Examining Life: A Listicle

In considering my New Year’s resolution, the most obvious ones came up first. Exercise. Eat more veggies. Drink less. I will, again, attempt all these worthy aspirations. But what else? I felt there should be more, that I should press for something more meaningful. As my mind began wandering deeper into how to be a better version of myself in 2015, I realized it had been awhile. Awhile since I had dug into the recesses of my conscience where I reflect. I used to reflect often, think about who I was, who I wanted to be, my weaknesses and my strengths. In college I even read some of those squishy self-help books (Come on, Seven HabitsMen Are from Mars??)

But two kids and writing a novel has distracted me from thinking about myself. And I mean in that most critical, honest way. I remembered the motto I’ve always liked… the unexamined life is not worth living. As did Socrates, I like people who think. And I like to be a thinker. In an effort to not let that part of me slip away in the ever-growing tasks of daily life, I came up with a list of questions that I consider essential to any rigorous self-examination. Please feel free to add on!

12 Steps to Self-Reflection

  1. Is there a reigning belief in my life that I have never questioned? And I mean honestly, deeply questioned. Weather it be religion, parenting philosophy, your approach to your social life. Maybe this exercise leads us around in a circle and back home where we started. Maybe not.
  2. Who sees me in my life as I want to be seen? It seems like for most of us, we feel a little different around different people. Some people bring out the silly/happy/sad/crazy side of us. Others do not. It’s why we choose our mates, our friends. Because most of the time, those people see us as the person we want to be seen as. The way we see ourselves when we look in the mirror.
  3. Who does not? Why? Sometimes people in our lives don’t see us the way we want to be seen. They make assumptions about us that are wrong or just totally misunderstand us. They think they know us, but they don’t. Or worse, sometimes they do. They are right. They force us to see that the person we want to see in the mirror is not the person we are. That discrepancy, if it is there, is hard but important to face.
  4. Are there people in life I show my worst side to? This is often people we are closest to in life. I know it is that way in mine. Showing those people the best, kindest version of yourself is sometimes ironically the most challenging. Isn’t it easier to keep from snapping at a stranger than at your own mother? The beauty and the curse of this is that we all need these people in our lives. Because we can’t be sweet and kind all the time. Thank goodness for unconditional love, like a mother’s.
  5. What do I avoid? Can I even admit I avoid it? Sometimes there are elephants in our room. We know it, but we just look the other way. Often, others can see the elephant even though we think they can’t. Or even if we can’t. Elephants must be looked in the eye.
  6. Am I afraid of being vulnerable in front of people? What do I do to avoid this? Fear of vulnerability can really drive weakness into our character and cause us to react rather than act. I see this in myself sometimes. I’ll be in some deep debate with someone and find myself not letting go of my point only because I don’t want to “lose”. It ultimately keeps me from learning. I want to be an open minded person, not closed.
  7. Do I hide parts of my personality from others? By this I mean, can you be the same person in front of your family as you are in front of your friends? Your co-workers? This is a common challenge, but if you can pull it off I think it shows you a) know who you are, and b) you are confident in who you are.
  8. How much distance is there between who I put forth and who I am? I think we are all on the same page that social media gives us a platform to put forth our most care-free, fun and happy selves. For the record, I don’t think there is anything wrong with posting smiley pictures of happy times. But it does make you think, are we broadcasting ourselves that way on more than just Facebook? Is there someone we try to be because we think they are a more interesting/fun/cool version of ourselves? Pictures are one thing, but eye to eye, face to face, we should have the strength to be real.
  9. Are the things that keep you the busiest worth it? If you were going to die tomorrow–no, I hate that one–if you were going to die a year from now, would you still be doing these things? Same goes for the things you waste precious energy worrying about. For example, I spent all this time worrying about how I would ever find time to send out my Christmas cards. As other people’s Christmas cards rolled in, each served as a reminder that I did not have my sh*t together to create, mail, stamp, collect addresses. And then I realized, its all okay if no one received the A’s family picture this year. (Next year I swear though!)
  10. What is your relationship with material things? I love shopping as much as any other girl. And I don’t plan to stop. But I think it’s important to remember that “buttons come and buttons go” as Pete the Cat says. My Kate Spade purse could be stolen or lost tomorrow. I don’t want to give that purse the power to stress me out. By wanting something I don’t have or losing something I had. John’s mother died in 2005. He has an amazing capacity to stay emotionally detached from material things, and he really never sweats the small stuff. He told me one time how after his mother died, he looked in her bedroom. Her jewelry, her clothes, all her stuff was still there just as she had left it. None of it mattered. Its ok to have all that stuff, just know that you take nothing to your grave. (She, from what I hear, was someone who did not sweat the small stuff either). Only people matter.
  11. When I judge someone is it valid or is it just to validate myself? I don’t think “judge” is a bad word. I think it is a necessary survival instinct, a way to filter the world around you and understand who you are. But knowing that judgement is part of our nature, I think it is especially important to be critical of our own judgements. Judgement can be a seduction calling us to criticize others’ behavior or character only to justify our own.
  12. What advice would you give your younger, say, teenage self? Oh geez, don’t even get me started. But it is good food for thought.

So that’s what I came up with. Please comment if you think of other good ones. I thought it was a fun exercise to start the New Year.

The ability to self-reflect, or meditate, or whatever you want to call it, allows you not only to make yourself the best person you can be, but it also enables you to lift up the people around you. I believe that people who focus first on themselves so that they can be happy, are best situated to help others. To be strongholds in others lives. So go. Be selfish!

Now I must go eat some raw broccoli and and have a smaller than usual glass of wine.

Cheers to 2015!

Step #1  Music…



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3 responses to “Examining Life: A Listicle

  1. kimberlypanzer

    Love you! Love this! Great job coming up with those steps. I intend to do much more examining/reflecting/meditating myself this year. Hoping we can reflect on our reflections together!:)

  2. Cate Wittmack

    Awesome Tan! Great list and food for thought. I’m grateful to have you in my life:). I am really trying to work on not sweating the small stuff and being more patient with my kids, with myself… A constant battle!

  3. Rosemary

    Tanya, this was so eloquently written and gives me a lot to think about. I can’t wait to read your book. I will contact you as summer nears so we can plan a time for your family to visit us on the Eastern Shore. Happy New Year to you, John, Will and Ava.

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