December 30, 2010

Jenny's 2011 UII & Me Resolutions

Image found here.

Usually the first to sniff at something as widely fussed-over as New Year's Resolutions, I have to admit I may be a bit unfair.  This year, I read a blog by Janeen on WEGO Health (see link in #2 below) who detailed her resolutions.  Her writing made me realize I'm not a fan of the usual "lose weight, get organized, blah blah blah" goals, but that if I actually gave them some thought and oriented them toward the challenges I've faced this past year, well, maybe it's not so silly.  So, at Janeen's invitation, I prepared the following list:

Jenny's 2011 UII & Me Resolutions

1. Strike a balance between learning from other activists and comparing to them.

It’s one thing – desirable, even – to stand on the shoulders of giants.  Other health activists have inspired me regarding specific topics/projects and in more general ways.  They have great ideas and many times have already been down the road I’m approaching, so it’s a perfect opportunity to learn from them.  Our networks providing the ability to share knowledge and ideas are some of our greatest assets.  However, while doing all this sharing, it becomes easy to start comparing.  For instance, many of the activists I interact with blog far more frequently, engage in Twitter chats regularly, or do (and relay) some really in-depth research that outshines my activity.  But these same women (most of my contacts are women) are also quick to remind me that I need to live by the guidelines I preach - to find what works for me and my situation.  Furthermore, the people for whom we "act" as activists have incredibly diverse needs...and so by the same token, each thing I can do has the potential to help someone out there.  Valuing my work by comparison to the work of others is entirely pointless...though certainly a hard habit to break!  This year, I will use others as a source of inspiration but if I catch myself comparing, I will stop and evaluate if something about my life makes this benchmark unrealistic.

2. Blog more.

Janeen, an activist on WEGO, wrote this post about her resolutions (which is why I'm writing mine), and her first resolution is also to blog more.  Janeen describes how in the past few years she's gone from posting over 400 times in 2007 to 'only' 105 in 2010.  This post happens to my 50th.  That's 50 total, since September 2009.  So I already have to go reread resolution #1 above, and remind myself that in this business, quantity isn't the most important thing.  Janeen has some target numbers in her head, based off her experiences, availability, and particular audience which I'm sure are entirely appropriate - for her.  It would foolish for me to aim to blog 100 times in the coming year, because I know I won't have the time for one, and that if I forced posts and blogged for the sake of blogging, I would compromise the quality of my blog.  All that being said...I do want to increase my posting.  I usually have an idea or two for a good post floating around that never makes it to the web, and I see the value of being a consistent poster (even if not as frequent as others).  I think my goal this year will be something like to blog 2-3 times per month.  I may reserve the right to implement this target number after busy season.

3. Feel good when I achieve goals.

I’ve identified a rather unattractive habit of mine.  Being not only a woman in big business but also from a big business school, I’ve studied the goal-setting process multiple times; there are days I feel like goal-setting is my life.  I’m also quite aware of the importance of setting reasonable, attainable goals – there’s little to be gained when your goals aren’t realistic, not to mention the damage feeling like a chronic underachiever can do.  This must be something I have a grasp on, because I frequently set small goals for myself which I do achieve…but when I achieve them I rarely feel good.  Instead, I tend to feel as though I must have shot too low; that if I had set a bigger better goal I would have achieved more.  Honestly even I can objectively say that’s not right, but that’s the disconnect between my logic and my ambition.  This year I will work on patting myself on the back for achieving my goals of all sizes, WITHOUT the "now if only..." clause.

4. Make at least one or two concrete gains with the DN.

The DN (Disability Network) at my firm is one of my favorite things about my theory...and one of my biggest frustrations at the daily level.  I can say with complete honesty that I believe the firm as a whole truly supports the DN and would like to continue improving our firm to make the work environment the best out there for employees with disabilities (and related needs).  I can also say that my firm is not exempt from the same problems all us health activists face from society - everything from lack of comprehension, time, or interest to confusion about privacy and legal matters and yes, even including ignorance and prejudice. 

