that I experienced a moment of unrestricted joy which reaffirmed my 2021 intention to focus on my heart. The day involved virtual interactions with family, celebrating with my kids and husband, as well as making and eating two delicious meals. At the end of the day we were all happily exhausted. As I carried a last load of dishes to the kitchen sink and returned to the living room, I paused for a moment. My daughter was cuddling her new Elsa doll while watching her PAW Patrol movie, her eyelids beginning to droop. My son was sitting with his dad learning the rules of a new game, an exuberant smile lighting up his face. The floor was covered in wrapping paper, new clothes, and toys, remnants of the day. My heart felt full as I stood on the edge of the room and looked in. For a brief moment, I felt like an outside observer, seeing the future I had always dreamed of. In that moment, I was reminded that my daydreams were in fact still alive, despite the dreariness of 2020. Focusing on pursuing the hope of a full heart for 2021 has felt like the perfect goal, and the perfect start to a fresh new year.
Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.
*photo credit: personal photo of her kids’ chalk art*