New Year's Resolutions: Why I'm Done with Them

12/26/2011 08:21 am ET | Updated Feb 25, 2012

"I invite you to consider your life wheel," says the lithe, springy-haired leader of this goal-setting seminar. "Is each part of the wheel equally inflated? Does it roll?"

I look down at my wobbly-looking wheel on the lilac piece of paper in front of me with amusement. It's about to get pulled over, breathalyzed and booked.

The wheel is divided into eight equal sections. Each section represents one facet of life and the amount we shade in per section represents how fulfilled we are in that area. For my wheel, family, personal and home are well shaded and inflated. Health, work and financials haven't been touched.

"Would anyone like to share their wheel with the group?" says the leader.

After a few people share, it seems the room is divided into two groups. The first group is made up of glossy-haired and angst-ridden 20-somethings who want to leave romantic partners, travel to developing countries and ponder Proust. The second is cheerful 50-somethings whose goal is to stay away from the bowl of orange wrapped candy bars near the office fridge.

My goal? On a good day, it is to meet a friend for coffee and pay some bills. On a bad day, it is to wrap myself in my Pottery Barn blanket and hold steady.

I don't share this with the group, who might naturally be bewildered. However, they don't know I had ovarian cancer when I was 32. Nor do they know that I'm not able to go to work or take care of children because the long-term side effects of the chemo can make me black out, or hug my hardwood floor for hours to avert a black out.

They are also unaware of my long-standing record of making unrealistic goals that I (obviously) never fulfill -- whether it be the last week in December or the first week of June. As a resolution addict in recovery, these are the four things I did when I was active in my addiction:

Embarked on frenzied, euphoric goal-setting. Three months after chemo, I sat in front of a recently purchased flip chart in my living room. Using a fat black Sharpie, I listed all the new things I resolved to do with my second chance, as soon as my physical stamina returned. Start a bicoastal business! Become a Big Sister! Write a book! Swim every day! As I filled page after page with resolutions, my enthusiasm soared. I pictured myself confidently standing in a conference room of a boutique hotel, wearing a funky Benetton suit as I presented to a diverse group of smiling, new clients. After my presentation, I would pick up my Little Sister and we would lace up our skates and hit the roller rink. With this vision dancing in my head, and Sharpie in hand, I collapsed on my couch. I put on my "read my lids" eye mask. I felt like my exciting new life had already begun.

Tried to coerce others into saying, "What a fantastic plan. And so doable, too!" More than two years after chemo, I was still housebound yet still blindly wedded to my goals. Sitting on my couch, I eagerly talked my sister through my deck of PowerPoint slides about my yet-to-launch bicoastal business. As I talked about leading workshops, I hoped she would forget she found me passed out on the kitchen floor trying to make pancakes the day before, and squeal with enthusiasm at slide 15. Instead she tried to nonchalantly say, "I don't know. Are you sure you're up for this?" which meant, "Wow, you're really in denial." I defensively replied, "Sure, I'm up for this," which meant, "Why are you being so negative?"

Felt bad about myself. Staring at my unopened box of new business cards, which was serving as a handy bookend next to my blood pressure cuff, I felt like a failure. After years of riding an emotional rollercoaster of setting and breaking unrealistic resolutions, this ride was accomplishing what even the cancer had failed to do: it was breaking me.

Recognized the need for change. Knowing I had to make some radical changes, I chose a hippy dippy retreat center in northern Scotland in February to show how seriously I was going to take my resolution recovery. In Scotland, I wrote in a journal, in uncharacteristically neat, blue ink cursive about being more accepting of my circumstances and more compassionate to myself. This careful cursive was a sign that I wasn't completely convinced, but it was my first genuine attempt to take give myself a break and to recognize there were some things I just couldn't control. And it worked. Today I am happier and more light-hearted, even with my DUI life wheel.

So this new year, I am making just one resolution: no unrealistic resolutions. I wish the same for you.