Thursday, January 15, 2015

Reflection on 2014 One Little Word: Simplify

When I first chose my word, late in 2013, I was in the midst of an overwhelming state of, well, being overwhelmed by life. In short, I was kind of depressed. I had graduated with a Masters degree in TESOL (one dream ticked off my list). Suddenly I had a lot of free time, but really I didn’t because everything and everyone wanted to fill up those gaps of free time. These little things were chipping away at me. “Chipping” is not quite the right word, but let’s imagine a woodpecker pecking away at a tree.

No, let’s imagine that every aspect of my life was a woodpecker, so 15 or 20 woodpeckers pecking away at my newly available free time. Pretty soon, I had none left, and I was drowning. In fact, when I say drowning, what I mean is that I felt nothing. I was happy to be done, but what had I achieved? I still had the same job, but I had no job prospects. No one would even consider me because I had no university teaching experience yet, and I was starting to feel hopeless. Instead of going out there and networking, I was spending all my time checking essays for my current students, amongst other job duties, of course. I felt like I couldn’t say no to any social invitations or suggestions from family members about what I should do with my kids. I attempted to carve out some me-time, to explore my own needs, but this wasn’t happening to the extent that I wanted. In fact, my Project Life album was on the back-burner until winter vacation. In the end, I quit the gym because it was a waste of money (7000 yen per month) as I had only been there twice in the last six months. Even after graduating, I didn’t go in those first two months of freedom. I took up art journaling instead because I had always wanted to give it a try. I made a few pages and displayed them at home to remind myself of my creative aspirations, but I never even attempted to apply for jobs, which should have been my first priority. Instead, I said out loud, to anyone who would listen, “I am hoping a job just falls in my lap. The perfect job for me.” I chose SIMPLIFY as my word of the year for 2014 as it was the one word that kept popping in to my head.
Following is a reflection on how 2014 went in terms of my word.

Did I Pass the Woman Test?
I felt that I had too many obligations, problems, goals, and ideas – something I tend to attract into my life because I like complicated situations. I desired to pare down my life to the essentials by re-organizing my priorities. One striking sentence from that first scrapbook page in January – “I hope to figure this out while being the best mom, wife, friend and teacher that I can be.” Wow, what a hopeful, yet impossible dream! The best that I can be doesn’t necessitate perfection, so that is good. But, why put all this pressure on myself to be everything to everyone? Does my husband ever say to himself, “I want to be the best father, husband, friend and movie marketer that I can be”? I doubt it! He is just trying to survive each day without thinking too deeply about it. A year later, as I reflect on SIMPLIFY, this is what I wonder about. We, women, associate ourselves with so many roles, and we strive to do our best in each one. It’s like a test we give ourselves. How did I do? So, in 2014, was I the best mom, wife, friend and teacher I could have been? Let me address each role briefly, and excuse me for focusing on the negative for a bit here.

The best mom? No. I yelled at my kids a lot. I developed this kind of sharp tone in my voice when yelling at them, and it annoyed even me. At some point, my husband called me out on it. I tried to watch my tone of voice after that. Calmness. Simplicity. Tell them simply what they did wrong and suggest ways to fix it or at least apologize. This is something to keep in mind for 2015. (Score: 65/100)

The best wife? Well, sort of. I tried to be kind and sexy most of the time, even though I undoubtedly failed more times that I can even recall. Mostly, I tried to be supportive and generous, but when my mind is pulled in all different directions, I didn’t necessarily pay attention to his needs. When all was said and done, he wrote me the most gorgeous Xmas card thanking me for my “tremendous love and support” for our family, and that was the best compliment he’s ever given me. The word “tremendous” keeps coming to mind, though that probably wouldn’t make a good word for 2015. Yes, I did spend a lot of time supporting everyone else, including my husband. (Score: 85/100)

