Ah, the New Year refresh.
New goals! New resolutions! New ideas! Fresh perspectives! Clean slates! Paralyzing anxiety about not living up to your own expectations and the relentless, crushing pressure of peers and…
I confess I’m a bit of a New Year curmudgeon.
As much as I really do understand the appeal of resetting the clock and ourselves on the first day of a new year – and in this case, a new decade – I really take issue with how we as a whole treat this stuff.
See, January 1 is just a date on the calendar like any other date. And okay, if you symbolically find the reset really important on that day and that day only, I support you…but many of us struggle. Because it’s emotionally setting us up for failure and self-doubt from the jump.
Change doesn’t happen by force. And by assigning a hard, structured date to what is largely an unstructured, messy human process of evolution and progress, we’re making it a “do or do not” thing with a deadline that can feel, well, bad.
So here’s how I, in all of my imposter syndrome-soaked glory, approach these new year milestones on the calendar. Maybe you’ll find something useful in here for your own mindset, too.
1. Remember that you pick your starting line, and it doesn’t have to be January 1st.
Change is hard. And all of us have goals, aspirations, and dreams, but being ready to make the changes required to achieve those things doesn’t necessarily follow a schedule.
You do have to start somewhere, but who says you have to start on the first day of the year? What about the tenth? Or the fifty-first? Or the 124th? All of those are also legitimate days to pick as your Day One for whatever it is you want to take on. You don’t have to buy into the New Year, New You hype if you aren’t ready when the calendar page turns.
2. Other people’s approach to goals and achievement does not need to be yours.
The comparison trap is wicked toothy even on a good day, and when everyone is making their fancy bullet journals and hitting the gym, it can be really easy to think you’re doing goal setting wrong.
But there isn’t one way to do this. My “plan” for the year (such as it is) fits on an index card, and was scrawled with a Sharpie while I was on my second glass of wine on a Thursday evening because in that moment, I felt like I was in the right headspace to lay out a few soft, squishy maybe-goals. There is no BuJo in sight, and I loathe the gym. That doesn’t mean my dreams or desires are any less legit than the person whose Instagram stories are littered with inspiration porn and mirror selfies.
My way works for me. Theirs might work for them. Take a deep breath and realize that whatever your process – or lack thereof – is for going about this stuff, it’s the right one if it works for you. Period.
3. It’s normal to be overwhelmed.
This time of year, many people feel refreshed and renewed.
Many others – including yours truly, dear reader – feel overwhelmed, anxious, or even depressed. Facing down a new year, even symbolically, can feel like a lot all at once. And while some people can plan and think on an annual basis, I’m not usually one of them.
In the writing world, we often talk about “outliners” and “pantsers”. The idea is that some people outline their books meticulously and know exactly how the story is going to unfold, then they write to the outline. Then there are others who write by the seat of their pants (pantsers) and let the story come together organically.
I’m a pantser, mostly. About more than just books.
When it comes to “planning”, I can really only get my head around a few months at a time. Life lessons and my own personal brain hamsters have taught me that beyond that is really up to the fates as much as it is up to me. So I might have a vague idea that I want to do something “this year” (for me, that’s get this damned book proposal written and in market shopping), but my actual plan to get that done can only be done in chunks that consist of a few basic steps forward.
If you’re daunted by a big blank page or calendar, look at the week instead. Hell, look at today. Or tomorrow. And write down a couple of steps you can take.
You don’t have to boil the ocean. And while I’m at it…
4. It’s okay to scrap it and start over.
Do you know how many times I’ve made plans at the start of the year and scrapped them completely in the days, weeks, or months after that?
So many I can’t even count.
Life is messy as hell. Our careers are not linear. Even who we are is changing, shifting, adapting and evolving on a daily basis as we absorb what life throws at us. Why on earth would we believe that those things we put down on a napkin or an index card or a spreadsheet will always endure?
If it’s not working for you, crumple it up – literally or figuratively – and chuck it in the bin. Start fresh. And do that as many times as you need to.
5. Know you can do hard things.
One of the most valuable – okay, one of the only – mantras I have for myself is “You can do hard things.”
When I’m feeling overwhelmed, or like I don’t measure up, or like I can’t possibly do the things I need to do in order to get where I want to go, I remind myself that I can do hard things. Because I have the receipts. I’ve done hard things. I’ve survived some, I’ve triumphed over others, some I have gutted through and others I have sailed through dripping with exhilaration. I can do hard things.
Which means the next hard thing in front of me? I can do that too. So can you.
It doesn’t mean you have to do it today. Or tomorrow. Or even next month. But you can do it, and you will. Eventually. When you’re ready, and when the right things, people, and circumstances are available for you to do so.
It’s great and exciting that we have a new year and a new, fresh, shiny decade in front of us. But remember, that’s largely symbolic. The calendar is just a way for us to keep track of the passing of time.
It is not and should not be a prison, or one more way for you to think you’re doing it wrong. Start on January 12th if you want. Or March 6th. Or sometime in April. The New Year police are not going to show up and arrest you for violating the law of resolutions.
And most of all, remember to give yourself the grace you’d give others. (I’m particularly bad at this, but I keep trying.) We’re all figuring this out as we go, none of us really knows what the hell we’re doing, and many of us will happily keep a seat warm for you at the Coffee Shop of Worry and Doubt so we can give you a hug and tell you it’ll all be okay. Because it will.
Welcome to 2020, friends. I’ve got my index card with a wine stain on it, and I won’t be afraid to tear it up tomorrow if I need to. Because I can do hard things.
We got this.