Archive | January, 2011

There’s A Thin Line Between Making New Year’s Resolutions & Feeling Like A Failure

11 Jan

“2011:  another 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 52,600 minutes, 3,153,600 seconds of struggle, growth, progress, and experience” – TumblrSays on Twitter

I saw this tweet the last week of 2010 and my first thought was, Great.  Another 3,153,600 seconds of struggle.  Can’t wait! But that was shortly followed by relief.  Because it described something so real:  a year of ups and downs, goods and bads, struggle and progress.  A year of a whole-wide range of experiences.

This sounded so much better than trying to make 2011 THE BEST YEAR OF ALL-TIME!!!  I’ve seen a lot of talking/tweeting/Facebooking about making this year THE GREATEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE!  And full disclosure:  I may have once written a post that mentioned having a big year.  But I’m over it.  Now the mere thought of trying to have a big amazing year just makes me want to take a nap.  Until December.  Why does this year have to be FABULOUS and BIG and THE BEST?  Why can’t it just be regular and real and experience-filled?

For many years, I read and did the goal-setting exercises in the book Your Best Year Yet! where you wind up with a plan for your year (to make it the best one yet!) that includes your top ten goals.  In the past, I enjoyed a lot of things about this process.  But I had no desire whatsoever to do it this year, or to make any kind of BIG resolutions.

Last year, as I always do, I typed up my ten Best Year Yet! goals in pretty fonts and cheerful colors, and posted them on my bulletin board.  In September, I looked at them, and realized that I had only achieved one sub-point each on three goals thus far.  Goals that had A LOT of sub-points, so one on each was not statistically significant.  Since I was not on track with my goal-achieving for the first 3/4 of 2010, that meant that I’d have to make it my best October-December yet!  Instead I ripped my bright and cheery goals off my bulletin board and stuffed them in a file folder.  In the back of my file cabinet where the sun don’t shine.

I will come clean and say that I sat down a few weeks ago with my notebook and wrote out a few goals.  In black pen.  No pretty fonts or bright colors.  These goals are very small.  They are micro-goals.  Things I can do every week.  I am thinking of them as non-oppressive goals.  Doing them won’t make me have the BIGGEST, BEST, MOST AMAZING YEAR EVER!!!  But not doing them won’t make me feel like an abject failure.  And hopefully they will do what goals at their best do – give me direction and focus and spark enthusiasm.  As someone who loves a hearty To Do list, they will give me something to write down on my list and check off, week after week.  When I read them over, I felt excited and enthusiastic and not oppressed, which is a good sign that I am on the right track.

This post is not meant to be a criticism of that book.  The problem I have is with a society that constantly bombards us with messages that we and our years and our lives have to be BIG, BETTER, THE BEST, which leads to feelings that anything less, anything regular and simple and ordinary, doesn’t matter, doesn’t measure up, doesn’t even count.

Looking back at 2010, I had a year of…experiences.  Some joyful, some painful, and a lot of in-between.  In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown writes, “Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we’re too busy chasing down extraordinary moments.”  2011 doesn’t need to be my BEST YEAR OF ALL-TIME FOREVER AND EVER!  I just want it to be a year of experiences.  I hope to have more good days than bad.  I hope to experience more moments of contentment and peace than of depression and anxiety.  I hope to be able to spend time doing things I love, feeling engaged, excited, and enthusiastic.  I hope for curiosity, learning, healing, and growth.  I hope for connectedness and community.  And I hope to let go of chasing down brightly colored extraordinary moments, so that I can be blissful surprised by bursts of joy in the most ordinary of moments.

Post-Holiday Cheer

4 Jan

I don’t like the holidays.  And I’m glad they’re over.  I feel sort of Grinch-y saying this.  Especially since I was the person in high school who, on the holidays – Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Arbor Day, whatever! – dressed in the official holiday colors, and drew some sort of symbol of whatever holiday it was on my class notes all day.  And there was a girl in my grade who wore all black on purpose, in protest of the holidays, and I thought she was jaded, at 15-years-old.  Maybe I’m the one who’s jaded now, at 35.

