As 2013 approaches I find the question, “Does it have to?” popping into my head at a pretty steady frequency. The question doesn’t actually refer to the imminent arrival of a new year, but to each assumption I subconsciously make when thinking about my future. I notice that there are patterns to my expectations of what life will hold and that perhaps those patterns are limiting. The thing I love about the question is that I didn’t come up with it on purpose. It organically popped into my head while watching a character on a favorite show struggle with what they believed to be an unavoidable outcome. They stated “Now, this means…” and my immediate reaction was, “Does it have to?” Of course the answer to the question is no. Our interpretation of life events, what different occurrences mean and where they take us is entirely up to each of us.
For me the biggest assumption that I make every new year is that the year to come will in some way resemble the year that just passed. I go into January expecting that I will continue in a job that makes me happy, live in my condo with my cats, hang out with some friends every now and then, and spend time with my family. All of those things are awesome and bring me joy, but does 2013 have to look like 2012 to make me happy? It would be easy to believe the fact that there’s nothing overtly wrong or challenging about my life situation means it should continue as is, but the question won’t stop badgering me. “Does it have to?”
In my work, does being good at what I do mean I have to continue to do what I do? In my relationships, does being content on my own mean I don’t pursue something new or that I couldn’t find some new level of happiness if I took a risk? In my home life, just because it’s good and easier to stay where I am, do I have to? Asking the question in regards to just those three areas opens up mind boggling possibilities to sincerely explore. I have been in a holding pattern with my career and relationships for a few years now. It’s a pattern born from a strange cocktail of contentment and laziness. The question “Does it have to?” pushes me to switch up my drink of choice.
I find the question exciting. For instance, continuing to teach while starting my Masters in Educational Technology could be overwhelming. I could see it as something that will make my life harder and my schedule crazier, but does it have to? Don’t I have control over what I put into each area of my life? Can’t I choose to view each lesson as a joy filled experience of learning instead of a “to do” list to move me to the next stage? Another example: Does being ready to be in a relationship again mean I have to get set up, join an online dating site, or go out to more bars? Or can it mean that I intuitively listen to who I want to spend time chatting or talking with? Can it mean that I let go and just see who pops up in my life?
There’s a lot of freedom in the question, but there’s also an inherent responsibility that when denied could lead to a lack of decision-making or commitment to any one path. Ultimately we do have to choose or we default into deciding by not deciding. Having been guilty of this quite often in the past, I feel aware enough of the consequences of indecision to avoid its recurrence in 2013. As I make my way into the new year, I hope to examine my assumptions and self-limiting patterns in order find the meaning I am searching for in life. Good luck to you as you do the same.