The In-between: #Lifegoals

1/2/2019

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For the last six years, I have had the same New Year ritual: I sit down in a quiet place, alone, and open up my journal. I flip through the inked pages pausing occasionally to ponder a memory, and eventually stop to crease it open on the first fresh page available. Once there, I write out the date, time and day of the week neatly at the top, and then begin to ruminate on the year that has just past. In doing so, I reflect upon the personal, professional, and financial goals that I had set for myself that year, and then begin to chart out new goals for the one that lies ahead.

I first began this New Year tradition back in 2012, after a friend of mine described hers to me as a sort of “resolution revolt.” Like her, I had always found the idea of resolutions rather silly, not only because of their obvious association with American consumer culture, but also for how quickly and easily they seemed to be forgotten. In contrast, setting goals felt more like identifying objectives that I could work toward all year long, and less like the unrealistic all-or-nothing game that New Year resolutions seemed to imply. Thus, when my friend began to detail her approach to these resolutions reimagined, I was immediately intrigued and eager to adopt the exercise as my own.

Admittedly, my urge to embrace this New Year practice was fueled by more than just a simple disdain for cheesy weight loss commercials and unrealistic expectations surrounding willpower. I had just finished my third semester as a doctoral student at USC, and on the surface, everything was going swimmingly. I had sailed through my coursework ahead of schedule and my reputation as a scholar was growing, but behind closed doors, when I was by myself, I had begun to feel like I was drowning. The pressure to maintain my status as a “rising star” was constant and all-consuming, and was augmented by the weight of the student loans I had taken out to pay for my expensive schooling. On top of this, my relationship of nearly five years had ended earlier that summer, and with it had gone all of my certainty about what I wanted for the future.

Sad, scared, broke and lonely, this goal setting came to me like a life-line. It was just what I needed, I thought to myself, to get my life back on track. That year, I waited impatiently for the 31st of December, and when it finally arrived, I eagerly pulled out my journal and wrote down the top ten things I wanted to accomplish by the end of 2013. Amongst these goals, I listed various achievements, the most memorable of which were “secure a Fulbright fellowship,” “run a half-marathon,” “get my money right,” and “find love.” After making a second copy of the list to hang on the wall above my desk, I went to sleep that night full of confidence and excitement. 2013 was going to be the year, I thought, when my life was finally going to come together.

In part, these goals are memorable to me now because I failed to accomplish them that year. When I sat down again on New Year’s Eve 2013 to revisit my list and evaluate(/celebrate) my successes, I was initially both surprised and disappointed to discover just how few of the items on it I could cross off as “done.” Although it hadn’t been a perfect year by any means (heartbreak, a foot injury and emergency expenses had been just a few of my unforeseen obstacles), I knew that I had worked incredibly hard, and thus, remember feeling somewhat deflated by the lack of progress I saw reflected back at me.

However, as I continued to sit there staring at the page and thinking over my goals, I realized that I still had several significant achievements worth celebrating that year. While it was true that I had not been awarded the Fulbright Fellowship I sought, I was still heading off to South Africa in just a few days as an equally well-funded Research Enhancement Fellow. Similarly, despite the fact that a minor foot injury early on in the year had kept me from running in the Long Beach half-marathon as I had planned, I was currently back in great physical shape and running 10k three times a week. Sure, my credit card still carried an outstanding balance, but it was smaller than it was last year, and although my heart currently felt as though it had been broken into a million pieces, that meant, that, in the last twelve months, it had experienced real love, too.

In this manner, I began to think a little differently about my list. Rather than a bunch of to-do items waiting to be marked off as “done” at the end of the year, instead, I started to see each goal as one step in the epic journey of a life that is ongoing. Whether or not I successfully reach a given goal post “in time,” seeing them there not only helps me gauge how far I have come, but also motivates me to keep moving forward toward the things I want for my life.

That being said, I still find it important to celebrate the achievements thus far. This year, when I sat down to partake in my usual ritual, I took a moment to look further back and found myself marveling at the total number of boxes I have successfully checked off since starting this practice in 2012. Dissertation? Done. Half-marathon? Boom. “Real” job? Got one. Money in the bank? Not as much as I’d like, but definitely peeping the zeros there.

And then, of course, there are the hundreds of other boxes I can now check off for things I never even imagined being able to put on the list. Closure with Mom about my childhood? Amazing. Travel the world with Dad (and not kill him)? Definitely didn’t see that one coming. Figuring out who the heck I am and loving the person I am finding there? Unequivocally floored by this awesome work in progress.

Thus, in this context, I submit that we are literally all living our lives out in the in-between. No matter what we do or how hard we try, we will always exist somewhere in the space between where we started from, and what we desire to be our final destination. What I thought, for the longest time, was that my life would be so much better once I got to where I was going, but I have finally started to realize that it really is all about what happens while on the journey in between.

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Lorien Hunter
Lorien Hunter is a writer, researcher and aspiring world traveler who currently lives in San Jose, California. In 2017, she earned her Ph.D. in media studies from the University of Southern California, where she examined digital media, popular culture and marginalized communities. Today, she is a regular contributing writer at Bi.org, where her weekly column, The In-between, centers on her experiences as a biracial bi woman finding comfort and belonging in the spaces between worlds.