I am on the Italian island of Capri for a few days ringing in the New Year with a lovely woman I’ve been seeing for a couple of months now. She snapped that picture you see there after a day of following an almost-never-ending staircase and path from those cliffs you see in the distance to the main town square. Complimenting the island's natural beauty are the very fashionable mainlanders who are here to usher in 2009. A quick afternoon coffee saw more sunglasses, leather and cigarettes than a rave.
You may recall at this time last year I was inspired by something a friend said and adopted it as a motto of sorts. “Intention makes everything happen,” he said, and I used I used it to channel my intentions for 2008. Instead of a New Year’s Resolution, which I believe sputter out because of a lack of…
Wait for it…
I began with a review of highlights and accomplishments even though I had nothing against which to measure them. I had no formal record of what I set out to do that year, but it felt good to reflect on all I accomplished that I otherwise would have not acknowledged. I then set the intentions for the year ahead. I will follow that same model this year.
At the beginning of 2008 I was supremely focused on getting in to a graduate program in International Development (or something similar). Though two of the four schools to which I applied rejected me, two accepted me and I began my studies in August. Related, I set the intention to continue learning Italian and, conveniently enough, my program had the option of spending my first year in Bologna, Italy, so Italian became a necessity and not just an intention.
As I suspected, the program is extremely challenging and I often feel I am barely treading water due to my complete lack of experience in the field of International Relations (which is the program’s formal title.) However, I am doing well in the program; much better than my undergraduate performance. Well after graduating from Marquette I realized what I did wrong and how I could have done better. I am determined to do things differently this time around and it is working.
I set the intention of traveling, particularly to new places. Done. Italy is the freshest stamp in my passport. But I have not gone much beyond its borders. Aside from a two-day trip to London, my new adventures have been limited. Still, it is enough that I crossed the Atlantic and set up shop for a significant duration over here. More time in one place can be more substantive than more passport cancelations. However, I never made it back to Jamaica in 2008, nor did I visit some other tropical country as I intended. I was very conscious of cost, especially knowing I would need as much funding as possible before moving to Italy. Therefore, I subordinated my intention return to the Caribbean for a newer intention of having the resources to explore Europe. I am said to have not gone back to a place that means so much to me, but it was a conscious decision I am comfortable with.
While I am on the topic of Italy – it is a central theme for 2008 – I did not make any progress on securing an Italian passport. Maybe that is not quite so accurate. I began looking in to the process and it is more arduous than I originally thought. It’s not impossible but I do need to gather a significant set of records that can trace my maternal great-grandfather back to Avelino, the town where he was born. I inquired with a few family members and they believe they have the documents necessary but it may take time to gather them all. I also let this intention go a bit as I planned to apply to an internship with the State Department. I would like to spend the upcoming summer break at our Embassy to the Holy See, which requires a background check. Pursuing a passport to another country might make security clearances and background checks more difficult than they need to be. If the job works out, great. I can always apply for a passport later. For now, I am willing to put it on the back burner.
I intended to begin a letter correspondence with my Uncle George, my oldest living relative. I did that, though it went nowhere. I wrote him a letter explaining that I hoped to learn from his life experiences. I wanted to know what he thought were some of the most important things I should know about life, particularly at this time of transition. I am not going to speculate why it did not go the way I planned. It might be health issues or some other such matter in to which I have no insight. For now I am more focused on the fact that I intended to take action and did. (He might not have been able to read my handwriting, which is the most likely explanation!)
My list of intentions for 2008 included updating the web site I designed for the Missionaries I volunteered for in Jamaica. It was more time consuming than I thought it would be, but I accomplished it. There aren’t a ton of insights from this, though it did provide a sense of remaining connected to the work that has had such a profound impact on me. Every once in a while the Prior General of the Mission Society reaches out with a request for a small change here and there, which I am happy to do.
While not a formal intention, one of the highlights for 2008 was successfully re-activating a major fundraising campaign for the ManKind Project tin Chicago. Recall that I wrote a grant to create a position that would allow me to focus on advancing fundraising, membership, and overall community participation. The team I assembled succeeded in all of those things. The annual appeal brought in much-needed funds, and my focusing intently on invitation, we had some very well attended retreat weekends. The experience taught me significant lessons about seeking out – and trusting – others’ expertise. My efforts caught the eye of a few long-standing members who are all quite wealthy and interested in creating a philanthropic group focused on investing in local Chicago neighborhood associations. They’ve called it Vibrant Communities and while they have the funds, working at the community level is new to them. They recruited me to help with that and while it did not get off the ground before I left, I know I helped with some initial guidance regarding starting up a community-focused initiative. It underscores a few things I have come to realize about trying to fulfill one’s potential:
There are few things better than being “drafted” to do a job.
It always feels good to be recognized for me efforts, especially when it is completely unexpected.
If the effort is authentic, or some might say “true,” the response that follows will be exactly what I need at that moment.
I read only one book last year: Eat, Pray, Love. A dear friend recommended it and thought it would resonate with me given the central theme of this blog and the reason I started it. The book was good, but for my money it was not all it was hyped up to be. I appreciated the author’s journey and was envious of the exotic and distant places it took her. I tried to draw parallels between her experience and mine and concluded that her exploration has been more profound than mine – at least to this point. However, I felt the author was trying too hard to convince the reader (in this case me) how powerful and resilient she is. I read it and kept hearing one of my favorite quotes from Margaret Thatcher: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell someone you are, you’re not.” But I do understand the book’s broad appeal. Many people dream of ditching it all, traveling the world, and finding some deeper meaning that fundamentally alters their life forever. Some even try it.
That’s it. That’s the only book I read cover-to-cover last year. Though in my defense, I did spend a decent chunk of the year reading the textbooks related to the economics classes I needed to pass as a prerequisite to the Johns Hopkins program. I chose SAIS partly because it requires passing a core international economics curriculum. Since I have zero background in that subject, it seemed a great opportunity to ensure the fullest, most robust, and most challenging experience possible.
Looking ahead in 2009:
Keep. Traveling. I write that as I am sitting in a café on the Italian island of Capri. The intention almost goes without saying. In a few weeks I will participate in a school trip to Sarajevo, and there will no doubt be some kind of Spring Break trip. If the State Department internship does not pan out, I have a standing invitation to spend the summer in Kenya. Regardless of these plans, I want to be sure I formally put it out there.
I intend to maintain my level of effort at school and complete the first year with a GPA of 3.5 or above. I also intend to continue that progress into the fall term, which comprises the beginning of the program’s second year.
I am honestly going to leave it at that for 2009. SAIS is difficult and consuming enough as it is. Committing to more feels like setting myself up for failure. So perhaps I am setting the intention of learning when to admit that what I am undertaking is “enough.” That is not always easy for me.
I’ll say it again folks: intention makes everything happen. I fully believe this. In fact, were I to write a book about the experiment I started almost four years ago and have been recording in this digital space, that would likely be the title.
What about you? What are your intentions for the year? If you’re unsure the difference between a resolution and an intention, the latter is done with more awareness, more creation, more mindfulness. If you feel like reaching out with your intentions or a review of 2008, I would love to hear from you.