I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I’m fundamentally against participating in something that is ultimately designed to fail and make me feel like shit. And I say this from experience–not just my own, but from watching others set unrealistic resolutions in a bout of excessive optimism only to come crashing down from that high within a month or so. It’s never pretty or helpful.
So this year instead of completely disdaining the idea of creating resolutions like I did last year, I decided what would be much more meaningful is to create New Year’s Reflections, a look back on what I learned during the last year and how these lessons can promote further growth this year.
Without further ado, and in no particular order, my 2014 in review:
1. Eating an exclusively vegan diet. This was an experiment I conducted last January. I’ve been an on-again-off-again vegetarian since age 16, and I always said I could never be vegan because of my love of cheese (ironic since I’m lactose-intolerant). I decided it was high time, however, that I gave it a try. I absolutely hate being told I can’t do something–it just makes me want to do it even more. So why in the hell was I doing that to myself? I should be the last person to tell me that I can’t do something. So I told myself to fuck off, and spent the entire month eating completely vegan. And it wasn’t bad at all! There were some palate adjustments to be made–coffee creamer being one. But all in all, it was really rewarding. I felt more creative and adventurous with the foods I chose to eat. I felt like I was doing good for my body and the environment. But most of all, it felt amazing to prove one of my doubts wrong. I did it. I could be a vegan if I wanted. It was quite doable. That was enough for me. Ultimately I chose to go back to my previous dietary choices, and I’m ok with that. I did what I set out to do, and made a conscious decision to move forward in the way I wanted. It was nothing short of empowering.
2. The Conscientious Omnivore. Sometime in the late winter/early spring, Lily decided to eat a school-issued hamburger at lunchtime. Big mistake. Horrible way to indoctrinate herself into eating meat. And very upsetting to me.
Josh texted me at work one afternoon and explained what happened. I am so thankful he gave me that heads-up. Had he not given me that chance to really think before I immediately reacted, I think the situation would have turned out very ugly. Instead, I had some moments to myself to think about what I wanted to say to her, the questions I wanted to ask, and how I would respond when she inevitably told me she no longer wanted to be a vegetarian.
Because I know myself pretty damn well at this point, I know that my slapstick reaction would have been to show immediate disappointment and probably anger. After having had about two hours to stew and think and really evaluate the situation, what I did instead was get home and wrap her in the biggest hug possible. I knew what she really needed was my love and support. I knew she would be feeling guilty, and I wanted to make sure she knew that I loved her more than anything no matter what in the world she did. And truthfully, I needed to tell myself that as much as parents can and should guide their children through life and attempt to instill in them every possible value, ultimately, our children are their own people. They will have their own beliefs and priorities. And if we do it right, we will teach them that growing is a process, full of mistakes, successes, joys, and learning points. And the fact that Lily made an autonomous decision about what to do for herself is a sign that we have raised children that feel comfortable enough with themselves and their needs and desires to follow that urge to be true to themselves. And I grew a little as a parent by not demanding, condemning, or belittling my child in any way. And as an admitted control freak, that’s a big deal.
The subsequent meat-eating experiment, in which Lily asked me to eat all the new meats she wanted to try (after a very mature discussion on animal rights, factory farming, and conscientious omnivorous eating), I think further solidified our bond. Even though it was not something I wanted to do, I knew she needed my support. And I needed her to know I would always be there to support her no matter what. Her needs will always be more important than mine. She’s my baby.
3. Namaste. I have had body issues for practically my whole life. I’ve always felt I was too round, too curvy. My thighs touched, my butt poked out, my breasts fought my shirts. It has always been that way, even as a teenager. And I’ve harbored negative feelings about it all since puberty. I still do, despite plenty of reassurance from the hubs that he’d gladly have sex with me all day every day if I let him.
So this past winter and spring, I went to yoga at least once a week without fail (minus very few weeks). At first it was incredibly difficult. My muscles weren’t used to that kind of work. And if I’m honest with myself, I’ve never worked toward repairing the changes made to my body after childbirth. My core was shot, which in turn affected everything else. But I was determined. I never went into this endeavor thinking it was going to thin me right out and make me into the tall, lean beauties I always envied. I was just hoping it would be a time for me to focus on me and help me to look inward.
