Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Trouble with New Year, New Me

It’s that time of year when Oscar acceptance speech-style statuses start cropping up on Facebook. People write of the ups and downs they’ve experienced throughout the year, of their accomplishments, and sometimes (rarely) of their failures. They thank their friends, family and supporters and, in the very worst ones, they tell us how they didn’t let the ‘haters’ bring them down. I try not to subscribe to the concept of closing the book on a year in order to start the new one afresh. I think it brings unrealistic expectations and the weight of an arbitrary 12 month deadline to turn things around. But it’s a difficult concept to escape. 

The lull between Christmas and New Year instills that end of term feeling. Just as the teachers knew there was no point teaching a lesson when we were all expecting a video anyway, the notion pervades that there’s no point starting anything now because everyone else is off anyway, so why not just stagnate under a crumb-covered blanket for a few more days? We can start in January when everyone else does and we know what day of the week it is again... And as easily as that, we can fall into the trap of the New Year, New Start, New Me.

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Make no mistake; I love the wind down period at the end of each year. I munch my way through endless amounts of Pringles, cheese and leftovers without so much of a hint of guilt. I move only enough to stave off complete and irreversible muscle atrophy. I window shop online until my eyes hurt and I push all adult responsibilities to the outermost reaches of my brain. But then in creep those Facebook statuses, the articles listing the biggest achievements of the year, and the motivational Instagram posts, rousing me from my comfy, comatose state with a jolt of reality and self doubt.

My birthday is mid-way through December, so this adds an extra layer of existential pondering. I’ve just turned 26. ‘What had other people achieved by 26?’ I ask myself. I’m currently reading Amy Poehler’s wonderful, witty and honest Yes Please. At 26 she was a mere five years away from joining the team at SNL. Am I five years away from a huge professional milestone? What can I do in five years? Will I be an SNL writer? (No, obviously.) Nestled next to my incessant self-questioning is my bizarre reasoning. Taylor Swift’s birthday comes a few days before mine and, oddly, every year (or for the past two or three years she’s been in my consciousness) I’m relieved to be reminded that she’s four whole days older than me. ‘Oh, it’s ok that she’s a multi-millionaire, she’s got almost an extra week on me. I’ll catch up’. Once again, this year I failed to achieve international fame and fortune in the days between our respective birthdays but I find inexplicable comfort in that four day buffer. 

Thankfully, I’m not alone in my quest to satisfy my neuroticism by looking at the ‘Born’ section on celebrity’s Wikipedia pages. There are countless articles dedicated to people who made it later in life. A quick google search throws up ‘Success after 30: 11 Famous People Who Made It Later’, ‘ 20 People Who Became Highly Successful After Age 40’, ‘Dreams Have No Age Limit: Famous People Who Started Late’ and many, many more; all of which are written from an ‘it’s never too late’ perspective, providing endless comfort to me and other anxious souls.

So you’d think with all this age-related absurdity, I’d be the type to fixate on all the promise and opportunity we’re told a brand new year holds. But I’m unwaveringly not. I’ve never made a new year’s resolution and the aforementioned statues, listicles, et al, whilst at first an unwelcome invitation to question my success and tally my accomplishments, are quickly brushed off as I stride into January 1st as I would any other day.

Why, then, do I not subscribe to the notion of New Year, New Me? It’s certainly not because I’m wise and well-adjusted as is evident from the Taylor Swift story. Perhaps it’s because I’ve had difficult periods which have spanned two consecutive years with the new one offering no respite, nor a shiny new leaf to turn. Perhaps it’s because I’m self employed and acutely aware of every peak and trough that comes with the territory – fortunes can change from week to week, never mind year to year. Whatever the reason, I don’t believe that turning over the first page on a new calendar is the key to a happier, healthier, more fulfilled, more successful (delete as appropriate) life. We can make change any time - our success isn’t chained to a date in a diary.

A year is a long time. This year, my career took a significant change in direction which I’m very happy about, I got PBs at the gym, I made friends with a cool dog who lives downstairs and I ate more kale and quinoa. I also spent approximately 50 hours of my young life that I’ll never get back watching every single episode of Game of Thrones (this could count as a win depending on how you look at it), ate my bodyweight in Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Sutra, got chucked out of that thing, and left questionably long breaks between shaving my legs. No year is ever an out and out victory, just as no year is ever truly a failure.

January 1st might well be your defining moment, the catalyst you need to push you towards greatness. But it’s more likely to be just another day. Let’s not tie ourselves to one start date to make everything better and then berate ourselves when life doesn’t fit within such a strict timetable. Because then what? We wait until the next January 1st rolls around? No chance. So perhaps we should disconnect New Year and resolutions. Make the two mutually exclusive. We can still make resolutions, just without the weight of a new year behind them. And we can still welcome the New Year, just without the pressure of a personal overhaul. This way, we can choose our moment rather than having it thrust upon us as we emerge, blinking and stretching, from the warm embrace of Christmas food and TV marathons. That sounds like a far better arrangement to me.