Halfway through January, the New Year resolution talk is starting to wind down. I’m not getting as many fitness deals in my inbox, and writing “2013” on documents at work has become second nature. Instead of making resolutions this year, I jumped on board with the “one little word” plan. In choosing one word for the year, the hope is to set an intention that guides your actions throughout the coming months. I think of it as a self-created lighthouse, something to look toward that will help keep me on a path I’ve chosen for myself.
I threw out a lot of words when I was trying to choose — lots that centered on healing my wounds, sparking or nurturing my creativity, re-centering my life — but a different sort of word also kept popping up. I kept pushing it down and thinking of other words, but that one little word wouldn’t stop.
The word was GIVE, and since it wouldn’t leave me alone, I finally gave into it.
My wife and I got married last September in a splendid weekend filled with so much love and joy that we never wanted it to end. We spent the first two days of our Hawaii honeymoon talking about every little magical moment. On a drive through the beautiful landscape, I remarked that I was excited to send all the thank you cards because I felt so grateful for all the people who had travelled to celebrate with us and make our wedding so special. My wife agreed, and she also said she’d like to focus more on giving back in general in the coming year. After all the blessings that had been bestowed on us, she wanted to spend more time volunteering and giving to charity and sharing some of what we had received.
While I had been so excited about thanking our wedding guests, I was surprised by my reaction to this sentiment from my wife. I can’t remember what I said — probably some half-hearted agreement. But what I felt inside was, “NO! I want to focus on buying a house this year, on starting a family, on growing my blog, on writing, on eating better, on starting an exercise routine, on improving my photography.” I wanted to get myself and my family exactly where I wanted them to be. I didn’t have the energy to think about giving back.
So I didn’t. I didn’t even focus on writing all those thank you cards. Instead, I kept thinking about and analyzing my own life. I kept trying to figure myself out and pull it all together. And when the year came to a close a few months later, I felt deflated. 2012 had been a year filled with a thousand wonderful things, all of which I had longed for. And yet, I didn’t feel the resounding peace and contentment I thought I would. No, instead I continued to look out toward the horizon at all the things left to reach, all the things I still thought I needed to feel settled.
It was from that place that the word GIVE rose up in me. And it was from that place that I pushed it down. “I’m all used up,” I thought to myself. “I have no energy left for giving. I’m maxed out.” And it was true. All that energy focused on seeking, striving, attaining was leaving me empty. But from somewhere deep inside, a little voice was telling me that perhaps more attaining wasn’t the answer.
I will not sell all my earthly belongings this year and become a professional volunteer. I am not abandoning all my desires for my own life. But I am planning a small shift in how I spend my energy and, to some extent, my money. 2013 will be the year that I step out of myself and into the world around me. It will be the year that I notice other people, send more thank you cards and “just because” cards, the year that I seriously consider my finances and make intentional charitable contributions, that I carve out time to volunteer, call my friends, respond to an email that asks for a few hours of help with moving or packing or canning or harvesting vegetables.
It will be the year that I remember that I have not only what I need but a little extra to give.
My first step was declaring 2013 a no-clothes-shopping year. The fact is that I have absolutely all the clothes that I need — and more. But I was spending a significant amount of time (and sometimes money) on online clothing sites thinking about filling out my closet or buying the latest trend. It’s a silly little thing, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with clothes shopping. But turning off that option has created welcome space in my brain, my schedule, and my bank account — space that I can redistribute in a way that falls more in line with my intentions for the year.
I harbor no illusions that this will be a year of selflessness or sainthood. In fact, I know exactly the opposite is true.
This year I will give — give back, give love, give thanks, give more — precisely because I know I need to for myself.
I will give because I don’t want to feel empty, because I want to connect with other people and feel like a citizen of this world.
I will give because I’ve realized that spending all my energy thinking about everything I was missing left me blind to everything that I had.
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If you have thought of choosing one little word for 2013 and haven’t done so yet, it’s not too late to set up your own little lighthouse. Setting an intention for the year can start whenever you’re ready. And while GIVE is the right word for me this year, it might not be (and probably isn’t) the right word for you. Some folks out there already spend all their time and energy giving and need to remember to take some time to do the exact opposite and focus on their own desires. I encourage you to spend some time considering what word is right for you.