The best friend? Well, no, in fact, I lost a friend early in the year. We have minimal contact with each other now, but perhaps that is part of simplifying one’s life. (It was not my choice, by the way.) Another friend was having a major crisis, and I couldn’t do much for her from across the ocean. Sending care packages filled with junk food and small toys for her and her kids were, perhaps, appreciated, but it would have been way better to go over to her house and clean for her or cook for her family. For another friend, I was consistently late to meet her for our meetings. Not just once, but every time we met up in 2014. Was my life so important that I had to make her wait? By the end of year, in the heat of the moment, she said she was ready to end our friendship just based on that. She soon forgot about this minor blip as she launched into her most recent gossip stories, but I didn’t. I would never want to lose her friendship, especially over something that I could have controlled. So, yeah, I need to work on the friendship thing. (Score: 65/100)

The best teacher? Well, first I quit the teaching job I had had for 11 years, where I loved teaching my classes but hated the administration, the rules and some of the other job conditions. I was an awesome teacher, and this I would never downplay. But saying good-bye, especially to students who seemed excited to continue their journeys with me until graduation, was like punching a whole bunch of people in their guts at the same time, which wouldn’t be possible unless you had 400 arms, but stay with me. Is that was a “good” teacher does? No. But, sometimes, you have to do this, and as part of my word “SIMPLIFY”, it was the best choice for myself and my family. At my new job, I floundered a bit as I found my way, but I did all right, and I developed good rapport with my new students soon enough. Starting new with brand new classes and students meant that I could pare down some of my procedures, and in this way, I think I did well with my classes. I was probably the best teacher that I could be in 2014, yet by the end of year, my mind was overflowing with ideas and excitement about how I could improve my classes for the 2015 school year. Teaching is the easiest to control, it seems. The other roles still need some work. (Score: 90/100)

Six Aspects of SIMPLIFY
In the first month of One Little Word, I chose six areas of my life that I wanted to focus on. I planned to spend time focusing on each one, maybe a month or two here or there. Some things were really easy to figure out, while others, I just kept them in my mind and hoped that simply thinking about it would help. (Note: It really helped to have a poster of these six aspects hanging in my kitchen, so I could see it and briefly reflect on them while cooking or washing dishes.)

These are the six aspects:
Simplify menu planning
For years, I have always done menu planning and shopping on the weekends, but I usually get bored about halfway through the year and tweak my system. In 2014, my hope was to come up with a simplified plan that wouldn’t take a lot of time to plan and shop for each week. Also, I wanted to focus on simple, if not healthy, meals. The fact is my menu planning went out the window. How about NOT planning a menu and seeing what happens? How about NOT making a huge shopping list and just buying the ingredients for dishes we like and making stuff from memory? Thirteen years of marriage and 6 years on my own before that means that I have a lot of recipes up my sleeves. Why not just trust my gut and go with the flow? Though I did not have this in mind when I chose this aspect to focus on for SIMPLIFY, this is what seemed to be happening over time. I became more and more comfortable with this non-planning, simple way and for the entire year, did not once sit down and contemplate and new way to plan and administer weekly menus. Oh well. What are the results of this? In general, I was surprised to discover that I actually don’t NEED a plan. However, I should make a list of all dishes I know how to cook (or could easily cook if I look at one of my old recipe books), and I should put the list on my kitchen bulletin board and in my iPhone. I think that would be the simplest way to get more variety and be able to shop on the go.

Simplify goals and plans
Focusing on this aspect was really helpful because it gave me the excuse to say NO to things I would normally blindly say yes to and then regret it later. It is hard to talk about this aspect in one paragraph, but basically, getting the entire family to agree on our goals and plans was not always possible. At a couple points, Y and I had a conversation about this topic, and that helped to clarify some things though we did not always agree. Just the act of talking helped. We talked about our travel goals for the year, the kids’ lessons, etc. We usually have this conversation in January of each year, but in 2014, we made time to discuss it again in September and that helped to get us through the remaining months.

