How do I catch up? Mostly: 2017, man. Wow.
It was a tough year, and to be honest, Trump’s presidency and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things he and our elected officials are capable of took the wind out of my sails. And my job sucked, and then it was gone. And then I had room to breathe and think and start to feel again, without constantly running from or to a goal or deadline. And that, too, can be really hard.
Here’s what I learned in 2017:
I have learned that I have vast reserves of hope. They run deeper than I thought. When things don’t go the way I planned, or when they go the opposite way of how I wanted, I can get back up again and find something to believe in or fight for.
I don’t mean I’m a Pollyanna who refuses to admit the reality of a situation—that isn’t me; I like to acknowledge what I’m working with, maybe too much—but I can find that light of hope that helps keep us going. And let me be clear, this isn’t always a comfortable or fun process. Sometimes it’s a grind, like sending out yet another cover letter. But I can do it, and be ok, with lots of coffee and my friends by my side.
I have learned that grief isn’t a linear process. It comes in waves, swooping in, crashing over me, and sometimes leaving just as suddenly. Grief doesn’t ask your permission, and it doesn’t always come when you expect it. Tucked into the gold frame of one of my mirrors is a black and white photo of my two-years-gone grandmother as a young woman. She’s holding something aloft (I can’t tell what, because the photo is too fuzzy), but it looks like she’s waving. I never know when catching her waving hand out of the corner of my eye will make me cry. Yesterday, it didn’t. Today, it did.
I have learned that avoiding your feelings doesn’t mean that you won’t feel them—it usually means you’ll feel them again and again and again. It might be in tiny little doses as your mind touches on the idea and glances away, but you’ve gone ahead and felt it, so you may as well process it. I don’t like all the feelings I feel, but I’m also learning that I need to feel them anyway. This is part of Doing The Damn Thing.
Writing also often makes me cry. Not even journal entries, I mean. This isn’t “today I am going to write about a hard thing.” It can happen when I’m writing about benign things, as I’m trying to articulate something that’s a little cloudy for me. Figuring out how to explain things is a good exercise, and if it means that tears come out, well, okay, I guess.
I have learned that I need to say yes more often. I have to stop saying no to things because I’m scared of looking stupid or because I’m afraid that I’ll fail. Or because I’m afraid I will succeed. Or because I don’t want to start something new and I want to stick with what I know. Or because, at 36, decisions are starting to feel as if they have more weight to them, more than they did at 35 or 30 or 21.
I have learned that my tendency for over-optimization is another kind of perfectionism and is something I use to procrastinate. I like to make lists, but I’m overly ambitious. No one’s to-do list needs 15 items on it every day. I’ll find myself thinking about all the little tiny steps I “should” do before moving on to the thing I want to do, and then my shoulders are hunched up by my ears and I’m anxious and frustrated.
Instead, I usually just need to *act*. What can I do to move forward? Does it even matter if I don’t do something in the very best way, or the most efficient one? Should I let the fact that this bit of writing has a (tiny) audience affect what I’m willing to say, or how I say it? Sometimes you have to just get it out, and sometimes you just have to get it done.
I have learned that I’ve got to be intentional about take care of myself, physically and mentally. Yoga and being creative and cooking while listening to music or something educational/entertaining (BUT NOT NEWS) is good for me. So is dancing around the bathroom while listening to Billie Jean as I get ready. I am making space for those things.
I’ve bene reminded that my periods of relaxation often make me feel sluggish and annoyed if I don’t balance them with something productive or active. Bingeing TV makes me feel awful. Podcasts, even interesting ones, blend together when they’re all a) political, or b) streamed one after the other. Reading the internet doesn’t serve anyone well in large doses—something I have to remind myself of often.
So what does that mean for this year? This year’s goals are about care and discovery and stretching. I think this year’s word might be “discomfort.” Getting familiar with it, rooting it out when it’s a discomfort like anxiety or fear, and living in it when it’s the discomfort that comes with trying something new.
That makes for less concrete goals than I’ve had in the past, but that’s ok. Let’s call these things to revisit throughout the year and thinking about doing.
- Try the new. Get uncomfortable. Being vulnerable, doing new things, making decisions without thinking them to death, having the conversations, all of it is important for moving forward.
- When I’m having a tough time, try to pull back and look more objectively at the situation, rather than blaming myself. I am good enough, and I want to show myself compassion.
- Use my voice, because I do have one and can lead. I can persuade others to do the right thing.
- Stop hoarding. or, recast: use what I have before buying more. Yes, it’s annoying to have to go without for a short period, but I’ve been cleaning out my closets and whoa, why do I have all this stuff. There’s stuff I loved once upon a time, bought a lot of, and then never used again. That’s so much wasted money and space!
- Try to take the tiny first step, rather than yak shaving.
- Related: Try to how to get stuff done without constantly getting distracted—or avoiding the hard stuff.
- Get a job, get a passport, get out. I want to travel somewhere outside the U.S. this year.
- Look for the value in being soft. I don’t always have to be tough, or see myself that way.
- Forget FOMO. Uninstall Instagram, leave Facebook, just admit I don’t want to get up early and hike like those other people—I don’t need to live anyone else’s life.
- Possibly get a tattoo. There’s power in bodily reclamation. I live here; I might as well hang up some art.
- Get published by someone other than me.
- Maybe start a newsletter?
- Go to 1 networking event each month.
- Try embroidery.
- Read 20 books.
- Make the decision, go for the gusto, do the scary thing. Wear the bright nail polish. Embrace it.