On having a mantra for 2019

It’s the middle of January and I’m in the waiting place.

You know the place? It’s the one where you are floating on a single stepping stone and you can’t confidently plan your next move because you aren’t sure where or when the next stone will fall from the sky. It’s mostly unsettling and a little exciting.

As I peer through the fog of 2019, I see a long list of upcoming decisions—where to live, where to work, where/how/when to show up for people I love, how to win this Airbnb sabbatical to Italy (obviously, this is the most important decision).

Italian sabbatical notwithstanding, it doesn’t really make sense for me to have a long list of resolutions this year. And let’s be real, I’m not great at abiding by a long list of resolutions in the first place. So I’m going with a mantra instead.

For the record, I’m not really a mantra kind of girl. Mantras usually fall into the same category for me as Pinterest-y motivational phrases, and I just can’t. But these sentences have circled through my mind enough over the past few weeks that I decided to tie them together and call it a mantra:

I want to be challenged without being consumed.

I want to grow without uprooting.

I want to say yes and no in wisdom, not fear.

It’s a long mantra, but so are my general thoughts about basically everything. Let’s break it down piece by piece:

I want to be challenged without being consumed.

I have a habit of giving my entire self away to whatever I feel is most important—especially when that thing is work that I love. This is a great character trait for going all-in with Leslie Knope style enthusiasm and also a great case study for future editions of the Boundaries book.

So I spent the past year and a half investing in the life part of work/life balance. I did supremely ordinary things like go for walks, bake bread, and watch birds at the kitchen window. I also turned 107 years old, apparently. But being 107 is so nice! I love feeling like I’m living a whole life all the time, not just squeezing it in on nights and weekends.

I’m becoming more ready to invest in the work part again—and I want that work to be the good, hard, making-forward-progress kind of work. This time, though, I want to be challenged without being consumed. I want to give the very best of myself to work during work hours while also giving the very best of myself to the rest of my life.

I want to grow without uprooting.

Here is something I’m just now realizing. I’m in my 30s. This means more than slower metabolism and decreasing dating prospects. It means that I place a much higher value on community than adventure.

I may not be married with kids and a mortgage, but I have a real life right here in Harrisburg. I have a rich friend-family and a long list of people to see and places to go. I have a home I love. I have a Thai place and a favorite walking trail and a yoga class I actually like.

In my 20s, I would have quickly uprooted in pursuit of a new opportunity—job or otherwise. But I’m not sure that’s true for me anymore. I don’t want to live in Harrisburg forever. Eventually, I want to move onto the next phase of life in a new place, wherever that may be.

But for now, when presented with the inevitable opportunity to leave for another place, I want to at least consider the possibility of staying. If I can, I would like to grow without uprooting.

I want to say yes and no in wisdom, not fear.

This one colors the other two. Do I want to stay because I’m afraid to leave? Do I have reservations about investing in a new job too much because I’m afraid I’ll eventually lose it? Am I being wise in not wanting to trade the good life I have for a new version of that same life, or am I just afraid of change?

I honestly don’t know. But ultimately, when I do say yes and no to these choices and countless others, I want my answers to be rooted in wisdom, not fear.

Perhaps you are also in a waiting place.

Or perhaps you aren’t. Maybe you are in a much more stable place in life. And if that’s the case, can you send the rest of us a postcard? Especially if it comes from the future from that Italian sabbatical?

Here’s what I’ll say, though, no matter where you find yourself this January: uncertainty is hard. It’s hard in regular life, but it’s especially hard in a culture that values immediacy and confidence and the straight arrow of forward progress.

A mantra won’t change any of that, but it could give you a few guardrails to help shape the foggy path ahead. And that little piece of clarity, at least for me, has been a gift.

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  • “I don’t want to live in Harrisburg forever.”

    Why do you make this statement? Is it because you do want to live someplace forever, to put down permanent roots—just not in Harrisburg? On the other hand, is it because you don’t want to live anywhere forever, and Harrisburg is starting to feel like it is too familiar or is wearing out its welcome or both?

    Think on this, and you may find some of the wisdom you seek.