Simplify our priorities
Another reason to be able to say no to things. When I was able to clarify my priorities in my mind, I found it a lot easier to just say no or to be honest about my limitations. For sure, my children floated to the top nearly every time, and that was how I wanted it. My work, during the semester, was also a priority, so I didn’t make a lot of social plans or promises to people that would have affected getting my work done, which in turn would have affected my family because it would have been at their expense. Now, I have a job that keeps me very busy during the semesters (that’s 28 weeks of the year), and the rest of the year, I can focus on my job as much or as little as I choose to, and I can also focus on other things that are important too. The weekends belong to my family, rather than to my job, which is a new and welcome change for us. The holidays can really be holidays and reserved for family time. We have more money to do things, so I am not always feeling pinched.

Simplify our routines
I feel that I achieved this by changing jobs. Most days, I don’t need to leave the house until after 8am, so we have more time in the mornings. Also, Luka transferred to a daycare closer to home, so I don’t have to go so far out of my way to take him and pick him up every day. Of course, it helps that the kids are getting older and can do more for themselves.

Simplify our paperwork
I hate to admit it, but I never found a good way. Avoiding it certainly didn’t help! The school papers just kept piling up whether I wanted them in my house or not. In order to put the Xmas decorations up in December, I had to go through a big basket of papers, and most of them were past-date, so they were trashed. But, the ones I kept were put on a hidden bookshelf and that is where they remain. I am up to 10,000 unread emails. I started the year by deleting a bunch and then suffering for it later. So, the email issue is still a problem.

Simplify our lifestyle
In general, this has been achieved. I always have to keep it in check by not taking on too many activities, saying no to many things, avoiding others. Weekends are more relaxed, and because I can keep up with cleaning during the week a little better, it doesn’t get so piled up on the weekends. How I use my relaxing time – now that is a different story.

In April, we had to make a series of "_____ means _____" statements for our words. This is a great way to personally define your word using photos and statements.
Initial hopes and fears for SIMPLIFY
  • As part of our planning process, we were asked to make a MORE/LESS list. I wanted more of the following things. In parentheses, I’ll explain how well or not well I did.
  • More stillness (NOT ENOUGH)
  • More time with Yusuke (NOT ENOUGH, but I did move back into the bedroom officially and am no longer co-sleeping with my son.)
  • More cuddle time with the kids (DOING OKAY)
  • More playing indoors and outdoors (NOT ENOUGH, but we started out well at the beginning of the year. The last half of the year, we did very little playing together indoors.)
  • Less spending of our money (NO, I still seem to spend a lot, but I have helped Y not to overspend his allowance, and that has helped immensely.)
  • Less email (NO, still inundated, never delete)
  • Less processed, fatty foods (DOING OKAY, if you don’t count snacks. I do need to curb my snacking, but I did find some great alternatives for myself. I got hooked on mimolette cheese.)
  • Less arguing with kids and Yusuke (I think I argue with the kids more, but less with Yusuke)
  • Gain more weight (I did. I gained back every kilogram I lost in 2012 and 2013.)
  • Feel stressed out (I did well with this! I felt busy at times but never stressed out.)
  • Spread too thin (I did well. I was busy but never overwhelmed! I learned to really prioritize and no one was really telling me to do it differently or surprising me with new work tasks, like what often happened in my former job.)
  • Won’t be able to say no. (I said NO a lot!)
  • I want to wear my jeans again in 2014. (I did. I had to buy new, plus-sized jeans, but I wore them a lot on weekends. I hadn’t worn jeans in a long, long time.)
  • I want to enjoy weekends with my kids. (I did. We had a lot of fun and went on some adventures, even during the weekdays.)
  • I want to continue developing my relationship with Yusuke. (We did okay. I appreciate and accept him now more than ever before. We are growing closer and I enjoy having him around.)
Some Extra Questions and Answers
I found a web site that lists 50 questions to ask yourself as you reflect on your word for the previous year. I chose several questions to answer and reflect on.

What new things did you discover about yourself?
I can stop worrying about some things. They will happen naturally, like the menu planning.
I enjoy being with my kids and trying new things with them.
I felt lonely at my new job at first but I appreciated the balance between days when I could work alone and days when my colleagues were around to chat with.

