I set aside time to mentally clean house during December. Usually, my hands are busy with cooking or creating my wreaths as I reflect on the previous year. There’s a standard set of questions that guide my musings and meanderings through the cobwebs of the past: What did I accomplish? Were any of those accomplishments on my bucket list? What unexpected surprises occurred that propelled me in new and exciting directions? Where did I flop miserably, and what did I learn that would enable me to pivot into a better and more rewarding new year?
My end of the year ritual became more urgent and purposeful during 2012 when my Cardiologist/Electrophysiologist confirmed the damage to my heart was irreversible. I needed a new life plan. The specialist informed me that I could not return to full-time work as a consultant. Anyone who works as an entrepreneur or sole proprietor understands that running a small business is a 24-hour 7-day-a-week undertaking. You are either seeking clients, performing the agreed-upon services, or writing up necessary reports to get reimbursed for services already rendered. I had to grapple with questions that went beyond finances.
How do I create and maintain meaning in life when the parameters for intentional living don’t include a job/career? How do I get up every day with purpose for my day? Exploring new options involved prayer and talking with trusted friends. Asking questions of colleagues who’d been downsized from jobs they loved only to be replaced by someone younger or told their skills were obsolete. I listened to them as they talked about reinvention, returning to school to complete another degree, or relocating to a new community where there were opportunities for mid-career changes. Hearing them recount how their families were changed by displacement or moving to new schools or forgoing luxuries they’d become used to help me do some necessary housekeeping of my own. Change occurred when I accepted that I had to let go of the old ways of being to take on both the restrictions and new opportunities that were a part of the evolving healthier lifestyle.
The last ten years evolved through challenges to old paradigms about worth: I had to scale back contributions of time and treasure to causes I believed in. Volunteerism had been a critical part of my identity since high school, but I no longer had the energy to canvas neighborhoods, cook or serve meals, or even tutor. Instead, I began forays into practicing mindfulness, increasing my faith, and creating new ways to support others. My first successful venture was assisting doctoral candidates stalled in their dissertation writing. I had the time to sit with them as they pored over rough drafts to point out what the committee members required and how to focus their writing on answering the questions asked. Several of my friends realized their dreams because I had the time and energy to help them overcome their educational hurdles. Unfortunately, the move also meant that I’d leave behind my church family, sorority graduate chapter, and a host of friends who were there to assist me through the disruptions of the previous two years.
My first real challenge was caregiving. My mother was no longer able to live alone; I relocated from Michigan to care for her with the assistance of my sister. The move proved to be beneficial. My sister and I strengthened our bonds while caring for our mother. The three of us attended church together, traveled together, and spent quality time caring for each other. Serendipitously, I found a new sister circle through a writer’s group I joined. These women and their families offered me venues/outlets for creativity, spontaneity, and new ways of living. Because of them, I’ve steadily written and published books, short stories, and articles. I was also able to maintain contact with old friends through the new technologies of social media.
Living my best life began by asking and answering the question: “What can I do today intentionally? On purpose.” The answers gave me energy and forced those brain cells to keep moving, so inertia didn’t take over. There’s nothing worse than living in the past while you still have skills and resources that can be utilized in the present. Sitting around and not contributing is a waste of why we are created. The past is our guide, a sign of what we attempted, created, and learned from both success and failure. The past is not where we hang out.
Great memories, accomplishments, and learnings allow me the wisdom to know how to use those messages to keep going forward intentionally. I often think of the elderly actor in the Black Panther movie who was “discovered” at age 92. A queen. She’s my role model; I want to be still vibrant at 92, still ascending new mountains. So, I’ll start the new year with intentions for greater effectiveness, better relationships, exploration of new ideas.
Joyce A. Brown
Joyce A. Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women, but her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria and Battle Creek, Michigan. She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in the contemporary fiction novels she pens. Visit her Author’s Page