Be who you are
The week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day needs better definition. Maybe we could call it "an opportunity" to reflect — and reconsider.
I'm wondering ... have there been a lot of Christmas indulgences this year — too much eggnog maybe? Or oversights — too little affirmation of the people you love?
Maybe you've not given enough focused attention to what matters most. We all do that sometimes. But now we have an entire week, a gift of sorts, to reflect and "do differently" if we choose. And the end-of-year opportunity is better than ever because it's not just going to be a New Year — it's a new decade.
I would like to share a personal story. I was reading myself to sleep the other night. My tired eyes roamed over a magazine article about the actress, Meryl Streep. I was bowled over by her cinematic accomplishments, but particularly drawn to her authenticity.
In case you don't know her well, Ms. Streep is a wife of 30-plus years and the mother of four adult children (all of whom are apparently thriving). She is frequently referred to as "the greatest actress of our time." She is going into her sixth decade "full of glee."
In the article (Vanity Fair, January 2010), Meryl Streep says, "As there begins to be less time ahead of you, you want to be exactly who you are "¦ ."
In response to that, I say, "Yes."
Have you ever asked yourself — said it aloud — Who am I? Have you considered putting the response in writing? My preferred way is to craft an "Ethical Will." You may have heard me talk about this idea before "¦ I've completed mine. You reflect for a bit and then write down the most important principles in your life "¦ laying them out for future generations.
It's an introspective self-tribute. Some use the term "legacy." That word usually refers to something tangible handed down from an ancestor and/or the disposition of things like money and property. This is not that. An Ethical Will examines individual and family strengths, relates stories or re-tells dreams. It's an opportunity to lay out in writing exactly who you are and how you want to be remembered.
The approach means being thoughtfully (and a little harshly) insightful about personal values and then distilling them into a few paragraphs or a few pages. Maybe this idea speaks to you, maybe it doesn't. It spoke to me. It helped me unearth self-understanding. Mine took a while — other folks seem able to put theirs forward almost immediately, often using just a few sentences. Sometimes it helps to start by identifying five words you would use to describe yourself.
It probably doesn't surprise you I'm offering a class on "Writing an Ethical Will." I invite you to participate. It seems like a simple task, but it can be a little difficult to get started, and I have ideas. The session is the evening of Jan. 12 — at the Oregon State University Research and Extension Center on Hanley Road. Call 541-776-7371 to register.
We will share our stories, and it will make us better.
Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at email@example.com or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.