by Ruth Dawkins
A few years ago, I discovered the Unravelling the Year workbook that Susannah Conway publishes on her site. It always provides a great opportunity to reflect on the year that has just passed and to set goals for the year ahead. To tie those goals or ambitions together you choose a word to keep in mind and inform your actions throughout the year – an overarching theme for everything that follows.
In the past, my word for the year has always been quite easy to choose. In 2013 the word I chose was COURAGE, which turned out to be hugely appropriate because it was the year I took the decision to move from the UK to Australia. In 2014 the word I chose was LEARNING and again when I reflected at the end of the year it felt like it had been a good choice.
For some reason, I found it really hard to choose a word for 2015. It took weeks of thinking, of doodling, and of scribbling suggestions down. I tried words on for size for a few days to see how they felt – STRIVE, BLOSSOM, SHINE, BALANCE – but for various reasons none of them were a good fit.
I was close to giving up, but then finally, in the last week of the year, I found my word. Or perhaps it found me.
The word is FOCUS.
I like it for several reasons. It is a word that implies effort on my part. It implies choices; that I will at times have to focus on one thing and prioritise it over another. I will have to choose important things to focus on, and let unimportant things fall by the way side.
But – and this is a big but – it is an open word. It holds equal validity whether I am focusing on a piece of writing work, or a jigsaw puzzle with my son, or a night out with my husband, or a good book, or cooking dinner, or a song on the radio. It is a word that encourages me to let go of distractions, that encourages me to be very present in every moment. As a gigantic procrastinator, focusing is something that I sometimes struggle with.
It also reminds me of the importance of a visual word. My poor, lovely camera barely made it out of the bag last year – just a couple of times during holidays. One of the reasons that photography became so important to me a few years ago was because it gave me an understanding of focus – of the difference between focusing on a small, close object to the exclusion of all others and of focusing widely and trying to see everything in front of me. I hoped that in choosing FOCUS as my word, I would get back to the joy of photography.
It is hard to believe that we are already five months into the year, but it seems like a good time to reflect on how well the word is working for me.
Well. Hmmm… I think I would give myself good marks for effort, but I’m glad I’ve still got another seven months to improve further.
I am definitely doing a better job focusing on writing. I have a long list of feature ideas sitting on my desk, and a long list of places to pitch to, and I am slowly working my way through them. It gets easier the more I do it – I’m getting better at receiving rejection emails without taking them personally. I’m getting better at saying no to unpaid work – I only write for free now if it’s for a site or publication that I love with a passion. My focus on trying to actually make a career out of writing rather than doing it as a hobby means that my own blog has suffered a little and isn’t being updated very much at the moment, but I think that’s probably a price worth paying.
I think I’m also doing a better job at focusing on the tasks around the house that I hate with a passion, and used to put off for weeks at a time. Paperwork is not my strength, but when you live as expats – I am Scottish, my husband is American, and we live in Australia – the paperwork is almost constant. There is always a tax return for one country, or a passport renewal for another, or a visa application in another. I have realised that the only way to get that stuff done is to focus on it. Don’t try and do a little bit at a time, just set aside a morning and power your way through it, and you’ll feel a lot better.
The area where I still feel like I could do better is in blocking out some of the noise that comes from life online. I know that I am far too attached to my phone. It is great being able to connect with friends and family around the world as often as I do, but at the same time it is far too easy to get sucked into articles or discussions online and then look up to realise that an hour of your day has gone by. I need to bring the focus that I’ve got in other areas of my life to my online life too, and get a bit stricter with myself. When we had a few days on holiday last month and didn’t take any phones or computers with us, it was truly liberating. We focused on each other as a family, and had a hugely fun and rewarding time together.
FOCUS has already been a good word for me this year. I am learning that it means doing one thing at a time, and doing it better. Now I just need to apply it to all areas of my life. I need to do better at doing better.
Ruth Dawkins is a Scot currently living in Hobart, Tasmania, with her husband and five year old son. She started DorkyMum in 2011 – when she was still living in Edinburgh – as a creative outlet that she could fit around her life as a stay at home parent.