Before moving on, I want to point out something very important: consider if you would feel confident that at any place you've worked you could tell everyone you work with AND the top leadership in the office about your medical situation without putting your job in jeopardy?  Some of you may be this lucky - but not many, and even fewer if you're involved in large organizations like mine.  It's not perfect, I worry about advancement, but more because of trying to balance my own needs with work and making choices my peers don't, not because I'll be held back by someone else.  And remind me next week to write about my meeting with the TOP partner in my ~900 person Philly office, who also happens to be a pretty big deal on our national scene:)  But that's another story!

(Sorry for the segway, I just find it amazing to have the opportunities this environment offers.)  Anyway, my point is that I have some venues or opportunities through this network to start making REAL change, and I want to follow through.  In the past year I made a little bit of headway thanks to a great manager, but even then found some major issues to be worked out.  I have the background and drive to make some of these changes, but it will mean not only persistence and getting others on board - it will also mean making choices to tackle one thing at a time.  I'd prefer to clean up the big picture first, but that's not a realistic approach.  So this year, I will choose 2 - 3 events and 2 other initiatives related to the DN and make them each a success.

5. Continue to grow UII’s connection with VU.

When I was applying, Villanova touted themselves as interested in each student as a whole person and future leader in society, and also promised a perk on the back-end in admittance to the "amazing" VU network of alumni, current students, faculty, and the University itself.  So far, I'm finding these claims to be founded!  As an undergrad, I worked with a number of people and offices around campus to sort through my special needs.  One of my greatest alliances is with the Office for Health Promotion (stop there - they have an entire OFFICE for health promotion).  With their support, I've done a few things at Nova to raise awareness of Invisible Illnesses.  The most amazing, in my opinion, was when we held a special event where a physician, caregiver/friend-of, and sufferer spoke.  My pediatric rheumatologist came (she's an awesome person), Shawn spoke both from his role as my (then) fiance and as a hospital tech, and I spoke as a sufferer.  We worked with SNAP (nursing association) the Core Humanities program (central 2-part course for underclassmen) to list it as an approved event.  So yes, we bribed attendees...but that only guaranteed us just so many and we had a PACKED cinema - literally standing-room-only!  Anyway in the past few weeks my contact from Nova reached out to my friend Bridget and I about doing a new program conceptually combining the event above with some body image programming for the spring semester.  There are a lot of directions we can go, and I've been REALLY excited to start trying to think them through.  I've already spoken with WEGO Health about helping me connect with specific activists who might be helpful with these ideas, and as soon as Bridget and I can catch up we'll start really working through them.  I'm ecstatic!  But it made me realize that this connection is very real and one I should work on maintaining as I get farther from my time as a student.  Therefore, in the coming year I will try to identify up to 3 main projects which can keep me connected to VU, hopefully leveraging some of my other connections in the process.

6. Not lose my health in my activism.

This is a hard one.  I have enough trouble balancing the things I do in an average week with my health needs.  I quite literally never get enough sleep, don't usually eat properly (and forget figuring out the actual nutrition involved beyond portion size), and an exercise regime in a joke.  Naturally, special projects don't usually pop up during these 'normal' times or *gasp* SLOW, they arise at the most difficult moments.  The new project with Nova?  Sometime in February - the heart of busy season.  But when a truly great chance comes around (such as one with Nova, the DN, or some special projects with WEGO), I feel I have to take them.  I'm not in control of this world, and I can engineer when my breaks will come.  There are some I can - or must - pass up, but the big ones that can really advance UII's goals are too important.  However, over time I'm gradually being forced to acknowledge the long term effects this can have.  In pushing all my energy into the projects I do aimed at creating a happier, more peaceful, better life for people with chronic illness, I often put my own health in jeopardy.  As a teenager or in college that didn't seem like such a big deal - I'd push myself into a flare, let my mom play nurse for a couple of weeks, then spend the next few weeks trying to straighten out the mess before moving to the next one.  It doesn't seem to work that way anymore, though.  Now I find my overall functioning decreasing, not 'just' an acute flare then recovery.  So, I really don't know how, but this year I will have to start making changes so I can accomplish my goals without continuing to put myself at such risk.  (Any one have the magic solution to this one?)

