Living in the moment, not the year

The start of a new year is a lot like the release of a new Star Wars movie.

It gets way more hype than it should.

I’ve never been big on making resolutions for each new year. I feel like there’s so much pressure, and oftentimes we end up setting goals that are loftier than they should be, resulting in us not sticking to them—I guess that’s why there are so many jokes out there about how crowded gyms are at the beginning of January and then not so much anymore as the year continues to progress.

I do believe in setting goals, though, and I think it’s something that can be done at any point in the year—it doesn’t solely have to be something that takes place when we have the transition from one year to the next. If I want to start something new and stick to it on May 13, then I can. It doesn’t have to be at the beginning of a year or month or week or whatever. It honestly can be at any single moment when I want to make a change.

But I do see the significance in the “fresh start” that a new year brings. I mean, think about when you have a bad day. You might tell yourself that surely tomorrow will be better and then focus on having a better attitude or outcome the following day. There’s something about newness and fresh beginnings that appeal to people. I guess it makes sense. It’s not necessarily that you’re getting to start over completely, but in a way, you sort of are. It’s kind of like when you run a race or play a game—whether you run your best or worst or somewhere in the middle or win or lose, you get a clean slate the next time you step on the starting line, field or court. You get to go in there with a completely new mindset that good things are going to happen.

And sometimes you need that in order to move past what was a race or game or day or month or semester or year that you simply really want to forget.

This was our way of saying, “Peace out, 2016.”

I think it’s a natural human tendency to want to reflect upon a year that’s drawing to a close and classify it as good or bad, successful or not so successful, difficult or wonderful, and a number of other adjectives that won’t be completely accurate depictions of every aspect of your entire year. I know I could think of a lot of things to say about the challenges and hurt I faced in 2016, but they wouldn’t highlight those precious memories that I want to hold in my heart forever.

So maybe each year really isn’t necessarily a new beginning—rather, it’s a continuation of the stories we’re living out. It’s an opportunity for us to grow and learn more about ourselves and those around us. It’s a period of time to love and make differences as often as we can. It’s a collection of moments full of chances and setbacks, wins and losses, hopes fulfilled and hearts broken, courage and fear, laughter and tears, joy and sorrow, and a number of other ups and downs.

For a good chunk of December, I spent a lot of time waiting for 2016 to end. But, honestly, the turning of a page in the calendar doesn’t magically change things. Sure, there’s the mentality of that “fresh start” notion, but I think life should be lived by moments, not by years. Everything can change so quickly, and we have no clue how long we’re going to be here, so I feel like it makes sense to try to make every single moment matter. I’d like that to be my life resolution. I guarantee I’m going to fail probably more times than I’d like to think about, but hopefully I’ll also do well more often than not.

On the first day of this new year, I sat at a dinner table with a family that has become so dear to me over the years I’ve known them that I consider them family of my own. So much has changed in all of our lives since I met them, and it’s been so wonderful to be part of their journeys and to have them as part of mine, too. We shared stories and jokes and even belted out Plus One’s “Written on My Heart” at one point. (I mean, if you’re not singing cheesy Christian boy band songs after dinner, what are you really doing in life?) It was a refreshing reminder that I’ve been given so many incredible people who have impacted me in big ways—moment by moment.

A lot of things happened in 2016—some good, some bad. Regardless, they happened, and the individual events that happened in each of our lives likely helped mold us even more into the people we are now. Rather than looking at the entire year, I’m going to try to focus more on the moments. I know people often talk about looking more at the big picture, but I think there are times when we need to look at the smaller pictures within the big pictures, instead. After all, sometimes one line in a song can stick with you more than the entire song itself.

And no matter what the year ahead holds for you, there’s a new opportunity in every moment you’re given—and you don’t have to wait 365 days to make those moments count.

You don’t always need to run in heels

It’s often a good idea to slow down and take time to enjoy each moment you have in life.

Even if you’re a bride and maid of honor running late to the wedding ceremony.

