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New year and a new you?

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I wonder how many of you, like me, felt for the briefest of moments once the calendars had changed over that this year would find the New You?

And then, how many of you felt that feeling fade as you thought back on the year that had just passed?

Had you really accomplished anything?

Every year it’s more of the same. We make promises and resolutions, and we’re convinced that this will be the year when we finally accomplish what has been unachievable up until this point. There’s quite a bit of pressure to constantly move forward and step up, to evolve and grow in some way or another. And that pressure is an excellent way to set yourself up for failure when you don’t tick off the checklist you made one year prior. Does the New Year bring with it a New You?

This time last year

Making one of those resolution checklists that are ever so popular this time of year, requires an evaluation of the year gone by. January is used as a sort of measuring stick that’s used to decide how successful a chunk of time in your life has been. I personally feel double the pressure because my birthday also falls in the first month of the year. Each New Year’s Day (and in the weeks that follow) and on each birthday, I think back to where I was a year ago and where I am now.
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A lot of the time I think of the literal “where”, given that I usually move every year. For example, a year ago I had just moved back to Newfoundland from South Korea. It was a very exciting month for me. I had the entire year mapped out in my head. I was going to travel around the parts of the province I hadn’t seen since childhood (or at all). I was going to get a fantastically fulfilling job that was challenging and rewarding. I was going to spend countless hours with my family that would surely be filled only with laughter and stories. If I had a few spare moments, I would also properly learn a language top to bottom, rather than just knowing a collection of phrases to get by. And maybe I’d take up a new hobby. I was absolutely convinced that 2012 was going to be my best year yet and that the New Me was within reach.

Reality check

Okay, big shocker here – those things didn’t happen. Well, it’s not that they didn’t happen in any capacity, it’s just that they did not happen in the way I had visualized. It was a far more complicated affair than I had surmised. First of all, I did get to go visit a few places along the coast, I just didn’t get to see as much as I thought I would. I suppose I conveniently hadn’t thought to factor in time, cost, weather, and other engagements into these desired weekend excursions. I found one journal entry from last year in particular that had lists of arrangements for a trip to L’Anse aux Meadows. That trip has not yet actualized.
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The perfect job I had envisioned for 2012 also did not appear out of thin air. One day during a particularly typical St. John’s spring day, complete with horizontal rain, I was walking to work with my belongings strapped to my back and I had a flashback to a very similar trek I used to take while working in suburban Madrid. At the time I blamed living in a foreign country for not having an easier time climbing up the career ladder. Any job I had that I didn’t like was easy to accept as temporary or flawed because of outlying circumstances. But this time around there was no foreign country (and its work-visa red tape) to blame, and oddly I felt rejected. I find it strange that I didn’t feel disappointed or even angry, which would have made more sense given the situation. It is not uncommon to have a pervading sense of surrealism while working in a foreign country. In the back of your mind you think, “I’ll never settle here. I don’t belong here.” It’s very easy to feel like everything is not really real and nothing is permanent, so there’s no need to be concerned. Trying to carve out a career where you don’t have those excuses to fall back on changes that lack of concern. I would hazard a guess that that was the root of my feeling rejected. Here I was, back in the warm embrace of the Motherland, ready to share my figurative spices and silks, but no one seemed interested – and it was real this time, not just another passport stamp. Every action and each decision suddenly felt very permanent and slightly terrifying.

…if I know this, and if I can see that New Year’s resolutions are irrational at best, then why do I still feel like a failure? Why do I still fall for that this-year-will-be-different voice in the back of my head every January?

As for the rest of the list – the perfect family moments and the hobbies I’d promised myself I would conquer – they did not live up to my expectations either. There was no way they could have, given the towering list of accomplishments I wanted to rattle off by the end of the year. And if I know this, and if I can see that New Year’s resolutions are irrational at best, then why do I still feel like a failure? Why do I still fall for that this-year-will-be-different voice in the back of my head every January? And why am I still convinced that progress has not occurred when I think back on the year that was?

In the end

The obvious cure for bitter disappointment with each New Year is to not make resolutions in the first place. I don’t find that approach particularly satisfying. Rather, I think personal challenges are useful so long as they’re not glaringly impossible from the start. Perhaps in this case, the trick is to not gauge growth and progress on a yearly basis but to let stages of life build up. Each year does not need to be another step up my imaginary ladder of personal success. That’s it! That’s my resolution for 2013. The New Me is going to see success as a puzzle that I can add to or take away from, depending on how well the pieces fit together. This time next year, I can assure you the puzzle will still be incomplete – but it’ll be that much closer to forming a recognizable picture of something lovely.

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