Intention Makes Everything Happen: 2010 Edition

Welcome to what is becoming an annual review and a “setting the table” for the year ahead. This is my third such entry and a few of you have contacted me in the past regarding your own intentions for the year and (especially in the case of my review of the book Eat, Pray, Love,) some “differing thoughts.” Recall that, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I am adopting a practice of setting intentions for the year. The two are similar, but I believe there is a difference in simply setting a goal and hoping for the best (a resolution) and making a conscious decision to affect an outcome due to an awareness of needing to subordinate other interests to make it happen. You may disagree (just like those who believe Eat, Pray, Love is fantastic and soul-changing) and as always, I invite you to connect with me to share your thoughts.

I set two intentions for 2009: keep traveling and maintain my performance in school. Anything more than that felt like an invitation to come up short given how much school consumes my life. In review, I am glad I kept things simple last year. It was a full year to be sure but as expected, my studies took center stage and rarely ceded their grip. I am happy to report my commitment to my studies is paying off. I ended the first of two school years with a 3.7 GPA. I am extremely happy with this, especially since I had zero background in International Affairs, Economics, or related topics. I was not sure I could accomplish this, particularly given my 10-year absence from academia. But I am happy to claim that the work I have done around discipline has paid off. I set the intention of a 3.5 GPA and getting this far has meant making a conscious decision to not do other things. Chief among those things, travel.

That was the other intention I set for 2009: keep traveling. Admittedly, I cheated a little with this one. I set then intention while in Italy knowing that I had trips to the Balkans, Austria, and perhaps Kenya, on the horizon. Still, I wanted to go on record with it. However, I could have traveled more. Weekend trips were the norm among many of my classmates, which is understandable given the proximity of, well, everything. I heard of weekend trips to Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, etc. I rarely took quick jaunts like that, opting instead to focus on my studies. My academic performance might have suffered minimally had I chosen differently, and some might argue the real education is found in the world instead of in the library. Regardless, I’m happy I made the choices I did even if in the long run no one is going to give a damn about my grade point average.

Which brings up a highlight though not an intention: graduation from the Bologna Center. I have a full certificate and everything! It does not carry the full weight of a the Master’s degree I intend to finish this year. Still, it was a nice milestone with a small ceremony and celebration that I did not see coming.

Regarding my intention to keep traveling, I did visit a host of new countries: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Austria, Egypt, and Kenya. My internship with the State Department did not work out. I was offered the position I wanted at the US Embassy to the Holy See, but a lengthy background check process got in the way. I instead spent the summer in Kenya helping a group of Missionary Priests. I met one of them while he was in graduate school at Loyola University in Chicago and we have been exploring the idea of me spending time with them for a while now.

Crossed paths with this big fella, but left myself room to run back to the car if necessary.

My favorite stop was Sarajevo, home to the 1984 Winter Olympics and a bloody siege in the early-to-mid 1990s. It is a beautiful city and its former roles as “the crossroads of Europe” underscores its rich and colorful history. I wrote about the trip with the SAIS Conflict Management group here. As you will read, that trip confirmed my choice to follow this path and was a crash course in International Affairs that I never saw coming but for which I will always be grateful.

A woman places flowers at the headstone marking a causualty of the Bosnian War.

Though I set no other intentions for 2009, I had a slew of other highlights that made the year special. As I mentioned, I traveled to Austria. It was through SAIS and it was for a formal ball hosted by the International Atomic Energy Association. I’ll save you the history of how and why SAIS is invited to formal ball season each year. Suffice it to say the opportunity was incredibly unique. Not only did it give me a reason to buy an Italian-made formal black suit, I had the chance to waltz in a palace where the Congress of Europe was largely negotiated.

The palace in Vienna where the Congress of Europe was created, and where I may or may not have done the Moonwalk on the dance floor.