My sister got married on Friday, and there were so many moments during that day that I will never forget. And, of course, one of them happened right before my sister was about to walk down the aisle.

It was pretty much go time, and my friend Michelle (who is a kick-a$* wedding coordinator, by the way) told my sister and me to wait upstairs where we were until we saw her walk past a certain point with the rest of the bridesmaids. We did that, but as soon as we got outside, we realized we didn’t know where our dad was. We couldn’t remember if he was supposed to be there with us and walk my sister all the way from where we were or if he was waiting right at the entrance at the end of the gravel path. A woman who works at the venue saw the look of sheer panic on my sister’s face, and she hustled up the path to see if my dad was there. I could hear music playing and asked my sister what song would be playing when the bridesmaids walked down the aisle.

Then, like clockwork, we heard that song start up—we needed to be up there ASAP.

My sister told me to run, and I’ve been in enough weddings to know you do pretty much whatever a bride tells you to do on her wedding day. We took off sprinting (I was wearing heels and holding the end of my dress in one hand, so the definition of “sprinting” might be skewed slightly) across the bridge, and I could see my dad walking quickly toward us and the bridesmaid right before me already walking down the aisle. Then I saw Michelle, who was motioning to us that we could slow down. When I got to the entrance, she calmly said, “You’re fine. You’re fine. Slow down. Walk slowly.”

This was shortly before the dash.

When my sister walked down the aisle with my dad, you never would have known she was just running in a frenzy toward her wedding. She looked so calm and beautiful, ready to dive into the new adventure before her.

It’s easy to get going so fast in life that you feel like you have to go at a zippity-zip pace toward everything. There are so many things that need to be done, and it often becomes far too common to feel like you’re falling behind in so many ways. Sure, there are certain things that have to be done by certain times, and there are moments we truly need to seize when they’re right in front of us. But there are so many things that will happen just as they should, no matter how quickly you run toward them.

I made a small list of things for which I want to be more patient—those things that I often feel like I need to run toward but that really will still be there if I slow down a bit.

Work — Sure, I work in a job that requires me to meet pretty quick deadlines, but I sometimes have a tendency to be too rigid on deadlines that have some flexibility. That leads to stress, and stress doesn’t allow you to enjoy many aspects of life as much as you should.

People — The bottom line is that people need love. It’s easy to get frustrated with people who upset us in a variety of ways, but we don’t always know what’s going on in their lives. It never hurts to show people you care about them, but it does hurt to show them you don’t. I try to make concerted efforts to smile at people and talk to them about their lives, but it is more difficult when I’m having a bad day, not in the best mood or not a fan of the person. You make time for the things you want to make time for in life, and I hope I always make time to care about all people.

Dating — Well, I don’t actually date, but I am not going to rush into anything with anyone. I’ve gotten my heart broken badly enough before to be reminded that you don’t have to sprint toward love, especially love that really isn’t even there. If I’m supposed to end up with someone, it will happen when it should, and I don’t need to worry about it.

To-do lists — I can’t always do everything on my list of things to do, and I need to be OK with that. Sometimes a task simply has to be pushed back to another day or another time. Most of those items on my list will still be there tomorrow, and the world likely won’t crumble if they aren’t crossed off on the days on which they were originally written.

Toward the end of the night at my sister’s wedding, the DJ played “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips, and it became a special moment for my sister and me. At one point, we grabbed hands and started spinning super fast until everything around us became blurry. Every time we do this on a dance floor, we always know the exact moment we need to stop before it becomes too out of control and makes us fall or get hurt. I think that’s an important moment to be able to identify in life, too—that moment when you realize you simply need to slow down and enjoy where you are and what you’re doing before your spinning around madly becomes too much for you to handle.

I think Ferris Bueller said it best: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

To which Aerosmith would reply, “And I don’t want to miss a thing.”

Time can outrun a cheetah

Trying to understand how time moves so quickly is like trying to understand men.

It just doesn’t make sense.

