Kwanzaa: My kujichagulia

Habari gani?

This week is Kwanzaa, the often-mentioned but mostly-mysterious major December holiday. I’ve always been vaguely aware that Kwanzaa is about Pan-African identity. But what it’s about more specifically and how to celebrate it? No idea.

The Official Kwanzaa Web Site gives a pretty good picture of what this week is all about. Created in 1966 by an American professor, Kwanzaa includes the celebration of seven values, or principles. You focus on one principle every day through New Year’s Day, which is a time to reflect and “answer soberly and humbly the three Kawaida questions: Who am I; am I really who I say I am; and am I all I ought to be?”

Today is the second day of Kwanzaa, and the value of the day is kujichagulia (koo-jee-chah-GOO-lee-ah), or self-determination. The Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of Kwanzaa, says this value is about defining ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.

This sounds absolutely perfect for me today. Two of my college roommates are visiting tonight. Both are very independent, intelligent women who have gone on to create adventures and experiences for themselves. One prowls the swamps and forests of the Southeast for the U.S. Forestry Service. The other spent a year in Thailand as a teacher and is probably Kenya-bound in the spring.

I admire both of them immensely, but I have a really hard time not feeling twinges of jealousy. It’s not a competitive feeling so much as remembering that I had hoped to travel or do something exciting after graduation. Instead, I took a very conservative path. I accepted a modest job at the university I graduated from, which isn’t all that far from where I grew up. Other than a brief trip to South Africa in college, I’ve never been abroad, though I have traveled a lot domestically with my family and G.

While I have no immediate plans to leave my job or anything like that, eHow suggests using kujichagulia to make some real goals for yourself, kind of like life-long New Year’s resolutions. I figure it can’t hurt to at least try to articulate what I think I want so I can start trying to make some of it happen. If nothing else, it’ll give me something to say when my roommates ask what I’m doing. I’d prefer not to say I’m doing the exact same thing I was last year!

Ok, so using eHow’s list of of strategies as a model, here goes:

1. Plan and prioritize a list of goals that you hope to accomplish throughout your life.

  • Travel to every continent at least once. I won’t beat myself up if I don’t make it to Antarctica since I don’t like cold anyway. I’ll just go to Patagonia and call it close enough.
  • Work somewhere meaningful, like a non-profit or an influential magazine.
  • Write a novel or a full-length non-fiction book. Preferably a good one.
  • Get a master’s degree or MFA. I’ve always romanticized an MFA, but an MA keeps the door open to a PhD.
  • Move to California, at least for awhile. I’d like to spend the bulk of my adult life somewhere warm.
  • Do the marriage, kid, dog thing. If that doesn’t work out, I’d just like a buddy who comes to visit a lot. And a dog.
  • Die of natural causes somewhere comfortable.

As for prioritizing these, well, I know enough to know that priorities can change a lot, especially when you’re on the younger side of things. I would say the top things would be a significant relationship with someone, travel, and a meaningful job. Probably in that order.

2. Picture yourself achieving each listed goal.

Picturing self and partner on beach in Fiji, reading the anthology of my works while sipping pina coladas and sending texts to the manager of my California vineyard. Oh wait. Wrong visualizations?

3. Learn from your mistakes by the results and outcomes of your previous decisions.

Everyone makes mistakes, but so far, I think I’m OK with the bulk of what I’ve done. Yes, I’ve dated some people that weren’t worth the effort. I likely was too cautious in my immediate post-college doings. I should have studied abroad. I maybe should have picked a different major. I should have kept in better touch with some people. I shouldn’t have bothered keeping in touch with others.

4. Grow in knowledge in a variety of areas and subject matters.

The list of things I’d like to do is long, and my wide range of interests is part of what led me to a career in communications. But here are some specific skills I’d like to learn not necessarily in the next year, but sooner rather than later:

  • Guitar lessons. I took ’em for a while in high school, and I’d like to again.
  • Learn Spanish. I took two years of it in college, and some has stuck, but I know I sound like a toddler. Probably worse.
  • Learn how to build a website. HTML, CSS, the whole bit. I get really frustrated watching people at the institution I work for create pages that just aren’t functional. I know I could do better if I knew a thing or two.
  • Learn about various religions, especially Buddhism. Because I want to.

5. Keep your physical body healthy and active. A healthy body creates an healthy balance between emotions and intellect.

This ties into my actual New Year’s resolution. It may be cliche, but whatevs. I want to get back to regular, if not frequent, yoga. The ambitious part of me wants to go to class 2-3 times a week and get up in the morning to practice on my own before work. The lazy part of me would settle for just going to class and keeping my head on the pillow in the morning. We’ll see who wins.



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