castles in the air

Each year, I choose a word to frame my intentions, similar to a New Year's resolution but much more present and active, at least for me. This year, I chose the word thrive and I feel, midway through the year, I have done anything but. I chose it because I wanted to flourish and grow not just survive, which I feel like I've been doing since graduate school ended, not in all ways but in certain areas and I wanted to change that. I wrote the following in my explanation of my chosen word:

For 2011, I want to be seen more fully. I want to say more publicly, feel like I’m out in the world, doing things that matter. I want to publish more, embrace my geekiness, be more vocal, step into the classroom more authoritatively. I want to flourish and grow. I want, quite simply, to thrive.

When I wrote that, I had not yet discovered the things I would learn in the New Year that would be obstacles to my thriving and have set me on a path I could not have foreseen. So while I had one specific purpose in mind when I set intentions to thrive in 2011, the universe certainly had other plans about what this word would come to represent to me. There is an irony to how the obstacles unfolded, as well, but I can't quite share that yet as I fear it would seem petty and I know dearly the consequences of language. Still, what I've learned has become significant in the acknowledgment that there are obstacles to my thriving, ones I have to face and do something about.

I just finished re-reading Thoreau's Walden, which I haven't read since my Master's program. In the conclusion he writes:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favour in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

The idea of "living the life you have imagined" has become a mantra to me because it embodies what I mean by thriving. I realized recently, though, that I keep getting stuck on that exact notion.

When I think about the life I lead now, so much of it was never in my plan, practically all of it.

I never thought I would be so in love, so blissfully partnered. A part of me was convinced I didn't need anyone else; I had great friends, a wonderful family, an intellectual life. I was happy being single and not in that way where you pretend to be happy but are secretly lonely; no, I had all that I thought I wanted. In some ways, it never occurred to me to want more for myself, which is probably one of the most true things I have ever said about how I operate. (And one of the reasons "thrive" has come into my life the way it has.)

I was never the girl who looked at bridal magazines and imagined her wedding, (okay, maybe once in my mid-twenties when I was in love with a man around the world, but it was more, I think, about the celebrating love part than the other details). I didn't imagine growing old with someone or having children. What I did imagine was living in a loft with a rooftop view in some non-descript city where I could throw fabulous parties and talk about writing. That's what I dreamed of when my friends were playing school and later, imagining husbands and picking out china patterns.

I realized, however, in my Master's program that this dream is a fantasy that I won't be able to realize for some time, if ever. It's one of those, I'd like a country house designed by Sarah Richardson, kind of imaginings. But what is at the core of that dream, being surrounded by friends, open floorplans, and creativity, I can imagine as a life, my life.

What I'm beginning to understand is that for me, 2011, is really about learning what I need in my life to thrive. I think each person's vision of this is different. I have to re-imagine what I want out of my professional life: what does thriving professionally look like to me? While I don't equate success and thriving, the two ideas live in the same family. For me, success is completion: that project was successful or that article received a good response. Success comes in many forms but thriving, in my understanding, is a continuous process. Thus, I need to determine what kind of environment will nurture my desire to thrive and help me grow. (It's all about the plant metaphors these days).

This is important personally, as well, though I seem to have a better handle on the kinds of people, places and things I need to thrive personally, though I am certainly following through on my 33 x 33 list in order to continue to do so. I'll be posting an update on that very soon.

For now, I have the summer and fresh berries and lots of books to read and friends to visit. And many blog posts to write as I figure out exactly which castles in the air I want to put foundations under.