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New Year’s Resolutions: Checklists versus Commitments

New Year’s Resolutions for the Arts Administrator:

Stephanie Evans Hanson

Stephanie Evans Hanson

•    Participate in one arts and culture activity or lecture per week (okay, realistically – maybe two per month)
•    Finally read the pile of field related books and articles that I’ve been collecting on my desk
•    Volunteer for another arts organization and/or join a board
•    Take a class or workshop totally unrelated to my job
•    Give more public speeches
•    Write more blogs

Do those sound familiar? Are any of my New Year’s career goals similar to yours? Does writing or reading your own professional or personal list of goals for the year feel as exhausting to you as reading mine does to me?

Yes, all of the above tasks and goals I outlined for myself are important to me, and they are things that I’d like to do. But lately, I’ve found myself wanting to unplug more and do less. I’m finding that when I allow myself to disconnect from daily tasks, to do lists, Twitter, and Facebook feeds, a funny thing happens: I’m actually more productive.

During the holiday break, I really did take a break. From everything. When I came back to the office yesterday, my head felt clear. I moved through projects and tasks with lightning speed, and left feeling energized and excited about what I worked on.

It seems like others in our field and outside of it are experiencing the same thing with finding more success by doing less. Dan Pink centered one of his first blog posts of the year on How to Make a New Year’s Non-Resolution. He interviews Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, who suggests that when we make resolutions, “we should view every individual choice as a commitment to all future choices.” So, if I want to read more field related books, my continuing habit of just letting them sit there and allowing the pile to grow is only contributing to a commitment I don’t want to have.

Arts administration students at American University are also feeling the call to unplug based on a recent blog post that highlights a beautifully written New York Times Opinion piece titled The Joy of Quiet. We all need to have our escapes – a morning walk, a good yoga sesh, or a quiet Sunday morning with a book and a cup of coffee. A common theme for successful artists recently profiled in the U.K.’s Guardian is also their need for space, reflection, and processing time in order to find creative inspiration.

It takes a certain level of self awareness to discover what truly gives us energy. Does our inspiration come from checking off a to-do list? For some, maybe it does. For others, the excitement, aliveness, and motivation that is felt when we’re doing our work comes from living in alignment with our core commitments, values, and need for balance. The commitments I have for myself and my work connect me back to why I entered the arts administration field in the first place.

So this New Year, I’m throwing away my list of goals and boxes to check off, and instead taking inspiration from Rosetta Thurman’s Three Themes for Meaningful Work in 2012. I hope that by identifying my commitments and themes for how I want to live and be this year, the goals I’m meant to complete will manifest for themselves. Do less. Be more. It’s a mantra I’m willing to try out this year. We’ll see how it goes.

If you find yourself needing to disconnect from your everyday tasks and create your own space for reflection, consider reading one new blog per day. Here is a list of my favorite blogs that I make a habit of checking in on. If more connection and professional development is what you need, Americans for the Arts just launched our new Local Arts Classroom program focusing on foundational concepts and skill building that you can participate in without leaving your office. Be on the lookout for the launch of our 2012 Convention website, and check in on our regular webinar series which is offered free to professional members of Americans for the Arts. Always be open for more opportunities to connect, learn, and reflect while committing to goals and activities that truly give you the inspirational energy you need to do good in this world.

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