We are between holiday festivities and the New Year. It is a good time to reflect on what has been, what is, and what can be. We know resolutions don’t work: research indicates they last three days max. As an alternative, many of my friends and colleagues pick a word, phrase, or polarity* that guides choices about how and with whom to spend time, leisure and work activities, spiritual practices, and as a basis for an assessment of their year. In 2017, my word was “alignment.” An organization is more productive and innovative when purpose, leadership, strategy and practices are aligned.
The analogy is applicable at the personal level: I can be more productive, innovative and satisfied if my purpose, strategies and behaviors are aligned. I have a lot of energy and often say “yes” to people and activities just because I CAN, losing the red thread through the maze of my overall purpose and use of my most important gifts. I squander my personal resources when I am not conscious of my choices. You may have had that experience: you stay active but toward what end?
And so, having chosen the word alignment I looked to my life to find places where I was aligned and where I needed to put a little more attention.
First came my purpose. I needed to refine my purpose or life mission, which currently is Leaving a Loving, Learning Legacy. Second, I needed to clarify core values that serve my particular mission. For me they are connection, teaching and learning, spiritual development, joy and health. Third, from that clarification, I could track how my purpose and values aligned with financial habits, time with spouse and friends; and the kind of work and personal growth I chose. Aligned choices meant I needed to say ‘no’ to other things that interested me but were not core to my mission.
For connection, learning and teaching, I flew to Phoenix in January to jump start a writing project and spend time with one of my greatest mentors/friends. I chose to spend work time teaching and consulting on Women’s Leadership, High Performance Teams, and ENCORE: Helping women illuminate their life mission in the third chapter of life. I committed to finishing my book on Genius Teams and the first draft of Trauma to Treasures about our family’s resilience during fifteen years of serious health difficulties. I worked with and mentored my daughter who is my partner in The Yarbrough Group and will assume leadership in the near future.
For connection, in March my husband Mike and I went to the French Quarter jazz fest in New Orleans for five days, able to focus on each other and be renewed with music and fun. In June, I celebrated my birthday and the friendship of twenty life-long friends with a two-week stay in a villa in southern Spain. In August, we visited close friends in Oregon whom we had not seen in three years and then family in Texas. I started the fall with a brunch for local women to celebrate and inspire each other.
For spiritual development, I attended a three-day spiritual development course and a six-day intensive based on the Enneagram to clarify and expand my key gifts to the world. I increased my activity in the Boulder Society of Friends (Quakers) to hold myself accountable for my spiritual development and to help sustain our community.
For learning and connection, I continued with my two significant women’s groups: one in which we use our dreams for awareness and guidance; and the other, Crones-in-Training, to stay conscious about aging and how we can make choices to keep and use our wisdom. I hosted the annual retreat for Polarity Sisters, women committed to the exploration of Polarity Thinking* for personal and professional growth. My daughter Lindsay and I took a ten- day trip to Iceland for joy, learning, and connection.
For physical fitness, I found a spectacular personal trainer to keep my body strong and fine-tuned.
For joy and beauty, I chose to stay close to home in magnificent Colorado in July and August.
For financial alignment, I committed to a budget, not a strength of mine.
These choices support my mission of legacy: leaving written words when I can no longer teach, preparing my business of thirty-six years for a transition, modeling how to age, and pursuing spiritual development which is a key task for the third stage of life.
As the leaves turned to red and yellow, I was on track to finish my team book and take several more trips. My mind said I was aligned; my spirit felt connection and joy; I was strong and fit. My mistake: I was not listening deeply enough to the subtle signals of my body, still following the lifelong pattern of “more is better.”
I got a flu shot in September and then was sick for two months. I spent several weeks in bed and the rest of the time felt low energy and exhausted. Of course, I kept exercising and working. In November, being short of breath, I went to the ER and was diagnosed with blood clots in my lungs. The treatment was three months of blood thinner, no air travel, and rest. We cancelled our Thanksgiving trip to Kansas City, and I cancelled a trip to Phoenix to assist a friend who is creating a foundation for her son.
Clotting can be connected to cancer so off I went to the oncologist. Waiting for word of results was excruciating. Just before Christmas, the call came that there was no recurrence of cancer, news that was the most precious Christmas gift and a reminder that I needed to think more deeply about alignment.
As I assess my year, I say “yay” to many of my choices. However, it is by acknowledging what is not working for us that we begin the process of more profound change. I learned that the alignment I sought requires Rest as well as Activity, Being as well as Doing. I was told by a Buddhist master ten years ago during my bout with breast cancer, “Slow Down; Listen to Your Body; Do Volunteer Work for what matters to you.” I got the last part but clearly not the first two. My body has my attention. My words for this year are BEING and BODY WISDOM. Not to the neglect of DOING, but a much-needed recalibration.
As you consider your year, you might ask yourself:
At this stage of my life, what is my core mission?
If I chose a word or phrase to support my mission, what would it be? What calls to me? What in my life needs attention?
To what would I need to say “no” in order to say ‘YES” to my core mission and values
What are my blind spots as I fulfill my mission? (Remember for me, it was too much activity to the neglect of rest; too much doing to the neglect of being).
Your mission, values and guidance words are rudders to keep you sailing due north, toward your true and most important self.
*A polarity is an interdependent pair of values that need each other over time to reach a higher purpose, e.g., stability AND change, activity AND rest, self AND other. One colleague chose Holding On and Letting Go for her guidance.