And little by little, it did change me–body and mind. My arms and legs leaned and tightened. I finally felt in control of my body instead of the other way around. I was still chubby. I always will be. That’s ok. But now instead of being chubby, dejected, and jealous of thin women, I’m strong, self-assured, and embracing my jiggly goods. I am this close to doing a headstand. I can contort my body in ways most people wouldn’t even try. I’m strong. I’m fierce. I’m amazing.
4. Saying No. I have a horrible habit of thinking I can do it all, all the time, all by myself. I have a fierce independence streak. Sometimes to a fault, I’m afraid. So this sometimes leads me to taking on too much and spreading myself too thinly. I worry endlessly about not being able to control everything and not being able to live up to these expectations I’ve created in my own mind. Needless to say, it hasn’t always had positive results for me. This past year especially I’ve felt plagued by anxiety, stress, and feelings of inadequacy. I need to be the best mother, best teacher, best wife, but never the best me. Yes, yes, yes, I will do yet another thing for you–you, not me. And don’t get me wrong, I really love helping others and giving of myself to others. But I have a difficult time drawing a line and adhering to it. I give too much.
Not anymore. I’m putting an end to my endless agreement. I’m finally saying no. And, I tell you, it’s addictive! Once you get past that first no, the rest come so easily. No, I will not spend my summer vacation by coming into work. No, I will not spend every night after work at a different extracurricular activity for my daughter. No, I will not come to every damn school event. No, I will not stay past my contractual work time. Not anymore.
Yes, I will take care of my needs now. Yes, I will spend more quality time with my family. Yes, I will not take work stress home like I used to. Yes, I will not let myself be taken advantage of anymore–either intentionally or not. Yes, I’m done with all that.
5. Time’s a ticking. I am the master of lists. I love them. They help me to visualize what needs to get done, to organize all of the thoughts simultaneously bumping into each other in my brain; and, to honest, give me a sense of control over my hectic life. They help me to be the best me I can be by giving me a sense of direction because when I feel out of control, I’m a fucking monster.
The problem is that those lists will rarely be completed. There will always be something else that needs to be added, something that needs to be pushed to the wayside. Unless someone invents something that will allow me to operate without any sleep at all, I will have a perpetual list of things that need to be done.
What I have been trying to do, both at home, and at work, is focusing on what is truly most important. What will make my life easiest. Which of the list items will lead to the greatest happiness. If I don’t grade this stack of papers like I said I would today, will the world explode? Will my students lose an educational opportunity? No? Well, then this shit can wait. If I don’t fold all four baskets of laundry tonight, will my family be torn apart? Will my kids be miserable? No? Well, then I should probably just go to bed because if I lose sleep another night, my kids will be miserable with me tomorrow.
There’s a fine line between being realistic and being lazy. I know this. But I also know too well that there’s a fine line between doing enough and doing way too much. I think I’ll take my chances with laziness every now and then in lieu of insanity.
6. Don’t be a doormat. The nature of the human is that most will take advantage of whomever they can as much as they are let. Sad but true. And they will not stop until someone else finally says enough is enough. And even then they might need multiple reminders. Thankfully I have not been made to feel subordinate many times in my life. However, the last few years of my professional life have been eye-opening to the managerial techniques of leaders who are not only unqualified to do their jobs, but also whom have no business telling others what is right or wrong.
Without going into too much detail, I had an experience early this past year that forever changed my attitude and approach to any complaint my bosses might have with me. I was singled out and forced into a special meeting for my lack of professionalism for two reasons: not returning an email after having gone home sick, and for having been in a meeting with fellow teachers who were upset for having something unexpectedly forced upon them. In short, I made it very clear that I will not apologize for something as absurd as checking my work email while sick at home with a fever, particularly to a person who only responds to everyone else’s emails if he feels like it. I also made it very clear that I will not be a scapegoat for something I didn’t do, and that I will never let someone treat me differently and poorly because I’m a woman. I will never allow someone to demean me. I will never let someone dismiss my feelings and concerns. And if they don’t like it, too bad.
This was not an easy meeting. It was not comfortable to do. It was scary because I knew I could be fired on the spot. But ultimately I didn’t, and still don’t, care. It has made all the difference for me in terms of the stress I allow myself to feel as a result of someone I now know to really just be a fucking bully. He, and no one else for that matter, will ever drag me down and stomp upon me.
