Every new year we get the chance to reflect on the one just passing and to look forward to the one to come. There’s a natural pause that encourages us to, and a tradition established that compounds it. It isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. New Year’s Eve is a portal, like a doorway, that psychologically acts the same way; we pass through it and it resets our minds, clearing them of our previous preoccupations and allowing us to form new ones. Sometimes we need to leave things behind and a new year is a good opportunity to do so. But, in another sense, there’s increased pressure to make plans and set goals that you don’t necessarily ascribe to.
Sometimes, in spite of myself, I get caught up in comparing my life to these arbitrary measures of success that as a society we have determined are a reflection of our functionality as a human being. Sometimes, in spite of myself, this makes me sad. Broken down into a list of achievements or externally motivated goals, my life might not seem much. I haven’t changed the world, I haven’t established a sparkling career, I haven’t got a fancy car- hell I can’t even drive. Against a yardstick of conventional success, I would fall short time and time again. But then I try to remind myself that I didn’t set those parameters and I don’t wish them to measure my life either. That at the end of the day, and certainly at the end of the year, the questions I ask myself are not about what I achieved or acquired. I didn’t choose to focus on what I am doing; instead what I am interested in are questions about being. Was that honest? Was that fair? Was that kind? Did I act generously? Do I understand? What can I do to help? And, always always always… what can I learn?
I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I still mess up or say the wrong thing or miss an opportunity to do something that could make a difference. But I try, I’m always trying. And every day I get another chance to do things differently and to do things better.
I think that’s why, when it comes to the New Year ticking over, I like to approach it with not resolutions but with intentions; to make my plans about being, not doing. And when I come to the end of the year and reflect it isn’t about measuring my “success”, it’s about the level of fulfilment I have reached and the differences I have made in my world.
Last year was a really big year for me. In expected and unexpected ways. I got a fiance and a kidney, made new friends, a few exciting decisions, several playlists and some beautiful meals, walked my neighbourhood many times over, planted trees, picked flowers, lost my little cat and too much weight, spent a lot of time in pyjamas but tried to spend less money, watched too many home shows, watched just enough sunrises, and, somewhere amongst all that, I started imagining a life outside of hospital schedules and doctor’s appointments and figuring out what I wanted it to look like.
And what I figured out is that I really love my life. I love my home, my friends, my family. I don’t need my life to be better, what I really wanted was for me to be better. Both health wise and as a person. I want to make good decisions and good choices, to be a more present listener and a more helpful friend, to use some of my new energy to contribute to something bigger than I am, to continue to value the things smaller than I am. I don’t want more stuff; I want more sleep, more vegetables, more time with the people I love, more Te Reo. I want less passivity and complacency, less screen time, less meat and less prejudice. I want my hours to be an investment and not a waste; but to appreciate that spending hours doing nothing is sometimes the absolute best way I could spend them. They aren’t empty hours if they make me feel full.
The thing is… it’s not the life you have that makes you who you are, it’s the way you live it. You can’t control everything that happens to you. I had hopes and expectations for my transplant recovery, how it would pan out and what it would feel like, and they didn’t all come true. Many of them didn’t eventuate and the reality of recovery and “real life” often felt very far away from my desires. And my desires are often far away from the ones I feel like I should have, or am meant to have. The ones other people my age, my sex, my background might have. There’s that expectation again you see. Expectations are like fine pottery; the harder you hold them, the more likely they are to crack between your fingers. And who gets hurt then? Only you. I think that’s the main thing I want to leave at the doorway of this new year; expectations that don’t even belong to me. Having or doing more doesn’t mean I am more does it? We are after all human beings. But I do want to be better and becoming better isn’t just something that happens. It’s a choice or a series of choices we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves, to stay or to go, to listen more carefully, to notice more, to love.
I don’t believe in labouring for the sake of labouring; for the purpose of reaching a certain milestone or measure of success as defined by expectations outside of your own. I don’t believe in following convention or necessarily disregarding those who do. We all have our own journey; we all matter equally; we all deserve grace and time no matter how we are different to each other.
What I do believe in is intentions and in working hard to pursue them: working for empathy and understanding of others, working for the depth and development of self, working to make each day better, each moment better, each place and person we touch better for our presence. Choose the things that matter to you, the values you believe in, and live a life trying to ascribe to those values. And then, no matter what you achieve or don’t achieve, whether you have a house, a degree, healthy children, a great job or a good car, or whether you don’t have any of those things, you will be a success .
I believe in fresh starts and new beginnings, trying again, trying harder. Welcoming a new year with open arms, an open heart and an open mind.
I believe in happy endings too. Hello 2018, best year yet.
The title of this post comes from the Alfred Tennyson quote.