Years ago, I maintained an end-of-the-year tradition in which I would write 10 things addressed to 10 people that I either wish I’d said when I had the chance or felt I could never say to them directly. It was a revelatory exercise for me at times, particularly when it came to reflecting on and examining my interpersonal relationships—but ultimately I stopped doing it as it came to feel childishly indirect.
I didn’t want people reading my thoughts on anonymous people who were connected to me in a way that was only meaningful enough to brood about. Besides, I simply grew up and had other projects to consider. At some point, everything stopped being about me and me alone. I wanted to write in service of other people, not about them, and I wanted to enjoy my relationships rather than ruminate about them. Thank goodness.
That said, I have missed having a writing tradition for each new year, and for that reason, I’ve decided to embark on a new one. Instead of writing “10 Things to 10 People”, I am electing to share my “10 Themes for 2019″—the 10 concepts that I am carrying with myself into the new year that I hope will contribute to my growth as well the nourishment of the people I know and the spaces I occupy. With any luck, some of these will be helpful to you, too. I’ll do the first 5 today, and the final 5 on January 1st.
My First 5 Themes For The New Year
1. Keep believing in other people and nurturing their talents and their growth, while always honoring their humanity. In the new year, I renew my commitment to sharing the things I’ve learned and gained access to through my unique employment, educational and creative opportunities with other people. As I walk through the doors of knowledge and good fortune, I will leave them open behind and use my voice as a compassionate guide to those who wish to find joy, prosperity, and growth of their own.
Rather than competing with others, it will be my objective to contribute to a community-understanding that prioritizes uplifting one another, understanding—in the words of my forebears—that a rising tide lifts all ships. What I choose to do with this life is not all about me—it’s all about us. It is an honor to give, to share, to teach, and to nurture communities, to broaden literacy, to share in compassion, and to create a better world with each action I take.
2. Be open to love—not only to receiving it and understanding that it is deserved but also to giving it without fear or shame. Do you ever have difficulty accepting love and affection from friends, family or romantic interests? Is it hard to trust people? I know that I do; I know that it is for me. I am constantly seeking ways to give people an “out” of my life, and perhaps unconsciously signaling that I don’t particularly care if people are a part of my life because they don’t “owe” me love—when, in reality, I am an extremely sensitive and emotional person who cares deeply for others and wants to have rich connections to the people I welcome into my life.
Life and a few traumatic experiences that I won’t get into here miseducated me into believing that isolating myself, not communicating my feelings, and living my life without laying down any kind of roots would protect me from feeling hurt. I let myself believe that not taking ownership of my relationships and not putting a name to any of my feelings meant that, logically speaking, since I laid claim to nothing, it wouldn’t make sense for me to feel like I’d lost anything.
That thinking was wrong—and I often found myself feeling both hurt and confused because I refused to put words to my feelings, refused to acknowledge those feelings as valid, and refused to admit that my defense mechanisms sucked!
In 2019, I want to tell people how much I care about them. I want to be fully earnest about the passion and compassion I feel for others. I want to express rather than withhold. I want to invite people into my lives and, while acknowledging my deeply-held fear of their exit, accept that life, love and loss are just a part of the package. I would rather experience that rollercoaster than take the time I have to spend with people I care about on this earth for granted.
3. Remain committed to physical, social and spiritual improvement—compassionately. I love self-improvement. I take pride in eating a nutritious diet tailored to my specific needs and means, in regularly walking or jogging several miles a day, in going to the gym, in stretching, in breathing, in reading about how to manage my mental health, in developing healthy recipes and cooking for myself each day. I take pride in learning new skills, attending classes, adopting new concepts, consuming information, and becoming more competent each day. For me, these are pursuits that helps to keep me from falling into painful episodes of malaise—and make getting through each day of my abnormally busy life that much more bearable.
That said: sometimes, our pursuit of self-improvement and wellness can be unhealthy. As a doctoral candidate, I understand that graduate students are prone to serious declines in their mental health (and can personally, unashamedly attest to this). I also understand that wellness can become an exercise in obsessive self-criticism and “improvement” that ultimately serve to stress us out and do us harm, defeating the very purpose of our actions.