7. Enough is enough, damnit! There’s some serious guilt in deciding to quit something. As if giving something up or deciding not to continue on with something, you’ve suddenly become a failure at life. I don’t know if this is an American problem, a woman problem, or a problem for people who are perfectionists (er..ahem..me), but it’s definitely a pervasive problem in society. I know it affects me a lot. I have lots of peculiarities, and one of them is concocting all sorts of fanciful ideas. Granted, those ideas are usually fucking awesome, but unrealistic nonetheless. Thus I find myself at least a few times a year quitting some project, idea, or endeavor. And I immediately have thoughts like, “See, this is why you’ll never x, y, or z…” What the fuck, right? Since when does one failed venture equal complete inadequacy? Since when is failure automatically a bad thing? Failure to follow through on something that would have ultimately been useless, harmful, or detrimental in some way is a great fucking success if you ask me.
So I planned on getting up ass early every morning before work to go walking/running. Had I actually done that, I would have been excessively tired and stressed from rushing through my normal morning routine. I would have likely passed on that stress to my kids who are usually awake while I get ready in hopes of seeing me at least for a few precious moments. Success in my failure!
It’s just a matter of changing perspective or mindset. Which is definitely not easy. But no one wants to feel like a failure. That can easily be avoided by finding the positive in all situations, most importantly in those difficult ones.
8. A big, rich life full of little. In America we’re taught that the American dream is to grow up, get a high-paying job, buy a house, buy a car, have babies, be happy. What that has created for so many people is huge amounts of debt and equally huge amounts of stress. We have become addicted to getting, acquiring more, more, more. More what? More stuff? Or more memories, love, beauty, joy? More stuff is the answer. And for what? What does that stuff do exactly? Not. a.fucking. thing.
Now, I love having a monetarily comfortable existence as much as the next person. I’ve been on the other side of this, and it’s definitely scarier than having a house full of shit I don’t need. But what I’m moving toward understanding is that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. I can still be financially stable and minimize the amount of money I spend, the amount of stuff I acquire, the amount I work, the amount I stress. It requires a complete shift in what I previously believed success to be. It requires me to think small, to focus solely on my family and what our needs are versus what we want. It forces us to really evaluate the things that bring us continuous happiness. It forces us to make hard decisions on what we can cut from our lives. It forces me to give up a dream I thought I had held for practically my whole life.
I thought I wanted to own a house. I thought I was ok with working a job I hated in order to make the mortgage payment. I thought I wanted to give my kids everything and anything their little hearts could fathom. I thought I wanted my kids to participate in every sport or hobby possible. I thought I wanted to go on vacation after vacation. I thought I wanted to never think about my bank account when out shopping.
I was wrong. And that’s a hard thing to swallow. The pride I thought being a homeowner would bring. The fear that saying no to my kids would cause painful memories for them. The sadness in realizing life wouldn’t be as I planned.
But the more I think about it and live with it, the more grateful I am that things didn’t work out as planned. The more I see a mortgage as a prison. The more freedom I see in not having to be forever forced into doing something that makes me deeply miserable. It was seriously a fucking blessing.
9. My crazy beautiful family. I think if you’re paying attention closely, you will start seeing a theme in my reflections. At the root of all my stress and frustrations is my overwhelming desire to control. It’s definitely not one of my best qualities. But those who know me well and love me anyway know that this is not something that will ever really change. And so I think because my kids and husband are so familiar with my ways and my intentions, they don’t get too upset when I try to control them–how they dress, what they eat, what they watch on tv or read, what they want to do in their free time. But that doesn’t make it ok. I know this. And saying I can’t help it is weak. Of course I can help it. I can pause my initial impulses to control and then reflect and choose to react differently. I can be mindful. I just more often than not am not. The fact that I recognize this, though, and have been more mindful of my words and actions lately has led me to make some changes in my interactions with my loves.
Lily is anxious. She just is. No amount of cajoling her to lighten up will do anyone any good. So instead of getting annoyed at what I might think are irrational fears, I try to indulge her to a certain point. I allow her to get some of the anxieties out of her system all awhile reminding her she’s safe. But I do not allow her to fall too far into her fears. That, I feel, is irresponsible. What anyone with anxiety needs is understanding, support, reassurance, and realism. They need their anxieties kept in check because they are not always capable of doing so themselves. This is where my control is ok. I can let Lily freak out a bit and ask too many questions about her braces, but when it’s time to get down to business, I need to be the force that grounds her.
