Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

The NEW New Year

on December 30, 2013

Fireworks

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore; the cynicism that comes with age and an acceptance of my own lack of determination to follow through on any activity so foreign to my everyday life that I have to instigate it with a special occasion has pretty much put a stop to that nonsense.  But I remember the thrill of feeling like each new year was a clean slate, an opportunity to start over again and do it better this time.  I remember the clarity of purpose, the simplicity of the choice – to do, or not to do.  In those heady days just before and after that particular midnight I felt invincible, impregnable, immovable.  I would prevail.  I would change that part of my life for the better, whatever it was.  It was inevitable that someone as determined as I could easily alter any aspect of themselves they wanted.  No problem.

Yeah, well.

There’s only so much failure that a person can take before they say, “I’m done”.  I reached that point a few years ago.  I figured that since I wasn’t going to keep any of the resolutions I made anyway, then why make them?  They’ll only serve to make me feel guilty and worthless, and who wants to feel like that?  So I stopped.

I find, though, that I haven’t really given up on the idea.  For example, I would never belittle anyone else’s attempts to use the New Year as a catalyst for changes they want to make in their lives.  If you tell me you’ve made a resolution to read more books, or to lose weight, or to exercise more, or to spend more time with family, or whatever, I will be in your corner cheering you on – without judgment.  I still believe in the power of the idea of the fresh start.  There must be power in it because we keep trying, even in the face of constant failure.

So even though I don’t participate in the annual resolution ritual, it doesn’t mean I’m against trying to make good changes in your life.  Where would we be if we didn’t strive to improve ourselves?  I suppose my views about resolutions have changed because the way I think about change itself has changed.

For a long time, change is something I expected to happen in the blink of an eye.  Childhood fairy tales introduced me to the idea that a difficult, ordinary life could be transformed in an instant (as long as you had access to a fairy godmother or a handsome prince, which, in my little girl heart, I totally did).  I believed that there was a magic moment that would transform me from what I was into what I wanted to be.  And even though as I’ve grown up and realized that Prince Charming isn’t going to rescue me from my evil-stepmother-oppressed existence (that I never had anyway) and that I have to work hard to achieve the results I desire, I still have this underlying idea that the “change” happens in the space of a kiss.  Or that’s how I want it to happen.  The breaking of the spell became the magic of the New Year.  My commitment to a particular resolution was the moment when I woke up to a new life, a beautiful life, and I broke the chains that bound me to my past.  I was transformed, and my new self would behave in ways that reflected this new way of being.

Well, I tried that and it didn’t work, no matter how much I wanted it to or believed it would.  Every year I started out believing with all my heart that this new person I had become at the stroke of twelve would always do what I wanted her to do without any effort (or much effort anyway) on my part.  The new behavior would flow naturally, as an extension of my new self.

When you put it this way it sounds nuts, right?  It took me years to figure out that’s what I’d been doing, and the realization of the depth of my self-delusion was pretty disheartening.

There are some people who have had extreme experiences that have so shaken the foundations of their lives that they change their ways overnight.  In fiction, Ebenezer Scrooge is a fine example of what can happen to a person in a few hours of introspection (supposing you have access to several frightening but well-meaning ghosts).  In reality, we’ve all heard stories of people who have come through near death experiences which, having survived them, gave their lives new meaning and focus.  But for the rest of us plodding along through our (mostly) unremarkable lives, we haven’t had those life-changing moments of pure clarity.  We view our lives through increasingly smudged and dirty filters that keep us from seeing the truth about the changes we want to make.

For me, that truth is that that change is a verb, not a noun.  It is a series of actions, not a moment in time.

This was a very depressing thought for me at first.  I wanted my life to be different NOW, not at some distant point in the future when I had worked and worked for who knows how long.  The idea that result flowed from decision was a hard one to give up, and I still struggle with it.  Part of me is still Snow White, asleep in my glass coffin waiting for the Prince to show up and take me away from all this, waiting for the meaning of all my struggle to make sense, waiting to know, once and for all, my purpose in life.

This attitude beautifully illustrates a fundamental flaw in my personality.  For most of my life I’ve been addicted to achieving my goals and have viewed the journey as a necessary evil.  To be fair, this attitude has been useful in pushing me to reach out for the things in life I decided I wanted.  I got through three years of working full time and going to grad school because I never allowed myself to take my eyes off of the goal of getting my degree.  That’s not to say I didn’t derive any pleasure from going to school – I did.  I love learning.  I just never saw the process of learning as the point of the time I was spending.  I went to school to get my degree in order to get a better job to make more money, period.  And that is exactly what I did.  So, for me, the “change” did happen with the decision, even though the culmination of that decision came years later.  I decided on a goal, and then I achieved it, every time.  Every.  Time.  Until three years ago.

That’s when it all came crashing down, and I’ve had to find a new way to look at my life.  It has been very, very hard to see my life in terms other than “set goal; accomplish goal; set new goal.”  I’m still engaged in a wrestling match with myself over how to view what my life is now.  The “old” me still sees my lack of “success” (meaning financial security) as something to be ashamed of.  But my other self, the one that reads poetry and writes blog posts and dreams about a future devoid of business meetings and conference calls, is gaining strength.  She’s exciting, this new girl.  Well, I call her the new girl, but she’s been here all along, just waiting for the chance to break free.  She’s got a foothold now, and she will no longer be denied.

This is my change, and it isn’t happening all at once.  It’s a process, and, for the first time in my life, I’m trying to relax and let it happen.  Every time I read a poem, I change.  Every time I scribble something in my notebook, I change.  Every time I wake up thinking with happy anticipation about the day ahead, I change.  For the first time in my life I’m not fixated on a specific goal, and it’s both freeing and terrifying.  I’ve never been here before, and I don’t know where I’m going or how long it will take to get there.  All I know is that I am becoming someone new; I hope it is the person I was meant to be.

So, Happy New Year, everyone!  I’m excited to find out what this year holds for us all.  I hope that it is a year of possibility and discovery and courage.  And gradual, inexorable, joyful change.

**************

Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton via photopin cc

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