I find myself in the camp of people who find the ‘new year new me’ rhetoric somewhat futile; mildly irritating yet still somehow drawn to it. Perhaps this stems from a place of cynicism, but the way I see it, you don’t need the start of a brand-new year in order to ‘reinvent yourself’. If anything, placing your ‘self-improvement’ within this monumental statement of ‘new year, new me’ simply adds pressure, and consequently a greater feeling of failure if you slip up. Secondly, thinking you can automatically undertake swathes of resolutions on January 1st is, for the vast majority of people, dangerously unrealistic. Small and gradual introductions of new habits, staged throughout the year, would be much more manageable and much less daunting. Nevertheless, most people (myself included) will be tempted to imagine themselves as a transformed person by the end of the next year, and, as such, will embark on this great adventure of self-improvement, probably to little avail.
This is particularly so in the year that was 2020. Wanted to get a new personal best in the gym? Covid had other plans. Wanted to be more outgoing and social? Covid cancelled most of our social lives. Wanted to travel the world? Well, you get the point.
With this in mind, I think we have all been forced to learn a hard lesson this year. We are not as in control as we like to think we are, and that can be difficult to process. Our modern lives have led us to believe that we are (largely) unstoppable, that our potential for productivity and achievement is endless, and that everything we want is at our fingertips. Alas, all of that proved to be untrue. Instead, I found myself clinging on to any semblance of normality or hint of life being back in my control, rather than in the grasps of the pandemic and our ever-changing government response. My attempts were futile and my happiness greatly suffered. Now, I am not suggesting that it should have been everyone’s goal to be “happy” in the midst of (either) lockdown, but I know that if I had recognised this control-searching mindset at the time, and let go of my expectations, I certainly would have been a couple of steps closer to happiness. We are now around 9 months from the start of Lockdown 1, with a new ‘mutant strain’ circulating, and many things back up in the air.
I have finally managed to accept that these things are beyond my control, and as such my suffering has lessened. Yet that is not to say that I look back at Lockdown 1 and wish that my shift in mindset had come along then. If I hadn’t lived through that experience the way I did, I would not be the same person I am now, and I would not value the change in attitude as much as I do. Indeed, it is this acceptance of the past, present and future – so much out of our control – which I have discovered to be valuable.
The phrase “have strength and endure” could not be more apt than it has been for 2020, and if anyone out there has managed to do more than simply “endure” this terrible year, I am thoroughly impressed. Better yet, if you have achieved your initial goal of “new year, new me”, then you amaze me. But, if ‘all’ you have learnt this year is how to cope with relinquishing control of your life, and how to “have strength and endure”, then you are not alone, and that is enough.
Moving into 2021, I hope the number of “new year, new me” resolutions are fewer. I hope that as a society we are happy with non-material or only small improvements in our lives. Better yet, I hope we are kinder to ourselves and leave our obsession with constant self-improvement, and the idea that it is ours if we ‘want it enough’, firmly in 2020. Sometimes it is enough to simply exist.
Cover illustration by Daria Maria Koukoleva.