For the past few years, my family has opted-out of the annual beginning of the year resolution-making and instead, we have chosen a family “mantra” or “mission.” How it works is: At the end of each year, we sit together and discuss what we’d like to do, accomplish, improve, or work on as individuals in the upcoming year, and as a family and then we pick one word or sentence that we can all agree on and refer back to throughout the year. We then write it on a chalkboard and hang it over the door in our kitchen so we see it every day.
Our first mantra was: Experience Over Things. We wanted to focus more on experiences as a family, instead of buying things or being so wrapped up in material gain and consumerism. It worked out. We had one of the most adventurous—and exhausting—years of our life.
The next year we chose Choose the Good. We held each other accountable all year. Watch television for 3 hours straight or read a book? Choose the good. Eat fast food or make a nutritious meal together? Choose the good. Bad mouth someone or try to understand their point of view? Choose the good. We had, no pun intended, a very good year. We read more books, lost weight, drank less wine (well Greg and I did), and spent more quality time together—all without resolving to do a thing.
Last year when we sat down to discuss our chosen mission/mantra we chose the word Shine. Perhaps we chose it was because we were hearing it in lyrics, in books, and in inspo posts on Pinterest. (Side note: One of my favorite songs this year happened to have the word shine in it: “Shine on Me” by Dan Auerbach.) It struck us as a word we all liked and it represented a lot of what we wanted to do—use our talents and skills to the best of our abilities, step out of our comfort zones and do things that would challenge us and shake us up a bit, and most importantly it would inspire us to be a light for others. The word shine meant for us: To shine bright, to not get sucked in by negativity and darkness, and to be the best people we possibly can be in order to make the world a better place. It was ambitious. It was lofty. And to an outsider or a cynic: Cue the eye roll. (I get it. I even annoy me sometimes.)
But, here’s the thing: It worked. For example, this year my once shy (cling-to-my-leg-and-hide-behind me-in-social-situations) daughter stepped out on stage and sang a solo (actually a duet, but still, it was just her and another girl on stage) in front of 2,000 people. She’s always been more comfortable in the choir—surrounded by lots of others—or behind the scenes, directing plays and being part of a chorus. But she has an incredible voice—not to mention other theater-worthy talents. Though it scared the living hell out of her, she stepped out of her comfort zone and sang. And boy, she didn’t just sing—she shined. Immediately, it gave her a newfound confidence. The fears she had associated with singing in public—being out in front of others exposed and alone, messing up, and being criticized were not realized. She walked away from that night on stage hungry for more. “If I can do that, I can do anything…” I heard her say. As a mom, that’s exactly what you want to hear your daughter say. “Yes, you can,” I said. She also applied to colleges that some might say are a reach, and though she’s only heard back from 2 so far, she’s received a total of $200,000 in academic scholarships from those 2 schools alone. She worked hard all year. She helped people in need, and even became the president of not one, but two school clubs. Most importantly, she’s grown tremendously confident and comfortable in her own skin. No longer self-conscious, she’s able to see outside of herself and help others do the same.
Shine she did.
My son shined bright too. Early last year he was invited to apply to a new school in our area and it would have been a challenge for him—new kids, new expectations, and pretty much new everything. Talk about stepping out of your comfort zone. He did it though. He wanted to do it. And once he got there he started to thrive. He came home one day and said, “I’d like to run for student council—and make a difference.” He ran a “Be Kind” campaign and using his name “Colm” (which is pronounced like “column”) he made signs that said: “Vote for Colm, I will support you!” (And he drew columns—of course—to illustrate this.) He ran and won, and now serves on his student council and is working on an anti-bullying group. He also tried out for a play—and got a part—and tried a new sport (basketball). Best of all, he made new friends and put himself out there socially in ways he never has. He did it all by being kind and thoughtful and helping others.
He shined from the inside out.
My husband and I had our own set of challenges. Work and life as an adult can make you feel not so much shiny, but more like, excuse my language, another word that starts with sh. Yeah, I mean shitty. You get up before dawn, work all day, come home feed children, drive people places, and pay a seemingly endless mound of bills. Day in, day out. Coworkers, clients, politicians, and other adults in the world can take their toll on us grown-ups. Greg and I, like most of you, each had our fair share of shitty days. Some days it took all we had inside us to crack a smile when we saw the kids walk through the door, let alone shine like the top of the Chrysler building. If it wasn’t cars breaking down, medical bill collectors calling us, politicians threatening to take away our insurance, friends dying, or clients losing their freaking minds—there was some other crisis brewing in the background: A transmission is about to go. Someone is always getting sick or hurt. A washing machine is always about to break. A windshield is going to crack. In a word: It’s endless. Adulthood can be one big giant shit sandwich. Take a bite. Enjoy.
But, nevertheless, we dug deep. I meditated more than I ever have in my life. Waking up even earlier to do so. I walked more than ever have, using the time to listen to inspiring and informative audiobooks. I threw myself into my gardens and got down to basics—hands in the soil, sun on my back, and sweat on my brow. I took on more projects—but only projects that I cared about and that seemed that they would help others. I also found the courage to tell people whose behavior I found intolerable, harmful, or egregious that I no longer was interested in enabling it. I walked away. The Mary of 3 years ago—pre mantras—would have complained endlessly about these people. She would have felt victimized or traumatized, but the Mary of 2017, Shiny-not-so-Shitty Mary, was like: Fuck it. Life is too short. I don’t have time for this. And I moved on—happily. And as it turns out, bills got paid, a new car arrived in our driveway after the transmission failed on another, Greg watched a Youtube video to fix the washing machine, and our insurance covered our windshield. Shit works itself out. Life usually does.
Living a life with “shine” as the mantra didn’t mean we were covered in diamonds and dripping with pearls. It didn’t mean we didn’t have some bumps in the roads or hard times. It didn’t mean there weren’t days when a long walk off a short pier seemed like a more comfortable solution than digging in deep and doing the work. It meant we were willing to be uncomfortable for a little bit for a bigger purpose. It meant we were willing to hold on tight a little longer when things weren’t going as planned or as quickly as we hoped. It meant seeing the light and sometimes being the light when everything seemed pretty hopeless and dark.
In the end, we had more to be grateful for than to complain about. We celebrated life’s wins, and we learned immensely from life’s heartaches. We had lots of cracks—not just in the windshield—but in our hearts as well. But, as Leonard Cohen so aptly put it:
There is a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in.
Recently, we sat down and decided on next year’s mantra. I am excited to announce it on January 1. I have a feeling 2018 will be a great year not just for us, but for you too. Here’s to all you. I hope you have a wonderful holiday and a very happy, healthy, prosperous, and shiny New Year, where the light comes through all the cracks and shines its light on you, on all of us.
Peace, love, and joy to you and yours in 2018,