Flourish In Progress: New Years Resolution Tips from Elizabeth Jayne Liu

January 13, 2011

Well, Hyphen readers, we are thirteen days into the new year. If you've made any resolutions, are you sticking to them?

In case any of you need inspiration, my pal Elizabeth Jayne Liu has been at her resolution for four months already. On her birthday in September, she decided she would go against all pleas to stimulate the economy and take a stand against consumerism. She would stop shopping for one year. "This past summer, right before I turned 30, I realized that my material gains weren't going to be the answer to my fulfillment or my happiness," she explains. "I wanted to find out what would make my life richer and fuller, so I needed to take away my biggest distraction."

It resulted in the hilarious and wildly popular, Flourish in Progress, which has taken the blogging world by storm. And while her blog is inspired by her resolution, it is less about not shopping, and more about all of the things she's doing in place of it, reflecting the approach she's taking with the project itself: "I couldn't go shopping. I couldn't have a Starbucks latte. But then, I started focusing on what I COULD do."

Each Monday she writes about a new Dare -- a goal she challenges herself to stick to for the whole week. "The Monday Dares stem from a list I kept, detailing all the things I would do SOMEDAY if I had the guts or the time," she explains. She introduces many of them with the crazy story from which the dare stems, and each of the dares has to be something she wouldn't normally do. She adds, "One week early on, I decided to use all the pennies we had been saving. I used literally hundreds of pennies over the course of one week. I'm pretty sure there were some majorly peeved people in line behind me wherever I went." 

Liu doesn't always make the mark, but she explains it's not really the point: "Many times, I fail miserably, but it's taken the focus away from the negative and brought it back to all the positive things about my life."

Unsurprisingly, Liu has inspired a huge number of readers. She was recently featured in AdWeek. And over the holidays, she vowed to donate a dollar for each comment on one of her posts (which her family and a couple of friends pledged to match up to $100) and raised $450 for a charity that collects toys and supplies for kids in need.

Now, a full disclosure: as I mentioned earlier, I consider Elizabeth a friend. And while her pledge to stop shopping is an inspiration in and of itself, what I find more inspiring about her are the little details of her life that she doesn't usually write about on her blog -- okay, selfishly because her experiences are similar enough to my own, but this speaks to experiences that may be more common in the Asian American community than we'd expect.

A huge draw and the quirkiest part of her story is her whirlwind romance with the man she married. "I met my husband at a debate camp (yes, there is such a thing) when I was only 14. This was in 1995, so everyone didn't have cell phones or email accounts like they do now. We lost touch for 12 years. In 2007, he decided to look for me on Myspace and sent me a message. We were living across the country at the time, but he came to visit me and we got married in Las Vegas just eighteen days later." [An interesting tidbit about yours truly is that I also reconnected with my husband on MySpace after several years and we also got married in Las Vegas -- in fact, by the same minister.]

But what I find most interesting about her story, and what sets her apart from other women-who-quit-shopping books, is her experience as a single mom. It adds more depth to her year-long pledge, but there's also a deeper story right under the surface which I relate to, and which speaks directly to an issue recently covered in the Hyphen blog. As she tells it:

I got pregnant at 18, as a freshman in college. I went from being someone's daughter to someone's mother without the typical transitional period. My family didn't support my decision to keep my daughter initially, but after she was born, they never questioned my decision again. I didn't know a lot of teen moms, and I certainly didn't know a single Asian teen mom. I stopped going to one Korean-American church when my daughter was still a toddler because the pastor expressed concern that my single mother status may negatively influence the younger girls in the youth group. That was a huge blow, not only to my faith, but to the my desire to establish connections in the Asian community as well.

This, after all, is not just a story of ambition and positive change coming from somebody who's already an overachiever, or a privileged single woman with little at stake. She's an imperfect human being, and she's trying to be realistic with her goals.

In setting your resolutions and sticking to them, she advises, "It's okay to be ambitious, but there's a difference between being ambitious and being unrealistic. If you feel overwhelmed or discouraged, just set a few small goals. Even if you decide that your one resolution for the year is making your bed every morning, you'll be amazed at what a big difference a small change can make."

So if you're still holding onto your New Years resolutions, stay strong. And if you fail, don't give up! Recently, she fully disclosed a transgression involving a Monchhichi doll on her blog, but accepted her mistake, forgave herself, and moved on with The Project.

So the Tiger Mothers of the world can shove it. From Elizabeth herself, perfection is not the point: "This Project has let me re-evaluate the way I approach failure or success. It's almost impossible to consider every day a success, but I realized that it would be my own fault if I let every day become a failure."


Theresa Celebran Jones


Theresa Celebran Jones was born and raised in Connecticut and has moved cross-country four times. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young daughters. She works full-time as a technical writer and is an MFA dropout. Her only other hobbies are reading, taking pictures, scrapbooking, and listening to hip hop. Clearly she has no social life.