We’re in late May at this point, but I feel like it was January yesterday. On Friday evening I went to an event for a couple of my former students. They’ve been working on projects all year as part of a unique program the school district offers, and Friday night was the night of their big presentations. They are seniors this year, which is really weird to me. I swear they were just tiny insecure freshmen walking into my classroom and not knowing what to expect. Now they are these confident young adults with huge dreams. How did this happen so quickly?

I went a little early to the presentation night so that I could hopefully catch up with some former coworkers and chat with my kids some before they had to get in professionalism mode. I hadn’t been back to the school since the day I walked out the door last June with a rollercoaster of emotions going through me. I remember being scared and excited and sad and happy and confused and anxious and hopeful and a bunch of other things all at the same time.

She’s about to graduate. I’m pretty sure she was a freshman just last month.

Walking back into the same school I used to walk in almost every single morning for seven years felt really strange. I still can’t quite believe it’s been almost an entire school year since I’ve been gone. So much can change over that time period, and I felt like an outsider as I walked toward the doors. (I think one thing that made this feeling even stronger was the fact that I tried to enter through a set of side doors near my old classroom, and you have to have a badge to get in there. I don’t have a badge anymore. Thankfully, someone was leaving right as I got to the doors.) I glanced inside my old room, but it looked so different that I had to scurry away quickly. I have too many great memories in there to go down that road.

I’m going to be perfectly honest—I was pretty nervous walking through the halls. I really love my new job, and I haven’t once regretted my decision to leave teaching. Sure, I miss the kids and my coworkers and school at times, but I’ve never been upset about the career change. And for some reason, I was afraid that being back would make me question what I had done. It was really weird, though, because the exact opposite happened—being back made me realize I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

While it was nice to spend time with old friends and old students (seriously, how are they this old already?!), I know my time in that world has passed. It went by quickly, and the time away has flown by, too. I’ll never forget that first day of setting foot in front of a classroom full of high schoolers, and I’ll never forget that first day of stepping off the elevator into the corporate world. They are two entirely different realms—not in a bad way—and I’m glad I’ve gotten to spend time in both.

Thinking about how distant one year had made me feel from a seven-year career reminded me how important each moment we have is. I’m pretty sure the day I hit 30 was the day time decided to start moving at warp speed. I’m sure science or something ridiculous will try to convince me that it is actually impossible for it to move faster, but science and I aren’t always on the same page.

When you’re a little kid, you don’t really notice the time as much because you’re constantly living in the moment and doing what you want to do. You don’t necessarily prioritize the wrong things, because you prioritize what truly matters most to you. You think dessert is more important than your veggies—and sometimes it is. You think that playing outside or making memories with your friends is more important than homework—and it almost always is. You think that what you want is actually what you need—and it just might be. You think that waiting 30 minutes to get back in the pool after eating is ridiculous—and it absolutely is (because it’s a complete waste of time). You think that summer is SO far away—and it isn’t, but you don’t notice because you take life one day at a time. You think that growing up and becoming an adult takes forever—but it doesn’t, so stay innocent as long as you can. You think so many things that are so sensible yet make no sense at all at the exact same time—and it’s hard to imagine your views will ever change.

But that’s the thing about time: It holds so much change.

Maybe time seems to pick up speed as I get older because I sometimes forget to live in the moment and appreciate every second I’m given. Maybe time hasn’t slowed down because I haven’t slowed down. Maybe adults should learn a lot more from kids—we’re the ones who say they grow up so fast, but they don’t notice it because they’re too busy living. Maybe they know more than we think they do. Maybe the things they do aren’t always the responsible things, but perhaps oftentimes they’re the right things to do. Maybe sometimes what we say is a “waste of time” really isn’t a waste at all.

I love some of Pam’s final thoughts in the series finale of The Office. She mentioned that it took her “so long to do so many important things” and offered us a little bit of advice: “Just go after what you want, and act fast because life just isn’t that long.”

Which is why we should slow down and make every second count—which Ferris Bueller even remind us to do.