Prioritizing Me

At the start of 2015, I read several blog posts written by friends describing how they selected their “One Word.” I have never tried selecting “My One Word” but I thought it might be an opportunity to incorporate more intentionality into my daily routine. After spending several days with a thesaurus and my thoughts, I decided on my word for 2015:

Charitable

I shared my word with this post, explaining my selection. The definition, “merciful or kind in judging others,” described a trait I wanted for myself. Instead of rushing to the negative, rolling my eyes, or silently huffing an exasperated sigh, I would try to be charitable.

Just before New Year’s Day 2016, I started reading about the words my fellow writers had selected. I was not feeling successful with the word I had selected for 2015, and had not considered repeating the exercise this year.

Did selecting a word actually make me exhibit more charitable behavior? I certainly tried. But all too often, I would roll my eyes, sigh in exasperation and spout off negatively without demonstrating mercy or kindness. Then, I would remember my word and curse at myself for not being charitable. Honestly, participating in My One Word often made me feel like a failure in 2015. Rather than actually demonstrating charitable behavior, I repeatedly realized (too late) how many times I rushed to judgement. I felt it called attention to all the instances when I could have done better, but failed to.

The exercise was not be a complete waste. After all, I may not have recognized my behavior if I had not been focused on the word. Having awareness in the moments when I failed to act charitably did encourage me to take a few moments to seek out positives about other people. For example, when my Personal Assistant ‘J’ consistently displayed difficulty following verbal directions, I began to react with impatience and frustration.

No, I said the cabinet under the toaster, not the cabinet under the microwave.

They go above the dishwasher, not over the stove. I don’t keep things I regularly use over the stove – I can’t reach those cupboards!

Were you listening? It’s in the pantry, not the linen closet. Why would I keep a box of crackers in the linen closet? 

I actually said these things, and other statements like them, many times. True story.

This communication did not help either of us. She was doing her best, but J was unable to follow complex verbal instructions such as “Dry the mug (instruction 1) and put it in the cupboard (instruction 2) over the dishwasher (instruction 3).”

Once I discovered her auditory processing difficulty, I compensated by changing our interactions. I used written lists when I could. I broke complex tasks down into step by step activities and only gave her one verbal cue at a time. It was not easy, but she was a reliable employee – always showing up on time for her shifts, willing to cover for others, kind and considerate – and I felt I could manage to be more charitable and accommodating as her employer. Every time I got frustrated and began to think less than charitable thoughts, I reframed the voice in my head and ran down the list of good qualities she possessed. I knew she needed the job, and even though we didn’t work perfectly together, I thought we were alright. Things weren’t exactly as I wished, but this was what it meant to  be charitable, right? I took deep breaths and attempted to continue to make improvements in our working relationship as the months went by.

This worked until January 13, 2016. At 2:36 PM, (I know the exact time because I looked at the clock as it was happening) I was transferring from my wheelchair to the bedside commode with J’s assistance. Suddenly, my right knee gave out on me and I knew I was not going to be able to remain on my feet. Calmly, I instructed J on how to best assist me. I was too far into the transfer to safely make it back to the wheelchair. The bedside commode was not sturdy enough to stop me if we tried to move onto the commode. The only thing to do was to have J slowly lower me backwards onto the floor. I gave instructions, which J ignored. In fact, she began to argue with me stating that she couldn’t let me go to the floor.

Months of attempting to be charitable flew out the window when she dropped me. As my leg snapped under me and I began to scream in pain, I recognized the cost I paid for my “charity” in allowing her to continue employment with me when I knew inside we were not a good fit.

There are many instances in my life when I can afford to be, and should endeavor to be, more charitable towards others. When it comes to my personal care and my safety, I no longer have room for charity towards those who are helping me. Tasks must be done as I instruct, without question or hesitation. The consequences of my Personal Assistants not following my directions can be dire,  life-changing and life threatening.

Think I’m being dramatic? The last time I had surgery and ended up hospitalized, I almost died. My broken leg has changed everything in my world. I am unable to put any weight on my leg, for at least another three weeks. I cannot drive right now, so I am truly home-bound unless I convince someone to drive me. I now require additional adaptive equipment to safely transfer in and out of bed, to and from my wheelchair, on and off the commode.

I have hired new staff and I am setting the ground rules from the get go. I will not compromise on my safety. I cannot afford to.

Even for the sake of being charitable.

X-ray photo of a knee and femur. The femur is broken and there is a metal plate along the side of the bone with 13 screws.
My new hardware, installed in January 2016. See the fracture?

My One Word

At the start of the year, I read many blog posts from writers who had chosen a word for the year as part of the “My One Word Challenge.” The premise is simple. Instead of setting resolutions (which you probably will just ignore), pick a word to give you focus for the year ahead. Every post I’ve read about the challenge has been written by a Christian, but I don’t think you have to be Christian or even believe in God to participate in this challenge. I think selecting a word and having it serve as a basis for your actions could be beneficial for anyone who seeks to make positive change in his or her life.

I have never thought about identifying with just one word. Thankfully, the website has some ideas about how to select a word. The website also has entries from challenge participants so you can read why they chose their words.

I made a list of four things I hope to accomplish in 2015. Then I thought about the traits I need to develop or improve to help me reach those goals. I reflected on last year, and knew right away my word for 2014 (had I selected one) would have been “fearless.” Still no word for this year.

Friends posted their words in our writing group. I read their words, hoping for inspiration, but nothing jumped out at me. Last week someone described me as “tenacious” and I thought I might be able to make it my word. Then I felt I was cheating by selecting a word which already described me. After all, the whole point is to try to focus on movement this year so why pick a word representing a trait I exhibit?

Saturday morning, while cooking with one of my Personal Assistants, it hit me. I knew what I did NOT want to be in 2015. I did not want to be judgmental. Or rather, I want to try to be less judgmental than I often am. Knowing this, I went to the dictionary and thesaurus to do some searching. After nearly an hour reading definitions, I came to a decision. My word for 2015 will be:

Charitable

Merriam-Webster defines charitable as “merciful or kind in judging others.” Or, as I once heard in a phenomenal training conducted by an ex-hippie named Manny, “always assume good intent.”

How does this impact my daily life? I think it is:

  • Resisting the urge to roll my eyes whenever someone calls me inspirational, brave, strong, etc., and accepting what was most likely meant as a compliment with gratitude and humility instead of ire and annoyance.
  • Teaching my Personal Assistants how to complete household or cooking tasks without questioning why an adult does not know how perform what I consider basic tasks.
  • Recognizing my life experiences are not the same as others, and remembering the blessings I have had are not universal to those I encounter.
  • Encouraging understanding and knowledge when I encounter fear and prejudice.

This is not an inclusive list, by any means. And my focus on being charitable does not mean I will stop being discriminate, or particular. There are aspects of my life which require me to be fastidious and picky.

However, I will do my best to keep Manny’s advice forefront in my thoughts and actions. I will try to ask questions to gain more thorough knowledge before rushing to an opinion. I will open myself to views other than my own in the hope of developing a deeper understanding. I will show kindness and empathy rather than harshness and criticism.

Because I am human, I will fail at times. When I do, I will pause and remind myself how I feel when others are quick to judge me. I will learn from my mistakes and endeavor to do better. I hope you will feel free to ask about my progress, and hold me accountable if you catch me falling short.

What about you? Did you select a word for 2015? Share your word in the comments below!