Ollie is a force of wonder. He is a study of contradictions. He is at once fiercely stubborn–more so than anyone else I’ve ever met. But then he is intensely loving and sweet, telling me he loves me upwards of twenty times a day. He’s a ball of cuddles and kisses one minute and a whirling storm of rambunctiousness the next. He’s a risk-taker and a dare-devil. He’s thoughtful and shy. He’s so many things all at once. But it’s in understanding these varying parts of him that’s important. It would be so easy to try to bully him into doing what I want. He just wants everyone to be happy. And so there are many times when I know I should tell him to stop climbing on the couch or running around the house, but I don’t. Times when I wish he’d just go play, but let him wrap around me and not let go instead. Because he is so honest about who he is and what he needs. And I want him to be him as long as it doesn’t hurt him.
Joshie is and always has been incredibly complicated. I think I know him better than anyone else, but even I don’t think I really know what’s always going on in that pensive mind of his. I want him to be healthy and live forever so that I can die first and avoid the soul-crushing weight of losing my lifelong love. But I don’t want to harass him about his diet. I want him to make art because he’s so beautifully talented, but I don’t want to push. I understand the feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty in being creative. I want him to read more instead of vegging out to bad reality tv, but I know that sometimes the mind needs a rest. I try not to nag. I’m not always successful in this, but I am trying to stop being so pushy and just be there for him when he needs me.
10. Follow those dreams no matter where they lead. Easier said than done, right? True. But like a quote I love says, regret is worse. As children we’re all told to grow up and do what we love. But then we get older and we’re told to get a good education so we can get a good job so we can live a comfortable life. Rarely are we told to pursue our dreams no matter what. So maybe you’ll be practically broke. Go for it! So maybe you’ll find rejection after rejection. Keep going! Maybe people will think you’re fucking crazy and will try to convince you otherwise. Don’t stop! Chase those motherfucking dreams, girl! Don’t let them out of your sight! You’ll never feel quite whole if you do.
That’s the truth. You will always feel compelled to do what your deepest, most secret wishes demand. You’ll recognize why doing so is impractical. You’ll recognize why others may not agree. You’ll not give a shit anyway. Push it away as long as you can, but your dreams will always find you.
And this is why 2015 will be the year I really pursue writing. Why it will be the last year I put anymore of myself into a former, dying dream. And not to be too selfish, but I don’t care who doesn’t agree. Because I will always long to spend endless hours with my mind and words. I will never really be completely happy or whole if I continue in the farce I’m currently employed. I will always wish for the pain and freedom of the writer. And I’m through wishing, hoping, planning. I’m moving on to doing.
11. Life doesn’t last forever. Duh. But the biggest problem with this is that you never know when that end comes. We all spend so much time and heart in planning for another day. But what if that other day doesn’t come? Then what? Why’d you wait so long? What didn’t you do? What got left behind?
I finally got this through my thick skull. What the fuck am I waiting for? What am I saving all this money and time for? This thinking got to me. And in May I decided I was finally going to get this massive tattoo I’d wanted for so many years. I kept putting it off because I knew it’d be so much money. And it was. In total, I spent somewhere around $1000 on tattoos this year. But you know what, I fucking love them! Every time I look at them I feel happy. I can guarantee you that seeing that $1000 in my bank account would not elicit the same feelings.
12. Be a motherfucking badass, the leading lady of your life. I was sick of coming up with excuses. Excuses come so damn easily. Really truly living is not so easy. Admitting that what you want is worth it takes courage. It’s always easier to dismiss life-changing thoughts. That way you don’t have to deal with the terrifying reality of facing what is unknown. Questioning yourself comes so much easier than inherent belief in yourself. But at what personal cost?
Our doubts kill us quicker than anything. So I’m working on pushing those doubts back into the recesses of my consciousness where I can barely notice them. They taunt me from time to time. They never let me forget they’re still there on the fringes of my mind. But I’m working on telling them to shut the fuck up and leave me alone.
And if I forget, I can look at my $200 investment on my forearm that reminds me that our doubts are traitors. But only if we let them.
13. A little bonus insight: Age is only a number you sometimes forget. I had a startling awakening when I remembered that I am in fact not 31, but 32 years old. Ha! How does one forget how old they are? I guess when age no longer dictates your life. My twenties were full of self-doubt and attempts at convincing myself and others that I was a responsible adult. My thirties have been so full of self-discovery and acceptance that I no longer feel the need to use my age in determining who I am. I’m not afraid of aging. I’m fucking loving being in my 30s. If the first two years of this decade are any indication for the rest of it, I’m in for a great fucking time. Bring on 2015!