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How Do You Start a Year?
Resolutions or intentions? Dry January and a subscription to the gym? Or a new agenda, regime or eating habit? How do you cope with the ambiguity of a fuzzy horizon, a fork in the road or a new chapter bursting to unfold? Or the ambivalence that arises from having to choose between several possible identities? Spare a thought for Kevin McCarthy, elected as US Speaker of the House on the 15th try… what a way to start a year!
After spending my 60th at Harvard, I’m full of ideas not just for the year - but for the decade - to come. I’ve learned just how important one decade’s efforts become to the next - and especially the 20s to the 30s, and the 50s to the 60s and 70s in our still very ageist world and minds. I’ve been exploring how much motivations may evolve in the 3rd Quarter compared to the 2nd Quarter - and whether anyone, including employers, have even begun to notice or name the differences…
As the Enneagram Type 7 that I am (the Enthusiast), who loves nothing more than the clarion call of a blank page and a blank year (let alone a blank decade!), new years are one of my favourite things. In fact, I start them twice in any given annual number - both in January and in September. Why waste an opportunity to begin again? So if January commitments don’t work out or flag come summer, slipping towards some slothful form of failure, you get another run before the calendars change entirely.
To help add colour to my future-oriented default personality style (are you past, present or future oriented?), I rely on three (sic!) different kinds of calendars, one that leans personal, the other professional, the third an integrator of all dimensions - the Google calendar that rules the roost, the business and my couple.
Now, I know, as you do, that all this prepping and planning is a desperate attempt at controlling the unbearable uncertainty of the future in a chaotic age. But I have also learned that you can accomplish extraordinary things - if you put them at the top of your priority list. I’m inspired by my friend and BIG colleague Harriet Green who sets a series of high bars, and then seems to sail over them, fashionably clad! And by fellow Substack writer and New Yorker cartoonist Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell who spoofs hilariously on the unachievability of to-do lists.
But I persevere, with a certain calming pleasure in the process itself. I start with Mom’s Family Calendar, illustrated by the much beloved Sandra Boynton (now rebranded to the more correctly gender neutral ‘My Family Calendar’). It has accompanied my family’s every year since the kids started meriting their own column on the page. Its great innovation was to give each member of the family their own inalienable stripe of time and space. The art of juggling a family’s multiple commitments and schedules became a monthly piece of art, jagged with energy, strategically positioned next to the breakfast table.
With age, empty nests, and ever more distant offspring, the columns morphed this January. The ‘kids’ now share a single column as I nostalgically note their comings and goings across countries, vacations and whatsapp updates (whatever they deign to share). A new column, ‘Culture,’ claimed the freed-up kid space reflecting the time we now have to gad about town. We list the multiple temptations our urban playground has to offer (see earlier blog about returning to London), making it easy to dash out down the road on a whim. ‘Friends’ has been promoted to a much more called-upon space, along with the guest room that accompanies it, as an increasing number of our similarly double empty-nested (NKNPs: no kids, no parents) network have time to travel through London. How lovely to welcome our first visit from fellow ALI alumnus (and elderberries supporter), Caroline, for tea this weekend.
On a more professional note, I welcome the steady, always appreciated encouragement of Best Self’s quarterly SELF Journals. It aligns with the theories of a Harvard Professor I had last year, who said you can only ever prioritise 3 things in any given year. Above that moderate number, you begin to lose focus or spread yourself too thin.
That’s what the SELF Journal invites you to do. Prioritise 3 things, track their implementation and progress, and remind you of all the things you’ve actually done in a day, a week, a month and a quarter. For anyone else who rushes through a million things in a month and then undervalues accomplishments large and small (or forgets about them entirely), this is manna for your inner critic.
Do you go in for this sort of new beginning ritual? What are your top 3 priorities for Q1 of this year?
In the past, I’ve decided to made changes large and small at the turn of a calendar year. Sometimes a new number is simply the nudge you need to action a decision made long before, like looking for a job in Paris the September after I turned 20, making the first steps to leave a long marriage the January before I turned 50. Or when I went back to school the January after I turned 60.
