A few months ago, my sixth grader asked me a series of interview questions for a school project. The interview was broken up into sections about early life, college years, career, family, historical events and general philosophies on life. I found myself examining more closely the different roles I play in life and how they affect who I am as an individual.

As we have been traveling through 2021 for four months now, those of us who made New Year’s resolutions may have found our resolve tested by extreme emotions and continual challenges. For some, setting yearly goals helps and drives us throughout the year. For many, however, by this point (or perhaps mid-January) we feel disappointed in ourselves, wondering why we even bothered.

Clarity is indeed important — I think of resolutions as clarifying what we want to see from ourselves by the end of the year or the end of each day. But clarity is not the only important concept to value. If we are only getting a clear picture of the grand scheme of our lives, we may be missing the critically important small details of who we truly are.

We can look in the mirror and see ourselves as a whole person, but what happens when we look closer? What happens when we start looking at the many parts that make up our whole? I am a mother, a student, a wife, a researcher, a daughter, a backpacker, a sister, an employee and a friend. I am also a member of a church, a volunteer, and a member of several organizations. Further back and further up, I am a human, and a human with a relationship to God.

When you consider all the many roles you play, you may be in a mental space to qualify your role as a “good” parent, teacher, doctor, professor, grandparent or friend. If so, I encourage you to do so. But if not, please do not engage in defining yourself as a “bad” person in any of those roles.

The next step is to think through some of the positive choices you make in relation to those roles. Maybe you make meals for your family. Perhaps you give individual feedback to your students. You might smile at your coworkers or customers each day. If you can look at your life with a discerning eye, you may notice some of these daily or consistent choices you make and recognize that they are — indeed — choices.

These positive actions you are taking come from you being you, and you are not required to make them. You might prepare meals or fold laundry or mow the lawn because that is what you feel you need to do to fulfil your role. You might never be celebrated for those seemingly mundane tasks, but those positive contributions (and many others you may not think much of) define who you are as a person.

In this time of upheaval in our nation and world — with concerns about physical and mental health, strains on social relationships, and concerns about economic and spiritual activities in our community — one option for navigating our goal setting is to celebrate these small positive choices. Celebrate and commit to the things you do simply because you are you. When you serve others in small or large ways, when you provide support or kindness, these daily actions define your character and worth much more than your fitness goals.

If you have not yet hit burnout this year, it is possible you could be headed there. Celebrate yourself for the positive daily choices you are making and set a goal to hang on to them amid the chaos rather than aiming for high achievements that may lead to mental overwhelm and ultimate disappointment. Remember that sometimes growth does not have to mean achieving things you have never achieved before.

Growth can mean continuing with positive choices while fighting through major life challenges. Maybe one of the most significant growth experiences of 2021 can be truly understanding that our worth is not defined by what we do, but who we are.

Palmer is a doctoral student at the University of Idaho, hoping tofinish up the semester with a little sanity intact. She and her familyhave been navigating the challenges of life on the Palouse since 2012.

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