Ah, New Year’s Eve. The time to look deep into our lives and try to fix what’s wrong with us. This time, we swear, it will be different.
I am decidedly split on the subject of New Year’s resolutions. On the one hand, it seems like a disheartening way to start a new year, saying, ‘this is wrong and I need to fix it!’ Plus there are all the studies that say resolutions don’t work, that most of them are broken and abandoned by the end of January, only to be revived the following year.
On the other hand, I make them every year. Because I have it in my head that I am not good enough as I am. That nothing I do will be enough.
For example, I truly believe that if I leave this earth without having a book published, my entire life will have been a waste. This despite that fact that this little blog of mine has been running since 2009 and has probably reached more readers than I could hope for from an actual book. In my head, it has to be a publishing deal, or it doesn’t count. Because when I was young, a teacher and my parents and maybe a couple of friends told me that it would be possible for me to do that and somehow possibility became obligation and I’ve never been able to leave that notion behind.
I think we all suffer from similar pressures. I compliment friends on their amazing accomplishments and they say some variation on ‘thank you but it doesn’t count because I haven’t done x’, x being their version of my publishing deal. Some arbitrary thing that in their minds completely negates everything else they have done and leaves the rest of us scratching our heads in bewilderment.
I once spent an evening in the company of two amazingly accomplished women who both felt bad about their educational choices despite having a number of degrees between them. It actually made me feel a bit better about my total lack of degree, because I realized that graduating would likely not have erased that insecurity for me. I would still carry that ‘could do better’ feeling about my academic standing no matter how far I progressed.
I was mulling all this over recently when it dawned on me that maybe there’s a kind of freedom in this. If we accept that we will never be good enough, that we will always feel like there’s room for improvement, maybe that can open up the space in our lives and our hearts to just try new things.
It reminded me of a friend whose dad was going through cancer treatment. Someone recommended that he make a list of things he was looking forward to as a way to hang on to hope. My friend found his list after he died and was sad about the things he didn’t live to see. And yes, he died too young and that was sad. But that list would never actually have ended.
We’re born and we grow up and we want to see how our lives will turn out. And then we have children or our siblings and friends have children and we want to see how they turn out. And it’s so much fun watching them grow and choose careers and spouses and maybe have children of their own and then we want to see how they turn out…
At a certain point, we have to get off the stage and we don’t get to see how it all turns out. And it maybe is sad, but that’s how it is for all of us. And I think it’s the same with the things we want to do with our lives, the things we are tempted to make resolutions about. We improve this, or we achieve this goal and then we see something else we’d like to improve and then something else and so on.
This dissatisfaction, I think, is part of the human condition and will be there no matter how much or how little we accomplish or improve ourselves. We will never get it exactly right. So if we accept that it will always be there, maybe we can then just play with whatever interests us. Our resolutions can change from weapons we use against ourselves to experiments we run to see what will happen.
So instead of resolving to lose ten pounds because we are overweight and need to be dealt with sternly, we could lose those ten pounds to see how that makes us feel.
I could send out a book proposal just to see how the process works these days. Just for curiosity and playfulness.
If we can understand that our desire to improve doesn’t actually mean we need to improve, we can take a lot of the pressure off ourselves while still honouring the very human need to start afresh as the days start to lengthen. We can be gentle with our insecurities and with our desire to improve.
However you fall on the question of resolutions, I wish you a very Happy New Year. And all good things in 2018. Thank you so much for visiting my blog!