Which of your personal qualities turned out to be the most helpful this year?
My ability to stay organized and write to-do lists and cross off tasks every day.
My ability to build and maintain a decent atmosphere in my classes.
My ability to meet new people and chat with them about pretty much anything.
My ability to be alone and still get things done.

What was the most important lesson you learnt in 2014?
I need to take better care of myself. Often these words are meant for my family members, but I also need to focus on my own mental/physical care. Also, I really want to reduce my screen time so I can focus more on myself and my family. I need to prioritize time for my hobbies, especially scrapbooking, too.
In the summer, we had to contemplate our lives from three perspectives, and I realized that I needed to take better care of myself because, frankly, I was not doing it.

Which mental block(s) did you overcome?
Sometimes we DON’T need a plan. I can trust my 38 years of experience to lead me in the right direction even if I haven’t written it down, made a list, planned it out, etc.

What was your biggest break-through moment career-wise?
Getting a new job! Presenting at JALT! Working on two publications for the university!

How did your relationship to your family evolve?
We had more time together. We supported Ailin at her dance events. Yusuke and I fought less. The kids fought more, but they are learning how to get through their battles, even if they just do paper-scissors-rock to decide things.

What book or movie affected your life in a profound way?
All of the Middle Eastern literature that I read. I enjoyed learning more about the culture and religion, but then I went back to Asian and Asian-American lit, my first love.
In August, we tried to choose songs or lyrics that inspire us in relation to our word.

What was your favorite compliment that you received this year?
“Thank you for your tremendous love and support for our family.” In a Xmas card from Yusuke

What cool things did you create this year?
Art Journal for Brene Brown’s online classes, Project Life 2013 at the beginning of 2014, One Little Word Album for 2014.

Which worries turned out to be completely unnecessary?
The new job and commute did not stress me out. I found great pleasure in all the changes.

In October, I wrote a letter to myself. It was supposed to be a positive letter.
What was the biggest problem you solved?
Transferring Luka to a daycare closer to home turned out to be a blessing. He now has a male teacher and plenty of friends right in our building and neighborhood. I also changed the family’s evening schedule so that the kids could go to bed earlier, I could move back into the master bedroom, and I started sleeping in until a normal time, 5:30 am.

What one thing would you do differently and why?
I would have tried to focus more on my weight issues. I learned how to say NO to events and activities, but I couldn’t say no to food. I gained a lot in the beginning of the year with all the good-bye parties and lunches, and it just kept snowballing from there. I certainly said NO to exercise when really I should have been taking better care of myself.

In November, we reflected on how we were making our word a part of our lives. Another chance for using recent photos that depict how this word is manifesting itself paired with "I am..." statements.

What or who had the biggest positive impact on your life this year?
Friends, who are trying to get healthy, such as Kirsten and Louise, impacted me to a certain extent. By the end of the year, I found that inspiring. Colleagues, who work hard and are really smart and professional, inspired me to try and do more reading and research. Students, who really enjoyed the final project “The Dinner Party”, inspired me to think of better ways to reach more students by having fun with English and using “real” items in “real” situations. My children, who by just being themselves, found joy in the littlest things and simply just wanted to play and cuddle. Friends, who were going through or had been through crisis in their marriages and were confiding in me, seemed strong and were able to pull through it. That really affected how I see my own marriage and life. All of these inspired me to choose “Nurture” as my word for 2015.
All of these inspired me to choose “Nurture” as my word for 2015.
Stay tuned for more posts about 2015.
I am hoping to keep up with my blog and nurture it back to health this year.
Related Links
  • Online Scrapbooking Class One Little Word is taught by Ali Edwards. 
  • Project Life is a scrapbooking concept for people who want to capture everyday moments. Albums are done in a pocket-page style. You can read more about it here.
  • All of the digital elements and papers I used for my OLW album in 2014 were from a digital kit by Libby Pritchett. The kit is called Be Awesome and you can purchase it or see more kits by Libby at the Sweet Shoppe Designs.

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