I have never made New Year's resolutions. For as long as I can remember, I have refused to believe anyone has more time to clean up or work out, just because it's January. And I've been resolute in this not resolving — because, really, what's the point?
I used to think this aversion was for the sake of being contrarian (like refusing to learn the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek, even when one of those has a new movie out and it’s really important). But if I’m real with myself, I can see my “Things I Won’t Do” label has nothing to do with hating on the joiners. It actually ends with “...Because I Don’t Believe In Myself Enough,” and I affix it to anything I might not be amazing at immediately, or that other people may witness me attempt and fail. Finding an indoor pool where I could swim laps as a flapping, splashing beginner, for example. (What if I veer out of my lane? And also...the suits.) Or, meal-planning and eating healthier (When other people my age are instagramming home-made babka, attempting entry-level weeknight dinner just feels silly.) And packing lunches. Because when I give in, my coworkers will see it: my Chipotle bag that is not an artfully layered Weck jar. I thought of resolutions as a showy commitment to becoming better; simultaneously boastful and hollow.
But what I’ve learned is resolutions aren’t meant to be outward at all. They are promises to ourselves, underlined by the faith that we can do those things, and we are the type of people who will. So, sitting out the whole conversation is akin to saying it’s silly to believe in my own power to change, rather than admitting there’s any single thing I might like to. Change is hard, especially when just maintaining life as usual is busy enough: I’m chronically late and knocking half of today’s to-do list to tomorrow. I have been going about life assuming everyone is this way. That this is what it means to be an adult: getting overwhelmed at the prospect of submitting an insurance claim, and not wearing shirts you like because you can’t seem to find time to iron. You call your relatives, prepare a poke bowl for lunch, and make plans to go out with your partner only after you iron a shirt. So those things mostly don’t happen.
I’ve probably come to think this way because I’m of the Trophies-For-Everyone generation. Maybe I had believed everything would just work out swell for so long, I forgot to ever pay attention to the part where you’re supposed to make it work. After a while I started to believe, instead, that nothing ends up exactly right. And anyone with an immaculate-looking home and smart wardrobe who also works full time, volunteers, and exercises was a lying liar, or wealthy and then it doesn’t count. On some level I suspected this wasn’t true; I added “investigate doing better at life” on a to-do list and pushed it back one day at a time.
At some point in feeling too busy to live I added a baby to the mix. And while I sometimes want to shake my child-free friends and say, “No, really, you DO have free time! Live it up!” I also realized that I had more time than I thought, too. I had been filling it with things I previously lumped into the “Not Me” pile. I was cooking some. Not gourmet, but my kid has to eat, and my husband and I made almost all of her baby food from scratch. I was making inroads at work that would become a very exciting new job. And, I was finding time to talk to my daughter about love and community, or point out the interesting women in her books; small conversations in the one hour after I got home from the office and before she went to bed. I also schlep the kid in her stroller up and down subway stairs daily — it’s not swimming, but it’s a workout.
Recognizing all this secret achieving feels like a victory. (What, no trophy?) So why do I keep telling myself that I can’t, won’t, may as well not try — when all along I’ve been doing just fine? And if I’ve been doing just fine without noticing it all this time, who’s to say I can’t do better?
This year feels like a time in which I really need to believe in my ability to put things on a list and then check them off; to believe in the possibility of change. To lay bare the real reason I’ve been accepting the status quo rather than striving for more in the first place. Which is: There’s nothing more to it than feeling embarrassed about wanting something and then not getting it. Like trying out for a team and not being picked — better to not try out. But that literally happened to me once in high school, and it was no big deal at all.
I know people whose parents are dying, who are looking back at the legacies of their mothers, and even among those glass-ceiling breaking Boomers, some feel like they put their lives on hold to have children and then never picked them back up. Having a daughter has allowed me to see myself through that lens and I don’t want either of us to someday think of me as a woman who slunk back when she could have stepped up. It turns out that’s scarier than giving it a go and just not being the absolute best.
So I’m untangling all that and coming clean: I do not believe it’s better to never try than it is to try and fail. I do think people have the capacity to make small but meaningful changes and that there’s nothing worth scoffing at when they do. I’d like to try it myself this year.
It’s only six days in, and I am already changing. So I’m looking for inspiration to keep it up. Today it came from, of all places, Twitter. The Astro Poets (a humorous astrology account written by poets, because why not?) gave me permission to unveil the believer I’ve been hiding: “Keep pretending you’re not that person, and they will overcome who you are…” It ends with, “2017 is a stream. Take a bath in cocoons.” I can laugh at how ridiculous this all is, or I can believe that I have ideas worth cozying up in protective silk, and then I can roll around with them until they’re ready to fly.
If you’re like the old me, you might be rolling your eyes, thinking resolutions are a waste of time, only for self-indulgent woo-woos who read The Secret. But there’s a lot I want to do this year, and resolutions represent taking the space to do them. I want to make phone calls even if I haven’t ironed shirts yet.
So many of my peers are huddling together in the “well that was fucked,” mentality, looking back at 2016 as if it was a traumatic shock. But we’ll never get anywhere if we can't stop being upset about where we've been. And while old me was all “misery loves company,” this year, I want to be the kind of company that has no use for misery and instead gets to work. That means believing I can make resolutions and keep them. That could take some magic, but anything’s possible this year — I’m resolving to believe that. Maybe I’ll even watch Star Trek Wars.