I have a love/hate relationship with the beginning of each new year.
I love the feeling of having a fresh start, a rebirth, a clean slate. Each time December draws to a close, the excitement in the air is tangible. People are ready to start over, to do things differently, to wake up feeling like they are full of potential and free of burden.
I love reflecting back on the twelve months I just lived – patting myself on the back for the things I achieved, and reminding myself that tomorrow is a new day when I think about all of the ways that I failed. The new year is a reassurance that the world is always turning, that you are free to keep trying and keep chasing after what you want. As endless and overdone as they are, I love the abundance of articles on how to live your best life this year. I love hearing about people’s New Year’s Resolutions. I love the endless tv programs and listicles and videos reflecting back on the year and looking towards what’s to come. I love the hope, the uncertainty, the excitement, the promise that hangs in the air.
But every time a new year begins, I’m also paralyzed.
I think of all the things I didn’t do last year. I add them to the list of all of the things I want to do this year. I do the math in my head. I think about all the things I’m likely to fail at – some of them, for a second or third time. I think about my resolutions, my hopes for the future, and I wonder how they match up to everyone else’s. Are mine stupid? self-involved? foolish? worthy? pointless? impractical? impossible? I’m suddenly overwhelmed with what I want to do, and how I could ever possibly get there. I stop thinking about the things I want to accomplish over the next few months and instead fall into a black hole of worry about where my life is going to go in the next ten years and how far behind I probably am in comparison to everyone else.
And then the new year, which is supposed to be so cleansing, refreshing, and rejuvenating, becomes a brick wall that falls on my chest and prevents me from moving in any direction – even just that of side-to-side. I can’t move, because even just a small step becomes a possibility to fail, a possibility for my dreams to be crushed, a possibility of me looking foolish. Opportunity becomes terrifying instead of exciting. A clean slate becomes an alarming pit of emptiness reflecting back at me. A new year full of potential just becomes another place for my brain to set up camp and think of all the ways I can screw it up.
I add salt to the wound by thinking about all the things that my friends and family members did this year, all of their accomplishments, all the ways I am unworthy of the crowd I surround myself with. I long to go back to those joyful few days before the holidays, when I was wrapping presents, tying up loose ends before I took off work for a few days, and preparing to head home – too busy to think about the looming fresh start, the clean slate, the open abyss of opportunities that could either lead to success or failure.
But the holidays always fly by, and then January sits down heavily, staring into my face and daring me to make a move. The initial excitement and hope fizzles out, and I am left with the crushing pressure of my own expectations and self-reflections. But then, I remember that I was in this exact same spot last year. I felt the pressure, the strain, the crushing feelings of inadequacy. I thought about all the ways that I sucked, all the reasons that I should strive to just get by instead of coming up with goals and things that I wanted to accomplish. And then, day by day, I got over it, because I started thinking of the new year in exactly those terms – day by day. I stopped thinking about where I would be in April and September and December and started thinking about what I wanted to happen today, this week, this month.
I stopped listening for everybody else’s goals for the new year, everybody else’s accomplishments from the previous year. Their stories and their journeys and their opinions faded into the background. And I was just able to focus on me, and my little piece of notebook paper with the goals I had for the year. And how I could start working on those goals today, tomorrow, and next Tuesday, instead of worrying about exactly where I should be in eight months and three weeks from now.
It’s normal to feel paralyzed with the start of a new year. It’s normal to feel inadequate and stuck and lost. In reality, those feelings never fully go away. And the fear never fully goes away, either – you just learn how to chip away at it, one piece at a time. The people who are always the most successful are not the ones who entered each new year with clear eyes and a rock-solid amount of self-esteem and an iron-clad grip on their life plan. On the contrary, the most successful people in the world dealt with constant failure, rejection, and disappointment. But they learned how to rebound in spite of it, and to let that failure become a part of them in a good way, in a way that provided them with more wisdom and life lessons and the knowledge that failure will not kill you.
So if you’re feeling paralyzed by the new year, stop thinking about the new year. Just think about today, and tomorrow, and the next day. Failure is inevitable, disappointment is inevitable. But the more you chip away at the stone of fear that lives in your stomach, the more you’ll understand that its power is not as strong as yours.