Another highlight of the year was taking the stage for the first time in three years. Our class arranged a small theatre troop and we staged “All In the Timing,” by David Ives. This was my second go with this play, the first being with a group during my time at Marquette. If you’ve never seen it, definitely find a copy and read it. It is a collection of six one-act plays that are not related but are all as funny as they are intelligent. It felt great being back on stage, mostly because of the cast. These unbelievably intelligent people who spend their days consumed with economics and geopolitics have incredible creative and artistic streaks that might have otherwise gone untapped during the year. We played to sell out crowds every night. (Admittedly there were only two nights, it was a small theatre, and the crowds were 99 percent our classmates, but that is neither here nor there.)

For a second year in a row, my reading tally was abysmally low. I read zero books front-to-back in 2009, though SAIS has me reading more in a semester than I have in some recent years. I suspect this will continue through May when school lets out, at which point I intend to rectify this situation.

An extra-special highlight of 2009 was returning to Chicago after a year living overseas. As much as I enjoyed getting to live, study, and work abroad for a year, I very much looked forward to that flight home. In fact, the minute I cleared customs and walked outside, I handed my luggage to my uncle who met me at O’Hare airport, I got down into a push-up position and literally kissed the ground. In a lot of ways Connecticut will always be home, but after a decade in Chicago and all I went through there, the Windy City has captured a significant piece of my heart. So when you hear me say, “I’m going home,” be sure to ask for clarification.

Unfortunately my time in Chicago was short-lived, as I had to be in Washington, DC by the end of that same month. And that in itself is a bit of a highlight: relocating to a new city. It’s a new adventure in a place I have explored only minimally but have enjoyed every time I have been there. I moved in to a house with some classmates, just around the corner from the woman I’ve been seeing since April.

With that recap of 2009, I’ll go on record with intentions for 2010:

Yes. I tried to slip that last highlight by you! In April I began dating a classmate named Larina. We met in August 2008 when the program started but didn’t start seeing each other until eight months later. Everything came about because we spent copious hours together as I resurrected her dead laptop and all the information it contained. It was love at first byte. (Horrible, I know, but I how could I resist?) She is from Idaho and yes; I had to go all the way to Italy to meet her.

Now, back to setting the 2010 agenda:

Always keep traveling. Again, I’m stacking the deck with this one. I am about to join Larina and three other classmates for a trip to Costa Rica while we are in between semesters. Further, one of Larina’s Christmas gifts to me was a coupon to explore Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons National Parks once school is out. I have never been and these three parks are “in her neck of the country” so to speak. That is how amazing this woman is. She completely humored my obsession with National Parks when Ken Burns’ series came out and immediately put the idea together. It helps that she too loves the parks and all things outdoors, but still – pretty nifty idea from a pretty nifty lady, if you ask me.

As I mentioned, I intend to read more, especially once I graduate. And by “read more,” I mean read an entire book. I don’t have any specific books in mind, though I have more than my fair share just sitting on my bookshelf. So I’ll commit to a number: at least 3 full books. That can be a lot for me.

I intend to find a job after graduation. Seems slightly silly to set that intention. It kind of goes without saying and definitely goes hand-in-hand with why I joined the program in the first place. Still, I feel the act of setting an intention brings with it action and outcome, or at least movement toward an outcome.

On a related note, I intend to become a certified Project Management Professional. (PMP). There are entire courses of study on this subject and having the certification helps with employment opportunities. It is also a good fit for my skills. However, it is an intense exam. Once I finish school, I intend to look into a training class and the exam and will have it secured before the start of next year.

I am going to leave it there. That feels like a lot given I will spend almost half the year finishing my degree. I almost cannot believe that part of this journey is about to end. In many ways attending SAIS is turning out to be almost as impactful as my decision to attend Marquette. I am lucky to have had this second chance. But as a priest friend once told me, “Mark (the Evangelist) was a man of second chances.” I intend to be on the look out for – and take advantage of – second chances whenever they come along.

Happy 2010, everyone. I’d love to hear about your intentions for the year and how I can support you along the way.