The New Year: What’s Your Life’s Theme?

Think of your life as a book. You’re the main character, and you control your own actions, your own goals, your own future. Or maybe you think you don’t.

Maybe you’ve handed over your power over your own life to randomness and chaos, to someone else’s direction, to someone else’s philosophy or religion.

If you have, realize you’ve done this voluntarily, and you can regain control of your own existence simply by reclaiming it. You cannot choose what happens to you—but you can choose what you do, how you react, why you pursue your goals, what goals you hold sacred.

I realized this during my (still-ongoing) vacation—each of us has the choice to make our life about something, to choose the theme of our own existence.

(I tripped over this realization when I went through my goals for last year and discovered that, even though I had about half a year of being nearly out of commission, I still accomplished a surprising number of them. I stayed on track because of my theme—because when I could work, I was always working toward the same large goal, even if the small goals varied.)

If we don’t choose a theme for our lives—if we hand over control to someone or something else, we wander from desire to random desire, from thought to flitting thought, from action to disconnected action with no coherent plan, no direction, no discernible plot.

We become bad books.

For most of my life, I’ve had a theme, though I got pretty badly lost in the 80s. I came back, though. Because I had, and have, a theme.

My life’s theme is “You can overcome life’s worst assaults and rise triumphant from the ashes to joyful, love-filled existence if you pursue a life of learning with direction and creation with positive purpose.”

My life goals are:

  1. To love the people I love well.
  2. To write stories that matter.
  3. To teach what I’ve learned to people who want to learn and value learning.
  4. To live each day with purpose and joy.
  5.  

So I thought this year instead of discussing New Year’s resolutions with you, I’d ask you to think about your life’s theme. Or, if you don’t have one, I’d ask you to consider creating one.

  • What is your life right now?
  • What do you want your life to be?
  • And how can you summarize the life you want to live in one sentence of thirty words or less? Write your theme into something you can memorize, something you can hang onto when things get bad, when your path gets dark, when you wonder about the meaning of your own existence.
  •  

When you have a theme, you know the meaning of your existence.

If you’d like, you can post your theme and life goals here. I’d love to read what you have to say.

And Happy New Year.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

22 comments… add one
  • Nessa Aug 18, 2012 @ 6:23

    I stole parts of Holly’s, but when it’s right, it’s right.

    You can break away from the drudge and mundane of everyday life to recapture the joy and fascination of childlike vision by living a life of positive creation.

    My life goals:
    1. To love the people I love well
    2. To write novels/stories/books that matter
    3. To be a positive role-model
    4. To live each day with purpose and joy
    5. To improve lives with positive, creative solutions

  • Ruth Ellen Feb 1, 2011 @ 15:52

    ‘The Future Belongs to Those Who Believe in the Beauty of their Dreams’ This is what I go by, I have it set as my msn status and on my blogg. It keeps me believing and striving to achieve.

  • Marti Verlander Jan 15, 2011 @ 19:27

    I don’t remember who said this, but a major theme for my life for the last several years is, “If you want to be a winner, you must be willing to walk over the edge.” This is what pushed me over the edge to attend my first major writers conference, even though I’d be going by myself, to a city where I didn’t know anyone, to an event where I didn’t know what to expect, and where I’d committed to read for an editor and pitch to an agent. Making myself do that has turned a corner for my life. I don’t step back from challenges that will help my writing or my writing career anymore. It seems a good theme for me to keep: I can win by being willing to walk over the edge.

  • Susan W. Jan 14, 2011 @ 15:12

    A wonderful challenge Holly! I have had your emails sitting patiently in a virtual folder for many months now. Today, I sat down to begin making this a part of my daily writing practice – reviewing and responding to your blogs – a first experience for me. A bit of a workaholic, I am semi-retired with a huge desire to write……. something – stories, poems, essays, etc. Your challenge to develop a theme for my own existence fits right in. Thanks!

  • Danzier Jan 14, 2011 @ 10:41

    The radio station I listen to in my car has a challenge every year to sum up your year’s goals into a single word. I’ve been playing along for a couple of years. It’s a fun, lighthearted way of not drowning in New Years’ Resolutions.

