CYOO #38: The year that freed me from plans

The year started off with great ambitions. Armed with a north star visioning exercise that I did with my project coach, I felt motivated to use my skills towards empowering others to create and live meaningfully. The idea of having this unified purpose behind everything I did seemed important at the time, so that I could act with intention and feel a sense of fulfillment across my various pursuits. The cornerstone for this purpose was Modern Doing, a side project interview series dedicated to exploring how people find meaning through work. I didn’t know what the grand vision for this project was, but connecting with others who struggled with their search for meaning and sharing these stories was in itself very rewarding.

Then came COVID. In the beginning I stuck to the schedule of publishing an interview every other week, all conducted in person pre-pandemic. I had the pleasure of connecting with Al, and our heartfelt conversations around work and meaning as well as plans to create a course around these topics fueled me for a while. But over time everything related to Modern Doing felt like busy work. The project increasingly felt out of touch—though people still aimed to find meaning in their work, there were so many other needs to prioritize that weren’t being met, highlighted even more than before because of the pandemic.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (below) captures this perfectly. How much space can there be towards thinking about self-fulfillment needs like creating a meaningful work life, when we were grieving job loss, worrying about loved ones’ safety, missing quality time spent with friends, and generally feeling fear and anxiety about this unknown virus?

I didn’t really know how to process this shift in attitude towards Modern Doing, nor did I really speak of it with others. On one hand, it didn’t feel like the project was a failure if I was self-diagnosing its end, letting go of my own volition. But it still felt like I had failed myself for not committing more deeply to find a way through. Looking back, I think both sides hold true—surely I could have successfully continued on and found new ways to connect and resonate with people, as other similar communities and projects have, but I am also free to change my mind and cut ties with whatever doesn’t intuitively feel right anymore.

Winding down on this side project gave me ample time to play during the hours I wasn’t working or interview prepping (getting a new day job in line with my purpose was another 2020 goal of mine, one with its own ups and downs that panned out in the best way). I turned towards exploring visual arts and crafts—painting, weaving, and punch needle embroidery in particular. Prior to this year I assumed writing and maybe dance were the only ways I could express myself creatively, and it’s felt so freeing to find new ways to create and discover wider sources of inspiration. Dancing in particular unlocks many novel sensations and emotions that continue to surprise me, and because it is a mostly private and non-capitalizable practice, it is the one most dear to my heart.

At the end of 2019, I filled out a 20 page booklet to reflect on the year and plan for the next, a true Virgo exercise (you can do it too over at Year Compass). I started this year’s booklet a few days ago and was amused by the lack of goals I wrote down for 2021, and the lack of concreteness to the goals I managed to write. Dreams like “get a new job at x” or “launch the passion project” or “cross off a place on your travel bucket list”, all items from last year, are now “travel somewhere (please?)” or “start planning to buy a house somewhere.” I am afraid to hope for anything definitive given how 2020 went, but perhaps I am also getting more comfortable with open endings.

Though I started the year attempting to blaze forward with a clear focus, being thrown off course uncovered the greatest joys: newly discovered art mediums, the comforts of a room of my own, the unforeseen desires to root myself somewhere. 2020 emphasized that life is outside of anyone’s control—scary, yes, but ultimately freeing that we do not have to plan out every facet of our lives to orient towards success (whatever that means). All the plans and resolutions assume that life is an amalgamation of all the things we do, but most of life is in seeing and responding to what unfolds. It’s in these moments that we see our true nature, the values that are deeply entrenched in our hearts.

I’ll end this post with articles I’ve been simmering on while writing up this newsletter. Hope you have a relaxing end to this tumultuous year, and that you enter the next one with less burden and expectation, especially ones you place on yourself. See you in your inbox again in 2021! 🧡

You Don’t Have to Work On Yourself Forever” from Vice
Our Shared Unsharing” from The Cut
Tennis with Plato” from Aeon