The Virtue Project: An Introduction

Dec 12, 2010
It's getting to be that time again, time to think about the next year and what it might bring. While theologically I've always thought of the year ending at Samhain and beginning again at Yule, with the Dark Time in between as a period for reflection and meditation, there is something compelling about that new calendar, isn't there?

For 2010, I had three goals: get a professional librarian job, get a new apartment, and get a cat. Unfortunately those were sequential goals -- I couldn't move until I knew where my job would be, and until I had a steady source of income and a relatively permanent residence, I could not take on responsibility for another life. Well, I didn't get a job in 2010. Most of this is due to the economy, leaving me competing with 200+ people for every job opening, many of whom are laid-off librarians with more experience than I have. Still, it's a little discouraging.

I'm not abandoning those goals. They're good, valuable goals, and they're things I want deeply. But for 2011, I'm doing something a little different.

Earlier this year, I read the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It's an account of how she set out to spend one year pursuing definite, quantifiable goals to help herself be happier. I'd been reading her excellent blog for a while, and playing with the Happiness Project Toolbox, and I found the book an excellent addition to those resources. It inspired me to start making notes toward my own Happiness Project.

Last month I ran across those notes in my everyday notebook, the little blank book I carry with me everywhere to store ideas and plans in. And I thought, why not? Why not do this? As I reflected on the idea, though, it occurred to me that what I was planning wasn't really a happiness project, because happiness wasn't specifically my goal. What I wanted was to inhabit my life more fully, to become more certain in myself and my goals, and to deepen my understanding of myself and the world around me. What I wanted was to become more virtuous.

I have to thank Brendan Myers for giving me that word back. I grew up in a fairly Puritanized culture where "virtue" was a code-word for sexual abstinence and pious humility, holier-than-thou confessions and an overwhelming lack of fun. But I read The Other Side of Virtue last year, and it too gave me all kinds of ideas for where to go with my life and my plans. I wasn't equipped to do anything with those ideas at the time, but I think I'm ready for it now.

So my goal for 2011 is my Virtue Project, modeled very closely on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project, where she picked a particular aspect of her life to work on each month and chose direct and quantifiable goals to help make her happier with that aspect. I decided to add a patron deity to each month as well, as one of my ongoing goals has been to become more familiar, both intellectually and personally, with the Irish deities and mythology I feel such a strong connection with.

My tentative outline for the year looks like this --
January - Optimism - the Dagda
February - Energy - Brid
March - Health - Dian Cecht
April - Money - the Morrigan
May - Work - Lug
June - Indulgence - Finn
July - Creativity - Ogma
August - Freinds - Ferdia
September - Family - Anu
October - Love - Bres
November - Mindfulness - ?
December - Perspective - Nuada

My next project, to start after Yule when the sun returns and offers a little boost to this ambitious project, is to start writing out the individual goals for each month. The tricky part will be making them concrete enough to follow through on, yet realistic enough that I can get them done while working, volunteering, and applying for jobs like a crazy person (and hopefully interviewing, moving, and starting a new job!). And I'll be blogging about it all, of course.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about rereading The Other Side of Virtue, and if anyone has any recommendations for other Pagan books on virtue, ethics, or the good life, I'd love to read those, too. (I could have sworn I saw mention of a couple when Myers' book came out, but I can't find them now.) And if anyone has some suggestions for an Irish patron for that tricky mindfulness month, I'd appreciate it.

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