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I threw away my New Year’s resolutions for a dreams and schemes list

My me-first attitude took a long time to develop. I once tried to make a list of all the recommendations I’d read about how to do everything – maintain a car, start a 401(k), nurture a relationship, pick a preschool – so that I could be sure not to muck up my life. Fifteen minutes into the list making exercise it was clear I wouldn’t be able to maintain a job if I followed every piece of advice I’d read or heard on living life the right way.

More: We may be happier now, but our kids still grieve over our divorce

I tried anyway. My life mucked up anyway. After building a picture perfect life, my husband and I divorced. The worst had happened – I’d failed at the thing most important to me, despite trying my hardest for my whole life up to that point.

Failure set me free. Having done “the right thing” and gotten the wrong result, I was free to try the thing I thought was best for me and mine. This didn’t mean that I set out on a “Purge”-style looting spree, or put myself first at the expense of all others. I simply started to look at our choices by giving my personal perspective the same weight as a faceless stranger’s expectations. Imagine that.

Nowhere is this more evident than in my New Year’s resolutions. Before the divorce, my New Year’s resolutions were serious business. I wrote them down and tracked our progress (remember, I spent years as a corporate project jockey). I focused on where we were supposed to be and what our gaps were. Our goals were things like reduce credit card spending, explore long-term care insurance, exercise at a high intensity three times a week, and eat more raw foods. Dull to write down, and even duller to execute.

After the divorce, having been set free by my failure, I decided to make resolutions that I might actually enjoy. But before I made the list, I had to change the name. Resolutions had baggage. Enter the Dreams and Schemes List.

More: After my first marriage ended, I learned to love my second choice

My first full year as a single mama was filled with hard work. I refinanced the house and re-budgeted my retirement. I wrote a new will and established a household budget. None of that was on the Dreams and Schemes List.

The D&S List included the following critical items:

  • Connect with my girlfriends regularly
  • Create
  • Stop spending time with my negative, draining friends
  • Throw out all underwear. Replace with pretty, matching sets
  • Move more. Remember you feel better after physical activity
  • Do fun things
  • Travel with the kids

Notice the lack of measurement – no frequency required, no regular patterns needed, no starting weight listed. Not a single goal was lifted from a self-help book or January magazine issue. If I wanted to do it, it went on the list.

I accomplished every item on the list.

I took ballroom dancing lessons, and quit when they got boring. I spent money on bras and panties that made me feel secretly pretty all day long. I took a trip to the beach with my college girlfriends and spent hours sitting in the hot tub sipping cocktails. We ordered every dessert on the menu more than once. I started sewing again. I took the kids to California to see my grandparents’ ranch where I’d grown up. I ran and swam and Zumba’d.

Accomplishing my Dreams and Schemes made me a better mother to the little people in my life. I was having fun, and they could see it. My fuel tank was full – I could meet their emotional and physical needs because I was healthy myself.

The Dreams and Schemes List both raised and lowered my expectations. It raised the need to focus on my mental health, made me feel happy and important, and ignored the idea that “should” mattered. It was perfect.

The Dreams and Schemes List lives on my phone and is updated in late December every year. Some years it is longer than others. Items come and go. While the contents of the list vary, the guiding principles do not. The Dreams and Schemes List is about me first – what I want and need to feel happy and fulfilled, what sounds fun, and what feels right. It exists to bring me back to myself, to force me to think about what I want and need, and focus on making my own happiness.

More: We almost didn’t survive our first year as a stepfamily

Kate Chapman is a mom and stepmom to six children, ages 7-15. She writes about her modern-day Brady Bunch adventures at Follow Kate on Facebook, TwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

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