For that reason, as I enter 2019, working toward the completion of my PhD., working on getting physically stronger and healthier, and working to build my businesses while simultaneously serving at the amazing firm I’ve been at for a little over three years, I am committing myself to regularly checking in, to talking with friends and family about how I’m feeling, to being mindful about what’s transpiring in my mind and heart so that I can be well—or heal when I’m not doing well—rather than spinning my wheels at top speed, headed for a crash.
4. Say “yes” to opportunity, to joy, and to growth. Say “no” to fear, insecurity, to a desire to prove oneself, and to validation-seeking. Benjamin Franklin once said, reportedly, that we should “jump as eagerly to opportunities as we do to conclusions”. That phrase, along with a couple of others, has been my motto for at least six years. I am a serial “yes-er” when it comes to learning opportunities and business, always wanting to gain some new competency or to demonstrate my value to—well, er, everybody.
While I personally think Ben might have been on to something, I also recognize that sometimes—more than I’d like to admit—I say “yes” when I shouldn’t. I agree to timelines, or projects, or other factors that may not offer the return that they reasonably should, or I put myself in positions where I am putting my nose to the grindstone simply because I want people to know that I am good at what I do and an eager team player who they should think of as reliable.
It’s great to be reliable. It’s great to demonstrate your competence. It’s not great to overextend yourself if doing so isn’t measurably bringing you closer to your goals—whatever they may not be.
In 2019, it’s my intention to continue to be a reliable, competent, individual who says “YES” to joy, to opportunity and to enthusiasm—but it’s also my intention to erect and enforce smart boundaries, to say “no” when an opportunity isn’t a good fit, and to separate my sense of self-worth from the labor I do.
5. Be vivacious! Unshrink yourself! Tap into the dynamism of the self and learn to accept—or even love—that all parts of us aren’t suitable for everybody. OK, so, full disclosure: I’ve got a very big fucking personality, and it’s really all over the place. My wardrobe is more than a little bit outrageous. My manner of speaking (in-person), thanks to my mother’s very strict focus on elocution throughout my life paired with my own flair for the dramatic is a little out there. I am, on my non-professional twitter account, completely irreverent and open about basically whatever joke is floating through my mind. I love posting selfies. I am unabashed in my love of all things highbrow and lowbrow. And, well, I love champagne. A lot.
Sometimes, I feel like I am in a fight with the vastness of my own energy. I sometimes hate when people ask me about my academic or professional work because I feel like it makes people think differently about me in a bad way (once, I saw a friend retweet about how “academics were the dumbest people in America”, and while I tried not to take that personally, I have never brought up any of the issues in literacy, governance, or any of my professional life with him again). I find myself feeling self-conscious about expressing the opinions and concerns about the world that I have, or about the jokes I love to make because I fear I may be too much for other people.
Well—and I cannot emphasize this enough—fuck that. I think that life should be lived like an adventure to be experienced, not as an audition for everybody’s approval. And I am going to live my life that way from now on, because I don’t have time to fucking shrink myself and not enjoy my life because I am worried that I am too much of myself for somebody else. Girl, whatever.
To quote a line from Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, which I have loved for over a decade:
“We can’t afford to be ashamed anymore. We can’t strap down our wings or hide our strange eyes and our brilliant minds.”
These are my first five themes that I’m taking with me into the New Year. Hopefully, I stick to them—and they help me to be the best, happiest and most dynamic version of myself. I hope that these words that I write to you, my friends, can help elevate the next fifty-two weeks of your life, too.
Stay tuned for my final five themes—which will be released on January first. As a preview, they are the following…
6. Prioritize psychological wellness and remember self-care in the face of emotional peril.
7. Make money to build a life, not just to spend it.
8. Get excited about uncertainty!
9. Eat, drink, and rest like you love yourself.
10. Take time to rest and reflect on all that you learn, share and do.
I look forward to elaborating further.
In the meantime, never stop being you. I love you dearly.