    Holly, yours is a much bigger challenge. I’ve put off posting because I wasn’t sure what to say. But what it comes down to is facing hard facts, dealing with hard truths, growing up a little, and then refocusing on the result…every day. Revising a book is cake compared to revising a life. It may take a while to come up with a working revision plan/theme. But it needs to be done.

  • Joe Jan 13, 2011 @ 18:53

    Being a father of four wonderful boys and the husband of one amazing women has always kept me centered. My family is a large part of my overall life theme and happiness, however I do believe that one needs to have their own personal motivational beacon. My life theme is written on the wall in my home as a constant reminder of what has driven me for so many years. My wall reads “I slept and dreamt that life was happiness, I awoke and saw that life was service, I served and in serving happiness was found. As I give may time, energy, love and service to any person that may gracefully accept my extended hand, that is the essence of life. Nothing can replace that feeling that overcomes your heart and soul after helping someone in need. Thank you for the opportunity to share my life theme 🙂

  • PolarBear Jan 9, 2011 @ 12:30

    It’s probably not very positive, but it has sustained me for a long, long time: It can always get worse.

    Back in those “fun-filled” 80s, life was not so good, and I kept saying, “It can’t get any worse.” But it always did. Finally someone said to me (I don’t remember who), “Don’t challenge worse.” As soon as I quit challenging worse, things got better. I now have a healthy respect for “worse” and know things can ALWAYS get worse, so I don’t challenge “worse” to prove it to me.

  • Rossandra White Jan 7, 2011 @ 23:58

    I’ve woefully neglected you Holly, ever since I hooked up with you somewhere on the web. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t actually follow your wonderful courses that landed in my email box, though I did save them for later. There was something inspiring and so . . . how can I put it, confident and erudite about your missives that pulled me in. But now that I’ve finally surfaced after a hundred years spent writing two YA novels and one memoir, I vow to go back and checkout your sage advice. Along with gleaning tips on how to run a website and blog. I’m soooo new to that whole thing. Thanks Holly!

  • Michelle Jan 6, 2011 @ 12:27

    To break out of my shell and experience life, to leave the past behind, and stop obsessing over the future, so I can love the ones I have now, and write the stories I have inside me today.

    Life Goals:

    To love and cherish the family and friends I have
    To step outside my comfort zone whenever the opportunity presents itself to try something new
    To commit to my writing as a serious endeavor and not just a hobby

  • NancyJ Jan 5, 2011 @ 23:35

    Holly,

    I’ve just finished my Masters and have other projects on the front fire. But I finally got to come up for air, only to discover that I hadn’t gotten an email from you for several weeks. I worried. I’d hoped to learn that your headaches are completely cured. I pray they are–at the very least–managable by now.

    This past year for me has been an out of control roller-coaster. The most important event was finally getting a diagnosis after decades of worsening chronic illness. Cushing’s Syndrome. It’s just as deadly but worse than cancer because neither the public nor the medical community (with the exception of a few rare and wonderful doctors) know enough about Cushing’s to be of any use. I joined an online support group. My fellow “cushies” are teaching me to push back against ignorance and prejudice. They are teaching me to teach my doctors. They are teaching me how to fight this monster and win.

    There are surgeries that may or may not cure Cushing’s. It’s a crap shoot. My turn with the dice is coming up in a few weeks. If the surgery is successful, it will stop Cushing’s cold. But the damage it leaves behind will take years to heal, if healing is to be had at all. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not whining or feeling at all sorry for myself. I am simply stating my givens to answer the question of where I am.

    One thing I have learned about this disease is that there is a way out, but nobody gets out alone. EVER. Where I want to be is in a position to advocate for cushies and their families–getting more people out alive and with as little damage as possible. As soon after surgery as I am recovered enough, I will take formal training as a patient advocate.

    Holly, I have always known I was born to write. But I have never been able to “be” a writer because few stories seemed important enough to bother writing. I need to write fiction that matters. In the past fourteen months, I’ve finally been able to write stories that matter. My first project after surgery is to finally finish your revision course and get my novel presentable. That story matters.

    What I love most about you is that you always make me think deeply and be honest with myself. How can I “summarize the life you want to live in one sentence of thirty words or less”? Three words. Do what matters. Thanks for challenging me to ferret it out.

