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Patricia Yarberry Allen Headshot

How To Begin a New Year at the Start of a New Decade, When Hope is Hard to Find

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New Year's resolutions are made and broken by most people soon after the list is made. It is often difficult to imagine how to make a resolution that will change either the big or small things that are impeding growth personally, in relationships, or at work. It is hard to comprehend how to do things in a better way, how to give up old habits that no longer work and how to find new ones that can add happiness and health to one's life.

Making New Year's resolutions is especially difficult when we have just ended a decade of the greatest economic turbulence in a century. Loss of jobs, loss of confidence in the economy and the financial system has had an unexpected and far-reaching impact on the lives of almost everyone. The social network provided by the federal, state, and local governments and the many charities that have contributed to the care of those who are without work, homes, food, healthcare, or hope has become frayed, stressed by the fallout of economic losses in all sectors and all parts of our country.

This environment alone could prevent most people from the annual exercise of optimism based on the belief that we can make choices that will improve our lives if we resolve to do so on New Year's Day. It is hard to search for new ways of living, in this time of chaos and uncertainty, in order to find a clearer understanding of what constitutes a meaningful life.

Americans are not what we became during this past half century. We began the last decade, the start of the new millennium, drunk with exuberance and the sense that there were no limits. We now find ourselves, 10 short years later, staring at the bill that has come due for over indulgence, over leveraging, and the entitled sense that we could have everything if we could just find the next big opportunity. We defined ourselves as the consumers of the world. We were what we owned, and now many have had our possessions taken away.

This is the time for the recovery of our best traits: resilience, ingenuity and creativity. We have the capacity to turn away from the habits that exacerbated the recent economic collapse, and replace them with that which really matters: living an authentic life, where money and status do not rule; improving relationships, and focusing on self-care.

We can now find out who we are and what we are really made of. We have a chance at this time to make resolutions not just for a year but for a decade. Each of us can reflect on who we are and what we know to be truly important to us. We can understand that we do not need more but we need to recover that which has always mattered. This is the crucible in which we should forge our resolutions for 2010. Since most of us cannot change the course of history, I propose that we begin this first year of our new decade with that which is possible: self change.

I have struggled today to define my New Year's resolutions. I know that I am an Olympic gold medalist in the work department -- and that honored as I am by a gift for healing others, I sometimes forget to care for the healer. I am determined to focus on making meaningful change in my relationships, to address how I spend that special commodity "free time," to make time for joy in small ways and to recognize that it is time for a more spiritually-focused life.

I resolve to limit the time I spend with others who do not add meaning to my life. This is not selfish. It is self-awareness that directs me to recognize those with whom I share an important bond. When we are younger, we spend time socializing endlessly. Perhaps we don't have the capacity in that life stage to appreciate the importance of intellectual and spiritual connection that makes shared time with others life changing and life affirming. Mindless socializing becomes a bad habit that I intend to break.

I resolve to find a new way to have a "cocktail hour" every night. This is not a frivolous resolution. This long-revered ritual has been the divide between the demanding work day and the free time that most people have in the evenings. Since I am not a big alcohol fan and frequently arrive home later and later, cranky and tired, this will be hard for me. I need to place a premium on my free time the way I do my work time, and find a ritual that marks the beginning of this special part of the day.

I resolve to add music back to my life. I lost the habit of turning on the sound system when I walked in the door and have not given much thought to the emptiness that is there now. I need to crank up the volume and start dancing again every night. I have been too busy or too tired to find the time for the opera and chamber music recitals that give me such joy. I will take Friday nights for this gift to my spirit.

I resolve to find more time for romance. The husband understands romance better than I do. He knows that romance is the real intimacy. Sex is easy. Intimacy is hard. Relationships need tender care and attention or like other delicate flowers, many die from lack of care. I resolve to find the fun and the mystery that was always a catalyst for our relationship renewal and always made us so close.

I resolve to put human existence into perspective. I have a new church home where the chapel is filled each Sunday; the week there is full of opportunities for education, prayer and service to others. It is in this place that I connect to the most significant part of my life. It does matter what we do in this part of eternity. I live with the belief that when this life ends for each of us, it will have been important that we took time for our spiritual lives.

Resolutions for the end of this decade are more likely to address what can be meaningful since many have learned that focusing on financial gains and material goals were ephemeral and misguided. I live with the certainty that in chaos we can always find opportunity. At the start of this new decade we have the opportunity to resolve to return to a life based on relationships and values.

Cross-posted at Women's Voices for Change.

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