On Eating Queso and Failing to Reach My New Year's Goals
I spent the majority of my New Year’s Eve as I had spent the majority of my 2017: eating reasonably-priced Mexican at my favorite restaurant in all the land. In neon letters across the front of its lime-green exterior are the words MEXICAN RESTAURANT, so there’s no confusion as to what you’re getting yourself into. It’s a place deeply appreciated for its half-priced pitchers of margaritas Sundays through Tuesdays (“happy days” as they call it). The interior sports a fine American restaurant chain aesthetic, the Mexican version of Chili’s as I describe it to those who are new to its magic.
As we ordered a second pitcher of margs, toasted to HIPAA, and had those sort of absurd conversations that anyone within listening distance (so, all the restaurant) would definitely be tempted to live-tweet, I made everyone go around the table sharing their 2018 goals.
I. Love. Goals. I love making them, I love writing them down, I love talking about them. Last week I literally devoted an entire day to setting goals, cozying up in the corner of one of my favorite Nashville coffee shops to reflect on the past year and dream of all the things this new year could be.
But if I look back at my 2017 goals, I confess that I reached almost none of them (except to see Bon Iver in concert: double check). I came nowhere close to reaching my writing goals, fell incredibly short of my financial goals, barely met any of my goals for That First Year, and certainly did not get to check off my personal goals of refreshing my French, writing a letter monthly, or exercising once a week. In fact, besides having my heart mangled by hearing Bon Iver’s “Perth” live, the only goals I did meet were to decorate my home with succulents (that I, for the life of me, cannot keep alive) and learn how to make a homemade latte. So basically, I failed at my 2017 goals.
And honestly, I haven’t been immune to the feelings of shame that come when you look at your goals and see how much you didn’t accomplish, the unchecked boxes on your to-do list nagging you for the inability to keep up. I’ve carried much of this shame through December, and especially through last week, when I had so much I wanted to get done that did not, at all, get done.
I took a poetry class the semester I studied in London. Our professor took us outside on a rare morning of English spring sunshine, encouraging us to walk through the park with eyes open to our surroundings: the blooming roses that bordered the path, the blue skies patterned with white contrails, the overhead drone of a plane descending into Heathrow.
Admittedly, I walk through much of my days taking little notice of my surroundings (which is probably why I am not a good poet). “I can tell you’re in your head right now,” my friend once told me as we stood quietly next to the Pacific blue on the evening before my 24th birthday. I live life inside my mind, focused on my work or my to-do list, worrying about money or relationships, scripting narratives of how the future will be.
But this is not the sort of life I want to lead—one so focused on goals and to-do lists that I am blind to the abundant life I’m greeted with every morning that I climb out of bed and pour myself a cup of coffee.
As Anne Lamott wrote, “The miracle is that we are here, that no matter how undone we’ve been the night before, we wake up every morning and are still here. It is phenomenal just to be.”
Because this year that I failed to reach my goals? It was still so full. I learned how to trust in God’s provision (a lesson I am still VERY MUCH LEARNING); I was able to get to know my incredible refugee Nashville neighbors, and I was humbled by their resilient and hospitable attitudes; I kayaked in a fjord in Norway and visited my favorite rainy London streets with three of my best friends; I spent hundreds of dollars eating Mexican food with beautiful friends on a near-weekly basis; I finally began pursuing my dream for a freelance writing career; I published Windrose Magazine with the help of incredibly talented and generous friends; I said goodbye to 24-years-old while drinking Prosecco on a Brooklyn rooftop with two friends who live too many miles away; and I (perhaps most importantly?) was offered a piece of carrot cake from the boy angel known as Harry Styles. Why, then, do I so easily let goals, met or unmet, define my days?
While I do think dreams are important and that purpose is necessary to a fulfilling life, we can’t forget that in this quest to set these goals and challenge ourselves to a higher standard, that we are also called to not simply work our way through this life, but to live it with eyes open like a poet. May we use this year to do good and necessary work that adds our own light to this world that can seem like a perpetual starless midnight, while also stepping out of our heads and ambitions long enough to notice the beauty—sometimes simple, like the affectionate nuzzle from a cat, sometimes extraordinary, like a sunrise over the Cascades at 35,000 feet—that life gifts us with each day. And may we make time regularly to eat reasonably-priced Mexican with the people we are lucky enough to get to do life with, because I think, in the end, these are the memories that we'll be reflecting on come next December 31.