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Intention Makes Everything Happen

The title of this post is a direct quote from someone I admire and respect as a mentor and leader. When I asked if I could steal his line as a personal motto of sorts, he enthusiastically agreed. When I asked if I could use his name to properly attribute it to him, he respectfully declined. I did not ask why but I’ll respect his decision.

My friend uttered the above words in an off-the-cuff manner at an event he and I were at recently. The words struck me given the proximity of the new year and the annual spectre of resolutions. This is after all the time for enthusiastic plans for self-improvement, and to accomplish goals that have languished on life’s To Do list for too long. Every January people make resolutions and by February (or thereabouts), plans fizzle. Theories abound as to why but I personally believe it is due to a lack of discipline. To formally adopt a consistent action takes discipline; the practice of training one’s self to a repeated behavior. In the book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Dr. Stephen Covey writes about how developing the habits he explores requires discipline: a dedication to performing an act over and over until performing it becomes standard and routine. He also points out how difficult discipline can be.

And that is where I believe intention enters the picture. While learning to do something habitually takes discipline, I believe discipline has its roots in intention. I have to want to something to the point I am willing to make a concerted (and eventually a repeated) effort to obtain it, and in the process crowd out something else. What that something else is depends on the importance of the other demands on my time; both externally and internally imposed. If I intend to do one thing but wind up doing something else, I believe it is because I intended, consciously or otherwise, to subordinate one thing over another. Therefore, developing a discipline to read for thirty minutes every day means intentionally not watching television during that time (or some other such activity.) I may watch TV later, in which case I am intentionally not doing something else, and that is fine so long as I have awareness and honestly admit my choices. If I do not like my choices, or wish I picked up a book more easily than I do a remote control, that is on me to own and work on.

I agree this sounds a lot like setting resolutions and that I may arguing nuance, but not entirely. I believe the daylight between a resolution and an intention is a perpetual honesty about what I decide to do with my time. To me, a resolution is a goal with no plan. Intention is both the goal and awareness of the necessary action to see it through. Indeed, looking at the roots of each word, the former is more akin to “loosening” or “release”, whereas the latter is closer to “stretching” or “purpose”.

I shared these thoughts with my inspiring friend and he challenged me. He knows I have been keeping this blog and suggested I publicly share my intentions for the upcoming year and honestly assess the year prior; an accountability challenge with a potentially large audience. I have decided to take him up on the challenge. Let’s begin reviewing 2007.

The homepage I designed for the Mission Society's new web site.

I do not recall any specific goal, action, resolution, or intention for the year. I began 2007 in the middle of my time abroad as a volunteer, though that time was more rewarding than I ever would have thought. I tried my hand at teaching and I know I inspired at least one student to raise his grades significantly. I successfully built a new web site for the Missionaries for whom I worked and coordinated their high school’s first ever science fair.

Anyone who knows me knows the role Catholicism plays in my life, so it is no surprise that spending most of the year volunteering for Catholic missionaries led to a significant uptick in Mass attendance. Going to Mass every week has been the norm for years. Going everyday was new and it became (per the theme of this entry) a habit. (There is a nun joke in there but I leave it to you to find it.) Upon returning to Chicago, I continued the practice. I went to Mass more times this year than since the turn of the century. It deepened my faith, and provided some much needed space for discernment regarding where to devote my time and talents going forward, which was the impetus behind this blog to begin with. Relatedly, I learned to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This is something the majority of Catholics do not do and is typically only performed by priests, nuns, deacons, and others devoted to a daily religious vocation.

Travel has always been a big part of my life and that trend continued last year. I crisscrossed Jamaica, though that is not difficult given it is about the size of Connecticut. I climbed the island’s highest peak (Blue Mountain, 7,402 feet) and jumped off the cliffs in Negril. I arrived home in the middle of summer and proceeded to cross every time zone of the United States. I visited Hawaii for the first time, though was confined to Maui. While there I visited Haleakalā National Park and discovered a new passion/interest/hobby. (The only states left that I have not yet been to: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.)

I also began applying to graduate school. I took the GRE the other day and the results were mediocre. I have another exam scheduled in a few days which gives me enough time to still make the deadlines. This process was extremely difficult and time consuming, though it forced me to hone my vision and reason for going to school. Bottom line: I intend to combine my technical background and aptitude with international development initiatives to address issues of renewable energy and climate change.

Another highlight is the work I’ve done with the ManKind Project here in Chicago. I wrote a grant proposal to fund a position I created to focus on fundraising, organizing the existing community, and bringing in new members. It is very much in keeping with the reason I left my old day job to begin with: finding a much more meaningful and deliberate use of my time and talents.

I read a few books, which has become a renewed interest. I have never been much of an avid reader but something clicked in the last year and I worked through more books than in any year I can remember:

Out On A Limb, Shirley MacLaine

The Alchemist, Paolo Coelho

The One Thing You Need To Know, Marcus Buckingham

Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris

Sarge, Scott Stossell

If you want to get an idea of my main source of inspiration on this adventure to find a higher and better use of myself, read the last book. It is a biography of my hero, R. Sargent Shriver and I can only hope to live a fraction of the impactful life he did.

And I began learning Italian simply because I have always wanted to. Not bad for a year in which I never officially set out to do anything in particular. Now time to look ahead.

Intentions for 2008:

Successfully enroll in graduate school at Johns Hopkins SAIS, American University, George Washington University, or Georgetown University.

Continue traveling, preferably to new places. I would like to return to Jamaica but also want to see the Bahamas or some other such tropical location. I have grown to enjoy that scene quite a bit.

I intend to continue learning Italian.

While I created a new web site for the Missionary priests in Jamaica, I already have an upgrade in mind and intend to implement all my changes by the end of the year.

I have learned I might be able to secure an Italian passport given my lineage through my mother’s side of the family. I intend to discover if I qualify and if so, to begin the process of obtaining one.

My Uncle George is one of my oldest living relatives. He is my dad’s uncle and we visited him during a visit to California for Thanksgiving. I believe he has a ton of wisdom to share and I would like to learn some of it, preferably through a letter writing campaign. I intend to write him and get that started.

That’s what I have so far. The list may change, though I doubt I will record them here. Most likely I will check in with another update next January and evaluate this exercise to see if it has staying power.

Happy New Year, everyone.



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