I was never super invested in the trend of picking a "word of the year." A decade ago, when my heart and soul were invested in spelling bees (NERD ALERT), I had a subscription to Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day emails. (I still remember how exhilarated I was when they used a snippet from The Penderwicks at Point Mouette* as the "use it in a sentence" example for the word "nincompoop." ...Okay, that was in 2012. I was subscribed to M-W for a long time, guys.) But the idea of picking a single word to define your existence for an entire revolution around the sun seemed a little... pretentious. And silly. And boxing-in.

But here's the thing about words and ideas: you can fit them to fit you. And when I think about 2020, and the plans and dreams and aspirations - and, yes, fears - that I have about it, one word keeps coming to mind.

I need to focus.

If I were to pick a word for 2019, perhaps it would be "busy", or "multitasking," or possibly even "frenetic" or "anxious." I accomplished a lot in 2019. But I also spent a lot of time hopping from thing to thing, frantically trying to finish what felt sometimes like a million projects, constantly wanting to get more done, to somehow prove to myself that I am competent and efficient and productive.

It's like running on a hamster wheel.

There were a lot of things that convicted me that something needed to change this year - little bits and pieces here and there, as is so often the case. (My mind is rarely made up by one earthshaking event, but rather by a drip here and a drip there, wearing away stubbornness in stone.) One was my husband's concern about how much I'd taken on. (For perspective, I work 40 hours a week at an office job, manage our household shopping/meal planning/cooking and much of the cleaning, since my husband works far longer and more grueling hours than I do, and am also going back to school part-time.) He's the most understanding and supportive partner I could ever have imagined, but even he knows when it's time to say, "this is too much."

Okay, it probably wasn't too hard for him to reach that conclusion, come to think of it - I am not the easiest person to be around when I am anxious, to put it lightly. My temper frays, my patience snaps, and I say things I regret. Difficult circumstances aren't an excuse for being a difficult human being, but it's important to recognize where changes can be made to do away with unnecessary difficult circumstances. In short, I react to stress by being frustrated and unpleasant. I don't want to be that way. Though God gives much grace, over and above what I could imagine or deserve, I also have a responsibility to work hard - with his help - to overcome my ugly tendencies. Sin caused by stress is still sin! One of the ways I can do that is by recognizing my pressure points and working to either eliminate or cope with them. In this case, that involves learning to say no to over-commitment.

Another drip on the stone was my difficulty in sleeping, something I've struggled with since puberty - sometimes my mind just doesn't want to turn off! Eating, drinking, technology, exercise, whatever... none of it seems to have an effect on whether I can sleep or not if my brain is Just Too Awake. It's not just making mental grocery lists and thinking about a funny scene in a movie - my brain has a tendency to do things like design sewing projects at 12 am, too. NOT COOL. The fewer things clamoring for residence in my head space, though, the better. In this case, that involves finding manageable ways to channel my thoughts and "turn off the tap," so to speak, before bed.

A third element that gave me a reality check was how many projects I'd begun, events and outings I'd planned, podcasts I'd started listening to, and books I'd picked up.... without finishing. These were all good things, but holy smokes, I'm only human! How much, exactly, did I THINK I was going to get done this year, anyway? In this case, I clearly need to be realistic about how much I can accomplish. 

So I've come up with three concrete plans for bringing focus to my endeavors and ambitions this year:

1) Be willing to say no to plans, with the understanding that this may mean I miss out on fun stuff. This is okay. My stress levels will thank me later. Get better at declining graciously, without sending myself on a guilt trip for potentially hurting feelings by saying "I just cannot make plans to get together right now" or "I'm sorry, I won't be able to help with that at this time.

2) Work on unwinding before bed in the evening and do calming activities rather than trying to squeeze in last-minute attacking of projects. Reading, listening to a podcast, knitting while Rob and I read aloud to each other... pretty much anything but being on the computer or looking at my phone. Heh.  (Though this action may be helpful, I'm not sure I'll be so good at it: GO TO BED as close to the same time every night as possible, and get better about not hitting the snooze button so often in the morning.)

3) Choose just one project at a time and see it through to completion. I am choosing to apply this to sewing, knitting, and other types of creative work, and giving myself some free reign in reading. One must have one's indulgences. (That is to say, I am currently reading ten different books right now, and I have no intention of changing.) But as for projects, I am determined to not go chasing rabbits into UFO (un-finished object) territory. That is so LAST YEAR.

(I came across the gem above in a Facebook sewing group, but alas, it has no watermark and I have not been able to identify the artist even with my trusty Google in hand. Anyone know, so I can give credit?)

As I work to implement these three new plans, to FOCUS, I will try to keep in mind that I am not my productivity, nor am I a robot conquering a checklist. I really admire Lauren at Wearing History for the beautiful patterns she makes and the adorable matching clothes she's created lately for herself and her daughter. Even more, I enjoy reading her thoughts on her blog and Instagram, where she said something that hit home for me recently. "If I’ve learned something in the past few years, it’s to not let my external productivity become my identity." Wise words, indeed, and as a compulsive get-'er-done type, it's a statement I would do well to frame and hang in my workroom. 

Reading this post solidified it for me, as reading another's words is so wont to do: it is quality over quantity that wins in the end. Not merely having an abundance to spread, but the willingness to share a small feast with friends. Focus, not frenzy. Giving, not gasping for a respite. Reflection and relaxation, not a race to the finish line.

What do you want to do in 2020? What do you need to let go? 

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