Thoughts for a New Year

2013
Happy New Year!

I wrote this piece for New Year’s Eve 2011, and I feel it remains just as true two years later. Enjoy!

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New Year’s Eve. The wrapping paper’s in the trash, the leftovers are somewhere in a sewer, and the gifts we didn’t like are stuffed in the back of the closet. Ads for diet pills and gyms flood our screens. This is the year we’re finally going to stop thinking Ronald McDonald is a personal chef and lose weight. We’re going to save money and remember every birthday. We’re finally going to reconnect with family, save money, or cut a persistent ex off for good.

Our Facebook and Twitter feeds brim with hopes for successful, inspired, drama-free new years. Some iron button-downs or shimmy into dresses to go to New Year’s service at church or the club. As the seconds dwindle, bad memories and habits shift into extinction. The first second of January 1, we’re brand-new.

Then comes the slump. Everything seemed to be going well, but we shirk even the most genuine plans for old routines. Tummies still lap over belt buckles and budgets implode. Peaches or Dayquan is still blowing up the phone at 3 a.m. The promise of a peaceful year evaporates as we fight with family, significant others, co-workers and ourselves. Nothing new happens in a year we were so sure was ours.

What happened?

We all do it: New signifiers in time — January 1, Monday, tomorrow — are the days we vow to do things differently. Many even think these new days drive the renewal we want in our lives, as if there’s some force in a specific day that isn’t in others. I’ve put off many tasks for the beginning of the week, month, or year, only to save them for another day that often never comes.

But in the late summer of 2010, I got fed up with fast food and sizing myself out of my favorite clothes. I decided I was going to eat smart and exercise and wasn’t going to wait another nanosecond. Not Monday, not the first of the next month, not next year. I hit the gym as soon as the urge struck — Thursday, August 19. My progress seemed dreadfully slow, but I kept working. After two months, I finally saw what I’d accomplished one day and was delighted.

That’s how change works — it’s not as simple as putting on fresh drawers. Growth and change are ongoing, fluid and imperceptible, like the minutes that fly or our lungs’ conversion of oxygen to carbon dioxide. Some events like getting saved or married may seem like instant transformations, but there’s still a long, often harrowing growth period to adjust to those new statuses.

You might immediately notice that things have changed one day, but only after everything required to produce that change happens. Whether you’re trying to get in shape, have better relationships, or clear out the drama in your life, just trust yourself with your plans, start them as soon as you’re ready, and prepare for a potentially tedious process. One day you’ll look at your life and see that a new day has, in fact, arrived.

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The Birth of You

The birth of a star: worth every turbulent moment.

Do you feel that?

Something’s kicking inside you. It’s been growing for a long time now, and as much as you want to embrace it, you’ve been afraid. You’ve been hoping it will go away on its own, but it hasn’t. It kicks you in your sleep, when you’re on your way to work, when you’re spending time with your friends. It won’t stop.

Some may have told you it’s not worth investigating. Too risky, they insist. Unrealistic. A waste of time. Still, the kicking continues. Growing more intense each day, the kicking rings in your ears until you can no longer muffle it. You have to answer.

As you dig deeper, you realize the kicks are your subconscious mind crying out for fulfillment, for an escape from the trap your family, society, and even you have set for you. Everything you’ve ever wanted, ever hoped for, ever admired, ever daydreamed about has been pounding on your heart, and you realize that the only way you’ll be satisfied is to heed that call. And it’s more than a fleeting desire–it’s the truth of who you are. It’s the core of your existence. All along, it’s been you. It’s you begging you to

  • Stop procrastinating and start making plans to achieve your goals
  • Stop trying to impress others and start living your truth
  • Let go of empty friendships and cultivate ones with people who care
  • Stop thinking you can’t do it and start believing you can
  • Become an agent in your life, not an observer
  • Do what you know is right regardless of what others think
  • Take care of yourself

As another year approaches, the call of your inner being grows louder. How will you answer it? How will you embrace the truth of you, of all that you are and all that you aim to be, in the new year? Know that it will be difficult. Know that every labor pain is necessary for your growth as a unique human being. They may hurt and last longer than you’d like, but you grow stronger with each one you endure.

