I am adapting a strategy from a new favorite blogger of mine and instead of having a list of new years’ resolutions, I am picking out a word (or really a few words) that I want to guide my way this coming year.
When I look back on the last year, I see a year with a lot of growth. I can’t say all that growth has been easy. A lot of it has been hard-won. It’s been a year of decisions and transitions. I’ve continued to up my tolerance for creative risk taking and uncertainty–something that I think is an essential skill to do the work I want to do in the world–but at times I’ve wondered whether learning some of these life lessons could be easier, less scary.
When I think about the year ahead, I see two clear mandates–that of building my happiness, and seeking meaning.
build your happiness | seek your meaning
build your happiness.
Despite any ups and downs, there’s been a lot of happiness in my fall. While there’s a lot of discussion about happiness in our culture today–how to get it, what happens when it ‘flees,’ I’ve been thinking a lot this past fall about the joy that I find in the interstitial cracks between myself and what’s around me–the people in my world, and my environment.
I had a few friends come to visit this summer. We sat on my porch for hours, drank iced coffee, and watched the world go by together. There was such a simple joy and rightness in it. I’ve gotten more of that simple joy, visiting my family, niece and nephew, and even spending a few days with one of my research partners on Proactive Practices, eating too much junk food and arguing about what activities community design consists of.
I’ve also been blessed this past year to start developing a number of friendships–both on the personal level and the professional level. While I have lived in Boston for almost five years, it feels like I’m finally starting to build a deeper network where I live. Sometimes it’s been formal, for example through launching the Creative Somerville Series, or a book group that I just got involved with, and sometimes it’s been informal, but I have met people this year with whom I’ve felt that gut/core feeling of, “Yes. My instincts say you are a wonderful person and I want to get to know you more, learn from you, work with you.” In both new relationships and old, I want to continue being around people who make me laugh, make me think, and will bring more joy and light into my life.
Building my own happiness is also about making time for the pursuit of beauty. I have realized just how much I am still in the slow thaw-out of a design training mindset (who would have known it would take so long??!?!?) where time is short and all is focused on production.
While much of landscape architecture is about the pursuit of beauty (and order, function, ecological health) I am starting to make time for beauty–for both creating and investigating it–for no other purpose than to appreciate it. For me this has meant everything from my first experiments with illustration this summer, including my mushroom series, to collecting ginkgo leaves just because I love them. I can credit my training in landscape architecture for the appreciation part–I now see differently; I more closely observe patterns in the world around me, in both time and space. “Building” my own happiness doesn’t mean forging as much as it means making space. It means noticing.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
-attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt (but it’s complicated.)
seek your meaning.
I’ve done a lot of things that have scared me this year and I’m proud of myself. Yet, somewhere along the way, with the focus on me in the driver’s seat, I’ve lost a little sense of all the other forces on the road. My spiritual journey and my creative process are linked. For some time, I’ve thought of my creative work as a process of ‘co-creation’ which I strangely enough, jacked from a podcast on Tolkien’s writings that listened to a few years ago. The idea of ‘co-creation’ is that there is a larger story of creation that our individual creations play a role in. While Tolkien is referring to the process of storytelling in his writings and short story “Leaf by Niggle’ when he refers to a ‘leaf on the tree of tales,’ I think this concept applies to the other works we do in the world as well.
‘Co-creating’ means making room for what I could never plan, it means making room for what could surprise me. It means bringing faith into the process and letting my actions be guided not just by me, against the meterstick of my own life milestones, but against a sense of my own calling.
Life is short, life is precious. I am thankful for the year of growth and life I was just blessed to experience. I look forward to what lies ahead.