But here’s the thing.  Somehow, the holidays have changed and morphed and warped.  As far as I can tell, they are supposed to be a time of sharing love and spreading joy.  But something happened.  Something went wrong.  And now it feels like a time of keeping anxiety at bay and warding off loneliness.

This year, as Thanksgiving approached, I started to feel the pressure, stress, and sadness that tend to descend at that time of year.  So my friend and I decided we would get to work on redefining the holidays.  We might not be in time for this year, but we could certainly start thinking about how we’d like to spend the holidays next year, in ways that would be less painful, and possibly even be able to muster up some joy and love in the true spirit of the holidays.

Then, Christmas was around the bend.  I’m Jewish, so growing up, Christmas was a day of not being able to call my Christmas-celebrating friends, with nothing do but listen to Christmas songs on all the radio stations (mostly religious-sounding songs, occasionally punctuated by “Last Christmas” by Wham, or “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”), and watch endless Claymation.  I didn’t know about Chinese food and a movie until I was in my late-20’s.

As an adult, I don’t celebrate Chanukah anymore, and I don’t celebrate Christmas, so I am left ritual-less on Christmas Eve (I now know to see a movie on Christmas Day).  And then as soon as Christmas passed, New Year’s was here, and with it, the pressure to make some kind of MOST FUN EVER plan to RING IN THE NEW YEAR!  I don’t like to drink or spend excessive amounts of money, which seems to be what this holiday has morphed into, and I was feeling resentful that I had to do something FUN and AMAZING because it was a holiday. I just wanted to do something regular, that I’d enjoy.

Because I.  Don’t like.  The holidays.  And usually I pretend I do.  Or I keep quiet that I don’t.  But this year, I was very vocal with my holiday un-cheer.  I complained at Starbucks about the incessant Christmas music.  I told friends, family, and people I just met that I couldn’t wait for the holidays to be over.  And it felt good not to pretend.

So why are the holidays so un-cheerful?  There is the pressure, stress, obligations, expense.  There is the feeling that everyone else is having this ideal holiday, sitting in a circle in front of a crackling fireplace, drinking hot cocoa, singing “Kumbaya” as Uncle John strums a guitar, surrounded by mountains of opened gifts, none of which have to be returned because they are all PERFECT, all the while enveloped in holiday warmth, joy, and love.  This.  Is obviously not true (though I do have an Uncle Jon who plays guitar, but my family hasn’t done the sitting-in-a-circle-campfire-Kumbaya thing in over 20 years).  But it often feels like everyone else is reveling in holiday joy, anyway.  While you are alone, listening to Counting Crows’ “A Long December” on repeat.  In the dark.  I’m just saying.  That could happen.

Many people I know struggle through the holidays, which, instead of fostering warm, fuzzy feelings of belonging, intensifies painful feelings of isolation and loneliness.  A holiday is just one day and then it’s over, but as the holidays approach, I batten down the hatches and come up with coping strategies to just make it through the season.  But this year, as I was more vocal with my holiday bahumbug-ing, I heard more and more from people who felt the same way.  Which fortifies me in my mission to go beyond coping strategies next year, and redefine the holidays altogether so they can be more than just something to survive and emerge on the other side of January relieved to not have to go through that for another eleven months.  So that I can actually enjoy them, and wrap myself in my own definition of holiday cheer.

The holidays are over.  And I’m relieved.  I didn’t wind up having THE MOST FUN AND AMAZING HOLIDAY EVER! And I didn’t necessary feel enveloped in joy and love the whole time.  But I did feel like that in moments, and flashes.  I celebrated in simple ways that were meaningful to me, and which made me feel peaceful, and that, is very, very good.

Luckily, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day do not bring with them this kind of baggage, so I have some respite from the holiday blues.  And eleven months to redefine the holidays for 2011.  And the good news is, if there are a lot people who feel lonely during the holidays (and, I think there just might be), then we really don’t have to feel so alone.