7. Continue to listen for God working through me and play second fiddle to the Holy Spirit.

Last spring, I needed to leave work at a certain time one day to be at mass for a Holy Day of Obligation.  When I mentioned it to my coworker, he actually started asking me questions about Holy Days and more general topics.  When I arrived at church that evening I relayed this story to my priest, thinking I had been in such a wonderful conversation...and as I got to the end of the story I realized the mistake I had made, just seconds before the priest himself asked "and did you invite him to come with you tonight?".  Guess I dropped the ball.  I mean, I really don't think he would have come, but without a doubt, I should have asked.

I tried to learn two things from that experience: 1) I was reminded to be proud and brave when it comes to my faith so that the light I carry can shine, but moreover 2) God (or in my mind, the Holy Spirit) works through us and I must make sure I don't interfere.  Since then I have really focused on these kinds of situations (which actually come up a LOT) and making sure I am letting God work through me to bring others to Him.  So far it's going well; I recently met a woman on WEGO having a faith crisis.  Given the particulars, I thought it might be best to move along without commenting.  But thankfully I realized this was another opportunity and if I just let the Holy Spirit guide my comment, everything would be ok.  I wrote to her (telling her I would understand if she chose to delete my comment, of course) and said I had found answers to her questions that make sense to me and if she ever wanted to discuss them I'd be happy to chat.  In no time I had a new friend, a new blog to read, and a FANTASTIC conversation awaiting me just as soon as I can give full attention to this most important topic.  I know I'm supposed to be more concerned with rewards in heaven, but I have to say I feel it's very rewarding now on Earth when I can connect with someone like this.  I mean, as a health activist I'm all about making people's lives better now...this is the same thing!  This person is hurting and even the prospect of seeing her find peace (with whatever religion) is awesome.  Also, this is a task I can do which is not inhibited by my illnesses in any way!  My conditions to not create limits here; in fact, they may make my actions speak louder.  And so, this year I will continue to focus on these chances, and make sure I let my thoughts, words, hands, and actions be guided by the Holy Spirit.

I am interested in what priorities you have in your life for the coming year, especially ones that recognize your unique situation and gifts.  I welcome you to share your resolutions, goals, priorities, and wishes with me, as a comment or a link to your own post!  Also, please take a look at Janeen's original post, to which I'll link this one.  (See link in #2 above.)  Happy New Year!


  1. Great list and thank so much for sharing!!
    Don't be fooled by my 400 posts in 2007. My blog is a family/health activist blog. I blog about food allergies but it started out as a blog about my children, sort of a diary of their lives. It somehow got turned into more of a food allergy blog and I'm OK with that. But I don't want to lose the reason I started this blog too. I want to still diary about my boys so that I have a record of their childhood to look back on and remember the "little things". More posts will come from our every day lives.
    I'm adding your #7 to my list! I LOVE that one and I need to do more of that too. I always try to be in control and I forget that I'm not supposed to be.
    I hope you have a happy, healthy, and blessed New Year!!

  2. Wow. What a really thoughtful and well written post. Lots of food for thought - thanks.

  3. That is a wonderful list! I usually hate new years resolutions as well for the same reasons you do, but I just might have to make my own in a similar fashion :)

  4. Jenny,
    You are an awesome young person with debilitating illness(es), working full time,blogging and a health activist. You are doing as much, or more, than an able bodied person can. This past year I've been reflecting on doing some volunteer work, I'm just not sure where, but it is something that I will pursue this coming year.Thank you for some thought inspiring words.Happy New Year.

  5. Thanks ladies! I'm excited my unusual choice to make resolutions garnered so much support! I'm sure I'll need it:)

    Annie, your comment made me think. I'm not sure if I mention it much here but I do a lot of work with my teen group at church (I feel incomplete without volunteer work). The opportunties out there to volunteer in unique ways is so exciting! I don't know if you have an opportunity in mind, but if not here is a great site: Keep us updated!

  6. That's a awesome list, and something you had a real "thinking" about, not just "it's the 1st of january, what resolution should I got ?".
    Good luck with all your project !


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