  • Ieva Jan 5, 2011 @ 12:07

    I thought about this for a while. Of course, there are some things that I would *want* my life theme to be (something concerning love, and family, and such things), but the way my life has went this far, and the way I’ve been dealing with it… Well, I’ve had some pretty harsh experiences as a child and a teenager. It seems that most of my friends are messed up in some ways, very different from most people–deep, and flawed, and interesting, and creative.
    I would say that my life’s theme, as it is right now, and has been for all my life, is “to accept the mess and the pain and the absurd of life and make something meaningful and cool and exciting out of it”. Creating something exhilarating, daring and beautiful out of flawed and awkward, and uncomfortable, even painful things. So this is not always happy, cannot be, nor even “good”, but it makes a move, changes situation–sometimes creating horrible mess, and having the most unexpected (but logical) outcomes.
    The funny thing is that I don’t even want to change that. I like it this way.

  • Jessica Jan 3, 2011 @ 21:55

    This is probably the most difficult thing I’ve sat down to think about in a while. The way I would honestly describe my life, to shove forcefully through adversity and show the world that even the failures can make something of themselves.

    You don’t need a college degree to have a good job. I have two fantastic jobs, and both make me insanely happy. How many college graduates can say the same about the job they paid thousands of dollars for? I’m proving to all the people that have told me I was nothing, that I need to go back to school or I’ll never be anything… That I can do just what they are saying I can’t.

  • Lisa R Jan 3, 2011 @ 12:55

    To live each day with positive thoughts and actions while being the best person I can be through continuously learning and growing in my faith, writing, and family life.

    That was fun Holly. Thank you for the thought provoking activity. Have a great day!

  • Nancy Jan 3, 2011 @ 11:35

    You can step outside the plans that others engineer for your life if you focus on living authentically, creatively and purposefully, while still retaining the wonder and anticipation of the delightfully unexpected.

  • Texanne Jan 3, 2011 @ 9:07

    The past and the future are traps–imaginary, but with the power and effect of handcuffs with superglue on them. Now is the only time that is, so it’s the only time that matters. It’s the only place you can have any effect. The past is all glories and regrets; the future is all worry and dreaming. Do the now.

    I don’t have a plan. I have a reliable sense of right and wrong and the ability to do quick decision trees. I do my best to make sure that the actions I take now are logical and as beneficial as possible. Aside from that, no plan. This sounds lazy and thoughtless, but it has taken a lot of consideration and work to attain and to maintain against the larger tide of busywork planning. Plan is a word that combines worry and dream, so I avoid it.

  • Anthea Jan 3, 2011 @ 0:08

    I wrote myself a mission statement in mid-2010 that I think fits the idea of a theme too.

    To nurture a sense of wonder in myself and others through sincerity, questioning assumptions, and story.

  • Jake Henegan Jan 2, 2011 @ 15:34

    Only by leaping over the chasm can you reach new heights.

    This was very thought provoking. It took me a while to come up with the above, and it still doesn’t feel perfect. I’ll work on it.

  • Alice Edwards Jan 1, 2011 @ 23:08

    I hope to leave the world a slightly better place than I found it while I follow my own drummer. Gotta love that beat.

  • DanaLynne Johnson Jan 1, 2011 @ 21:37

    The motto that I try to live by is: CAN’T is the dirtiest word in any language. I try hard to not use the word unless it is physically impossible for me to accomplish something. Though I’m legally blind, I don’t let that get between me and a goal.

  • Barbara Leland Jan 1, 2011 @ 20:17

    Live life to the fullest, never give in to domination of others, whatever I do, do to the best of my ability and never ever stop learning.

  • Oscasr Nash Jan 1, 2011 @ 19:52

    To learn, to be useful, to myself and others, as a positive cog on this Wheel of Evolution. (Getting my manuscript published would be good, too.)

  • C Ann Golden Jan 1, 2011 @ 19:46

    My goodness this is so thought provoking. I had to sit here for quite a while trying to figure out what has been the theme of my own life. Hmm, it is probably this: “Living through various heartbreaks and losses and using them to create a more meaningful and purposeful living while encouraging others to do the same.”

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