Once again, it’s time to take down the old calendar and put up in its place a brand-new year, bright with hope, unmarked by any of the emotional, financial, and spiritual scars of years past.
As a New Yorker brought up on Broadway show tunes, I find myself humming the exuberant theme from Mame: “Open A New Window, Open a New Door.” The end of one year is the perfect time to open a window and take a fresh look at life. Whether you decide to try a new direction or recommit to cherished goals and values, the start of a new year offers an opportunity to pause and make sure you like the view to where you’re going.
If you’re finding it hard to muster enthusiasm for the future, problems like these may be blurring your vision.
I used to enjoy making New Year’s resolutions, but this year I just don’t have the energy to think about changing my life. It’s been a bad year, with the death of two close friends and the loss of another friend’s son in Iraq. How can I acquire a more positive outlook? Before you can move forward, you may need some help in letting go of the pain you feel. Consider asking your pastor or local mental health agency about grief counseling. In a group or with a trained counselor, you will no longer be alone in dealing with your grief and can feel safe expressing the anguish and hopelessness that haunt you.
At the same time, try to reconnect with whatever activities help recharge your soul. This will gradually become easier as you lighten your burden of heartache. I would also suggest making time to explore something you used to love doing or always thought you’d enjoy. As the saying goes: “When one door closes, another opens.”
I can predict with some certainty that if you honor the process of grieving and the memory of those you have lost, you will eventually regain some bounce in your step and in your spirit.
Our son, who is halfway through his junior year of college, wants to drop out, move to New York, and become a theater set designer. I know he’s very talented, but I’m anxious about the huge risk he would be taking. If he fails, the investment in college will be wasted and we could end up supporting him for years. What should we say to him? Your parental concerns are valid and understandable. On the other hand, it’s important not to smother the dreams of youth–a time of life abounding in the passion and courage to take risks and try new things.
This said, consider getting together with your son for a nice long schmooze. Begin by wholeheartedly supporting his dream of succeeding as a set designer. Once he feels that you understand what drives him, he may be more open to hearing your fears.
At this point in the dialogue, ask if he will consider an alternative to dropping out immediately. For example, you might propose that after he graduates from college, you will subsidize his efforts to break into the theater world for a year or two. If he’s not willing to wait this long, suggest that he take a one- or two-year leave of absence from college to pursue his desire, with the understanding that he’ll come back and finish his degree unless he’s making enough money to support himself.
Above all, don’t try to talk him into putting his dreams on hold indefinitely. I think it can be subtly devastating to people’s self-respect when they are denied (or deny themselves) a chance to succeed in a field that calls to their spirit.
I recently heard the composer of the Broadway hit Hairspray, Mark Shaiman, tell an inspirational story of his dream to be a songwriter. With his parents’ blessing, he left school at 16 (he later earned a GED) and went to New York to seek his fortune on the Great White Way. Before long, he was accompanying Bette Midler on tour. He may have been a prodigy from the start, but I found it moving to learn that his parents didn’t stand in the way of his passion–which has certainly ended in glorious success.
If you can master the delicate parental balancing act of cautioning reason and practicality while nurturing your son’s dreams, I believe the two of you will end up building a stronger relationship that benefits you both over time.
In our year-end evaluation, a client kept talking about a former holding of his that lost money more than a year ago. It’s a stock that was originally bought by his father, who recently suffered a severe stroke. My attempts to calm my client’s agitation only made matters worse. He ended by saying that he wants to take all his money out of the stock market and put it in laddered Treasuries. I respect his need for financial security, but how can I persuade him to be more rational? The emotional burden of seeing beloved parents become debilitated can easily drain someone’s energy and clarity of thought. This, coupled with the financial trauma of the recent past, may be causing your client’s seemingly irrational behavior.
Take time to talk with him about how he feels and why. Validate his need for things in his life that seem safe and secure. He might welcome your offer to strategize about ways to ease his sadness about his father. Even if his dad is being well cared for, your client may need to reach out for support to close friends, family, or folks at a nearby church, synagogue, or community center.