January 6, 2014

Projects For Life

In my New Year 2014 post, I mentioned that I do not make new year resolutions, but that I do strive to work on what I have called Projects For Life. It seems reasonable to now describe what I mean and to explain how this not only differs from a new year resolution but is, in fact, much better.

New Year resolutions, in theory, are when people make a decision for a positive thing in their life. This could be anything that they have identified in their life that needs improvement. Usual candidates include losing weight, stopping bad habits, exercising more or eating right. And there is nothing wrong with any of these resolutions. But the practice is that the resolution is set, high enthusiasm carries the person through a few days or even a week or two and then at the first failure, they give up and say forget it. This explains why a typical gym is full of new members in early January, but almost exclusively back to just the regulars by February 1st.

New year resolutions don't work for most of us because they are conceived of as a grand plan where anything less than complete success on the first attempt is a complete failure. Grand plans are great in theory, but the reality is that no plan survives first contact with reality. And that means that you will almost never hit a large goal on a first try. And therefore, despite oodles of good intention and well meaning, you have set yourself up for failure. After a few rounds of failed resolutions, many people say forget it and make the only new year resolution that they'll ever keep and say that they'll never again make a new year resolution!

The problem isn't the desire to do better. The desire to improve oneself and their situation is good and noble. The problem is expecting the first try of a single decision to work. It is both my observation and personal experience that it takes several tries to start getting something of substance right. My initial experiences with dieting is a good example. I have previously lost weight and then put some back on a few times now. Yet, each time, I dive back into studying nutrition and learn more so that I can try again with more success. I have understood that it is a process. One that involves learning more about nutrition and learning to eat less badly. When I have eventually learned enough and have refined my eating to be much less bad, I will be successful. For the time being I am continuing with the understanding that it is better to win slowly than not try at all.

Another problem with new year resolutions is that they are generally short term and often guilt inspired. Not that we shouldn't feel a little guilty after the bad food season (also known as Christmas and New Year), but if we needed to lose weight after that, we most likely needed to lose weight before it as well. Rather than making a number of short-term resolutions at the end of the year, driven by whatever happens to be on your mind at that time, we need to think about projects for our lives.

I have come to the conclusion that we all need a number of what I am calling "Projects For Life". These are not new year resolutions. They are long term and can be added at any point in the year. They are large guiding directions in your life that you will work on for the entirety of the rest of your life. Sometimes these are also called "noble causes" and that's a good name for them as well. Each Project For Life will (or should) inspire some action in you towards a goal. The specific goal can change over time, but each goal is there in support of the project. For example, one of my Projects For Life involves writing, so a current goal in support of that is to go back to regular blogging. When I get the blogging to the level I want, then I'll add a new goal, perhaps to write a book. The important thing is that each goal for the project supports it and moves you further along in your endeavor.

Each Project For Life should be big. This is because big projects stretch us and promote inner growth. Another one of my Projects For Life is to study the word of God, the bible, to understand it the best I can. Reading the bible regularly is one of initial goals for this project, but then I want to go further and read commentaries on the scriptures. But why stop there? Let's add learning to read the original Greek and Hebrew so that I don't have to worry whether the bible translation I'm reading is accurate. At that point, I'll write my own translation. And if the Lord has not returned by the time I've done all that, I'm sure there will be some other worthy goal to keep me studying and learning more about the bible.

The concept of Projects For Life excites me. These are endeavors that I can get behind. No one will need to prod me and tell me to get on with any of them. If someone has to prod you, then it's either not a Project For Life or it's a goal that you aren't ready for yet. A re-examination is appropriate and either discard that project or adjust your goal until it does excite you.

One last thought. Be careful not to have too many Projects For Life. These are not items on your to do list waiting to be crossed off. These are guiding principles for how you chose to live your life. These are things you will be applying yourself to until it's your turn to enter eternity. Choose wisely and keep the list to a handful. Certainly you can drop a project or to add one as your life circumstances change, but do so with care and great deliberation because if selected right, these projects will guide your personal growth in this life. A Project For Life should be selected because it fits who you are and how you want to grow and develop in your life. These are not projects for someone else. There is no boss to keep happy with these projects. There are no deadlines. These are endeavors that you'll work on for the love of it.

An example of a Project For Life that you might have heard of is Middle-Earth. This was a Project For Life of J.R.R. Tolkien. The most well known parts of that project are the books The Hobbit and the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Tolkien wrote much more material than that. Well over a dozen books came from his project. He also created more than a dozen languages for the characters in his stories. This whole project was a massive undertaking of love. He initially had no expectation of making any money from it, writing and creating for the pure creative joy of it. He had regular employment as a professor of English at Oxford University. His Middle-Earth work was above and beyond anything he did for the university. When Tolkien died, there was almost as much unpublished material as there was published material. His son Christopher took over the project and prepared many of his fathers unpublished manuscripts for release to an enthusiastic body of fans. Middle-Earth is an excellent example of a project for life. Tolkien enjoyed working on it until the very end. I hope that we can all find such a project in our own lives.

My Projects For Life at this time are: writing, studying the bible, taking care of myself (through nutrition and fitness), having my own business and esoteric programming languages. These are the things that I want to do in my life over and above the call to pastoring that I have. As you can see, I have a mix of very deep and serious projects, but also at least one fun one with the esoteric programming languages. These projects all excite me. They may bore you silly, but they excite me and I love to take on goals to further my progress in each of these.

Tags: Personal