A Year of Intentional Living

“What does 2017 hold for us? 365 days, if we’re fortunate.”

I’ll admit it. I’m a “glass half empty” kind of girl. Further, my life philosophy has always been to expect the worst because that way, if it doesn’t happen, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Oh! And the “What If’s…” I am the Queen of What If’s that leave me plagued with uncertainty and self-doubt. And if all of this sounds sad, it’s because it is sad. I have missed or overlooked a lot of joy in my life because I tend to focus on the negative.

Anyone that knew my dad would tell you that he was, indeed, a happy man. One of his favorite sayings (besides “I never felt better or had less” or “don’t kill any dead snakes”) was about worrying. He was not a worrier and when I would be stewing over something, he would look at me and ask me if this issue was going to matter in 100 years because if not, why waste time over it now. He never wasted time with regret or “what if’s.” I think that was one major reason for his happiness—he never let circumstances beyond his control, control him. He simply focused on what he could do instead of what he couldn’t. I know my dad had a lot of painful experiences and heartache in his life, we all do, but he made a choice, in spite of it all, to focus on the positive and let the negative go.

A few months ago, I was reading through letters that my dad had written to his cousin while he was in the Army, stationed in Korea. He trained guard dogs and walked guard duty, in the middle of the night, in the middle of Korean winters which are extremely cold and wet. In one letter, my dad wrote that the camp veterinarian’s arrival was delayed so he was chosen to be the camp “Vet Tech” until he got there.  Here’s what dad had to say about that:

“I am going to be a Vet Tech for a while. I am happy about this because I won’t have to walk guard in the cold and wet.”

Now I know that seems like an easy upside to see but here’s what dad had to say when the Vet arrived a couple of months later:

“I am happy about this because I get to walk guard with my dog again. I have missed my dog.”

So here he was, back in the wet and cold walking guard in the middle of the night and he was happy about it.

In other letters, the camp was moving—again. From reading through them, I surmised that whenever the camp moved, not only was there a tremendous amount of work but it also delayed regular processes like pay, leave and deploying for home.  But here’s what dad had to say about the moves…

“I am happy because I will get to see more of the country while I’m here.”

“The move has delayed my discharge for home but at least I will now get home in the summer.  The weather will be good there.”

It just seemed that whatever happened, dad was okay with it. What makes this all the more surprising to me is that whenever my dad spoke about those 18 months in Korea, he would say it was the most miserable experience of his life but I would have never guessed it from his letters.

I also recalled a conversation I had with my dad in 2004. My mom went to the hospital for a “routine” laparoscopic surgery and shocked everyone, including the doctors, when that simple operation escalated into a terminal cancer diagnosis. She lived for four months—one in the hospital, one here at our home and two at home with my dad. While they were here, one evening after she had gone to bed, dad and I were sitting around talking. I finally asked him if he realized the seriousness of mom’s diagnosis. He answered that of course he did but there was nothing he could do to change it and he was going to love mom and take the best care of her he could while she was here. While I spent my nights crying because of the impending loss, dad was focused on the here and now. My mom’s death was the worst experience of my dad’s life but he focused on the time he had with her instead of the loss.

And finally, ten years later almost to the day when we found out about my mom, I was sitting in the hospital with my dad after he received the diagnosis of brain cancer (and not the good kind, if there is ever a “good” kind of cancer) and this is what he said to me:

“Nancy Lynn, if this is what is meant for me, I can’t complain. I have had a good life, a happy life. And I’m okay with this.”

My dad lived for 30 days. I learned a lot in those 30 days about him and myself but the lesson of the “bright side” still eluded me.

And here I am three years later… You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about all of this… Am I going to continue to wallow in the negativity and focus on the loss and everything that is wrong with my life? Or am I going to finally take the lessons from my dad and learn to live a “happy” life, focused on the present? Those letters and my experiences with my dad have struck a chord with me—finally!

At 52 years old, I have decided it’s time for a change.  2017 is going to be a year of “intentional” living for me. I’m not using intentional in the sense of goal setting—running a marathon, becoming a millionaire—but rather in the sense of purposely seeking a change. Instead of staying a “Negative Nancy”, I am going to look for the best in my life, the blessings, if you will. I have a box I have bought just for the purpose with paper and pen in it. At least once or twice a week, I want to intentionally look for the good in my days. Some weeks, it might just be a simple “I’m here—I’ve made it through another week.” But you know what? Simply being here is an opportunity that many people didn’t have. I want to change my way of thinking in order to change my life. Even subtle negativity has a tremendous impact on how I see the world, the choices I make, opportunities I pass by…  I don’t want to miss today because I’m living in the past, focusing on regrets and broken dreams or anticipating the future, waiting or hoping for a better tomorrow. I want to live in the here and now—be present for the present. I want to be the “glass half full, expecting the best” kind of girl. I’ll never be a Pollyanna—excessive optimism just isn’t in my DNA—but I can become a better Nancy Lynn.

I began all this with the phrase, “What does 2017 hold for us? 365 days, if we are fortunate.” My theme for the year is to focus on the present, live in the abundance, and intentionally find the good. I refuse to waste any more time in negativity. I want to experience life with excitement instead of dread. It’s not going to be an easy mindset change but to me, it’s necessary and worthwhile.