by Stephanie Self
New Year’s resolutions are rather strange.
I get why we look at the New Year as a time to “start over,” “reinvent,” “rejuvenate” and “improve.” We use these markers of time to track the changes we’ve made in our lives.
“I’ll start my diet on Monday.”
“I’ll stop smoking in a week.”
“I’ll start going to the gym five days a week starting Saturday.”
None of those are bad things. If anything, we should always want to continue to improve ourselves in some way. We’ve all made resolutions, but we also know that by February or March, those fresh, wannabe habits are wavering, and we go back to life as it was before.
Needless to say, I have no evidence to prove this; I just haven’t met anyone who has actually changed their lives based on a New Year’s resolution. Props to those of you who have.
Making resolutions for an entire year is pretty daunting. For a long time, I was someone who functioned much better when I had a long-term goal to reach. Having no sense of purpose for the future scared the shit out of me, so I spent a lot of time thinking about and formulating plans. What I never accounted for, however, was what would happen if those plans didn’t work out.
We often feel extremely disappointed in ourselves when we fail at some personal goal we had, especially if it was a big one. At the end of 2012, I made a couple big changes to my life and looked to 2013 for rejuvenation and a fresh start to the life I thought I actually wanted. But my expectations of what happened did not align with what my year turned into.
I thought that I was going to have a year full of fun, happiness, freedom and liberation from a life that I felt was preventing me from reaching my full potential. My life wasn’t necessarily absent of those things this year, but I didn’t account for the emotional trauma that I had unintentionally caused myself by making those changes. I became so focused on improving my life that I wasn’t allowing it to simply happen, so my perspective on the events that “just happened” was skewed in a way.
When a family member died suddenly in February, I found it even more difficult to cope. When I lost a few friendships over some rather big mistakes, I felt I had sabotaged my own plans. And when I knew I was falling in love with someone, I kept refusing to allow it to happen out of fear of heartbreak, which ultimately made it even more painful anyway.
This may not seem connected to New Year’s resolutions, but hear me out. I had attempted to make a huge life change, and I failed miserably because I did not account for all of the things life throws at you when you least expect it, like death and love. I’ve since realized that if I hadn’t been so focused on making my life turn out a certain way, then I would have been much happier. I also would have made other people in my life much happier.
My point is this: if you really want to change your life, you will. It won’t matter if it’s at the beginning of the year, or if it lasts past February, or if you won’t get to it until February. Don’t wait around for the beginning of anything or pass by the things that don’t go according to plan. There’s a difference between living the life you want and neglecting the life you actually have in order to get the one you want.
When you’re making New Year’s resolutions, remember to also give yourself permission to fail.
I’m not going to claim to know exactly how all of your lives are, and that sentiment can’t apply to every situation. What I’ve learned is that the more you try to control how your life turns out, the less likely you are to be happy with it. Amazing things can happen if you let them, and so can terrible things. I’ve experienced both this year. But if I had a resolution for 2014, it’s to stop thinking that things like “New Year’s resolutions” are even necessary.
So, here’s a Neil Gaiman quote that I feel sums this column up quite nicely: “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”
(I’m also resolving to not end as many of my columns with quotes, but in the spirit of the new year, I’ll start next semester. I swear!)
Stephanie Self studies English and journalism. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.