The next time you feel that kick, don’t ignore it. Welcome it. Embrace it, and brace yourself: You’re getting ready to give birth to a new you.

Why I’m Happy

The great thing about happiness is that it can be experienced even when things aren’t going exactly how you want them to. Even when you know you have more to accomplish, more to achieve, and more to overcome, you can feel good about who you are and where you are in life–and it doesn’t take anything extravagant to do so.

Why am I happy? I’ll give you six reasons.

1. My basic needs are met. I rose from a bed in a temperature-controlled room this morning. I had hot water for a shower, clean clothes and a warm coat, and money to buy a breakfast sandwich. Those things that seem so simple, so commonplace are worth much more than they can seem.

2. I’ve got a few of my wants, too. I don’t have a car, but I do have a handy iPhone with which to check a real-time bus schedule. I wore my favorite eyeshadow today. In addition to the basics, I have many luxuries. I’m grateful for them.

3. I have a job. I woke up to a lovely direct deposit this morning. While everything about my job certainly isn’t perfect, I’m able to take care of both my needs and wants. In this economy, that’s enough to make anyone happy.

4. Not only do I have a job, but I have a job in my field. I’ve been obsessed with magazines ever since I picked up Reader’s Digest at age 6, and today, twenty years later, I’m working at a magazine publishing company. After working numerous temp jobs and fretting about my career path, I can only be happy about how far I’ve come.

5. I’m graduating in May. My education has been a particularly daunting part of my young adult life. I was a journalism major when I started college, but I hated it, so much so that I dropped out of school (that’s where all the temp jobs came in). I endured a loooong serious of fits and starts before changing my major to English and getting the money to finance it all. Eight years after I enrolled at my D.C. university, I am finally set to graduate on May 11, 2013. Nothing will stop me from getting there!

6. I have loving family and friends. While I had to end relationships with people who weren’t true friends, I did gain new friends who are caring, supportive, and honest. My family is open and affectionate, and I know I am loved and able to return their love. For that, I am most certainly happy.

I could go on and on about why I’m jumping for joy today (and I probably will in another post), but instead I’ll reiterate the point that happiness doesn’t require anything extraordinary. You don’t have to be wealthy. You don’t have to lose five pounds or grace magazine covers to achieve it. All you need to do is take stock of what you have–and if you’re reading this post, you have a lot more than a large percentage of people on Earth–and decide that for right now, in this exact moment, it’s enough for you. If you can do that, you can be happy every day.

To Be Cleansed from Complaints

I’ve got a little problem: I’ve been complaining. A lot.

It’s so easy to do. As soon as I get in the car and I’m ready to roll, I’m irritated because someone is driving super slowly. Then someone going straight blocks the right lane so I can’t turn. When I finally get to the convenience store to buy a magazine and orange juice, someone’s buying lottery tickets. Ugh. As if he’s going to win, anyway! And don’t even get me started on the holiday shoppers. ‘Tis the season to curse folks out.

As someone who believes in the power of positive thinking, I am uncomfortable with my behavior. Yes, we all have moments when we’re impatient, annoyed, or frustrated, but dwelling on everything we think is wrong with our lives is an invitation to unhappiness. You have more power to change your mood than you give yourself credit for, and at some point you have to step back and realize that some people have it much, much worse. Some people aren’t so privileged that they can gripe about their Wifi conking out.

So, to counteract the wave of negativity that has seeped into my life, I’d like to start a complaint cleanse. No eye-rolling. No huffing and puffing. Yes, it’s difficult to find a parking spot at the crowded mall, but I get to celebrate the holidays with my friends and family. I have gained a little weight, but I can walk, run, jump, kick, and squat, and I’m generally healthy. My thighs are worth a personal Armageddon.

When I feel I’m about to strangle someone, I will breathe deeply, count to ten, and smile, even for a moment. I will be grateful. I will not let silly little annoyances like kids running around a store make me bitter, even if it would behoove their parents to chastise them.

And if I must kick myself (gently, with purpose and love) from time to time for a rogue squawk, I will be a much more joyful person. My happiness, after all, is worth it in the end.