This year, my top 3 areas of focus are:
Health - mental and physical
Every year past 50 requires an increase in time devoted to health and exercise. I’m no health junky (seriously), but I learned two lessons last year that I’m prioritising into the next one:
sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, starts to accelerate dramatically after 60. I don’t aim for youth, and I gave up on any pretence of svelte a few decades back, but I do want to stay healthy and mobile, so am adding strength training to my yoga/ walking regime.
spread your protein across the day - 25 gr per meal. Otherwise you aren’t nourishing the muscle building above. My morning toast has morphed into a ham & cheese mountain.
regular meditation - cause it feels good. And keeps you somewhat saner.
Writing, Podcasting, Teaching - more. For fun, for books, for change
First the pandemic, then substack gave me time and space to write more and in more formats. Care about a topic? Want to raise your voice or volume? Want to create a community to share it with? Substack has been a joy and a delight for me, and a way to earn a living for many (I’m not there yet). Tempted? One of the joys of the 3rd Quarter is to become what psychologist Erik Erikson called ‘generative,’ sharing what you know and what you’ve learned. Check it out, they offer a lot of support to their writers, and the tools are lovely and easy to use.
I’ll be using a range of channels to explore different aspects of my growing fascination with life, longevity, gender differences in the 3rd Quarter and the pursuit of a life well-lived. And different lenses to look at them - FORBES, HBR, elderberries, my 4-Quarter Lives podcast.
Influencing - unleashing the ‘old’
There is a vast movement afoot of people moving into what is vaguely referred to as the ‘longevity space.’ My slice of adapting the world to the reality of its demographics is focused around three themes:
Spreading Midlife Transition Programmes to universities around Europe and guest speaking/ teaching in some.
Influencing companies to start putting age on their strategic agenda and adapting their leadership, culture and systems to age-diverse talent and customers (which has remarkable similarities with the gender balance initiatives I’ve worked on for the past two decades).
Coaching individuals and running Midlife Rethink programs for individuals and organisations (more on this soon, with discounts for subscribers).
We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
As I conclude, I reflect with great gratitude on how lucky I, and so many of the women of my generation are. For all the options, the tools and the role models we have access to. This week, a few stories reminded me of just how far we’ve come. I know it’s only a half-baked revolution, with lots of reversals and variations, but snippets of what the world was - and still is in many countries - is always a guarantor of gratitude.
The Marriage Contract, by Maggie O’Farrell is the horrific (and true) Renaissance tale of a young girl married off to an Italian Duke at the tender age of 15 and who is then eliminated because she can’t produce an heir (noting that neither did any of the other women and wives that the Duke eventually consorted with). Beautifully written, you share the heroine’s growing claustrophobia as her world and prospects gradually close in on her. And bless your lucky stars for the time in which we are born.
The BBC In Our Time’s podcast introduces impressionist artist Berthe Morisot, a pioneering feminist eye, rebellious before its time. One of her most famous paintings, The Cradle, painted in 1872, which looks at first glance like an ode to motherhood, is actually a cautionary portrait of the artist’s sister sitting over her new baby. The picture is a contemplation of how this small creature has created a fork in her sister’s plans, leading her also-artist sister to renounce her work to focus on her role as mother and wife. Hardly an outdated trade-off.
Finally, a thought for our Ukrainian sniper sisters. A story in The Economist introduces the women who made it through “a gruelling military survival test that those in the know call “Fizo”. From a pool of 90 candidates, only five were left standing by the end of the test. Two of them were men.” These brave women know that rape, death and torture await them if they are caught. One says she has no choice, she is fighting for the 8-year old daughter she has left at home. “I am doing everything to make sure her generation doesn’t have to deal with Putin and his crazy world.”
So as you contemplate your year, our crazy world and your dreams, I hope you’ll join me in gratitude for all we can do, all that is open to us, and all the change we can still make, with whatever ammunition and energy you have at your disposal. For ourselves and for the world.
One final image, from the wonderful Tim Urban at WaitButWhy (via my son), gives you an idea of the infiniteness of the possibilities to come for each of us in 2023.
To your future. Happy New Year!
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