I don’t believe in resolutions, especially resolutions of the New Year variety. Those only tee people up for failure. Initially, you get a communal push of support from the people around you, those who commend your decision to be a better human person. That feels great and we feed off that for a bit. However, by February, most resolutions freeze over just like the weather. Gyms and the Weight Watchers people love resolutions though and come Valentine’s Day, bakeries equally them as all the chumps fall off the gym wagon and into a vat of icing.
Rather than make resolutions in January, I assess and sculpt my goals in November. That’s the ideal time for me because I’m at the tail end of my favorite season, autumn, and Christmas decorations are beginning to pop up all over the city. Last November, I set a handful of very specific and mostly attainable goals for myself and I returned to them periodically over the course of the year to check on my progress. Correction: That should have read “lack of progress” because I did not reach a single goal I set for myself in the past twelve months. My pant size is bigger than I wanted, my savings account is smaller than I needed and my list of unchecked boxes stares back at me with beady little bullet points, reminding me that 2016 has been a year-long missed opportunity.
At the start of my goal-planning last fall, it felt like this year would be like skipping down a yellow brick road to glory. Beginning full of holiday hope and optimism, I expected the road would surely lead to some struggles in the forest, but I was confident the light would eventually creep in again through the branches of the grabby apple trees. A victorious ending of singing and dancing in Oz was all but assured. Maybe I should have seen Wicked to serve as a source of inspiration. Yes. That’s what I should have done. The witches’ journey would mirror my own and I too would be inspired to work toward my celebratory curtain call bow. The problem with that is that my victory essay would probably end with some clichéd reference to being “changed for good.” That won’t do, so I looked elsewhere for my inspiration.
The Muppets have a pretty good journey story to get to Hollywood. I could have gone with that. It also lends itself to a soundtrack of sing-along motivational tracks. Whenever the road got tough, I could sing “Movin’ Right Along” to myself or when I was feeling pensive or depressed, I could sing “The Rainbow Connection” and resuscitate my limping optimism. But I didn’t do that either.
I chose to do what fancy writers do: look inside myself and marshal the inspiration from within. I figured my story would play out like the plot of a Reese Witherspoon movie from ten years ago or a Meg Ryan movie ten years before that. But it didn’t. This realization came crashing down on me this morning as I looked at myself in my bathroom mirror. The “self” looking back at me said, “Good morning. Short work week this week, you can make it. Coffee soon. Put a bunch of stuff in your hair to hold it down since it’s windy. Maybe pick up some sweet gum at Duane Reade. Also, you failed at everything this year.”
Our “selves” tend to be our harshest critics and also tend to have a more lasting effect on us than other people’s selves. So I tried all the things I knew to try to shake it off. I read from my favorite author on the train, I picked up that sweet gum and I was extra generous with the hazelnut creamer in my coffee, but nothing rattled free those lingering ghosts of failures past. Humbug.
At my desk, I sat and sulked for a bit. Sulking feels good for a minute or two. This year, life tossed me a couple curve balls late in the game (which are not my fault) and I routinely chose nachos over nutrition (which is totally my fault), and it all added up to a printed list of disappointments. However, re-looking at it, I realized some of my goals are still very much in process. They haven’t been checked off as expediently as I wanted, but they’re not total zeros either. That’s a mustard seed sized relief.
The way I’m digging my boot toe into the ground and forcing an emotional pivot is through thankfulness. It’s not going to change the outcome of those beady bullet points, but what it will change is my attitude today and hopefully my perspective on tomorrow. Thankfulness is the great aerator of the spirit and today, I’m intentionally replacing my wilted to-do list of goals with that reminder.
Today, I’m thankful I was able to experience and absorb the fall leaves this season. I spend most of the year waiting for October to arrive because that month, more than any other fall month, coerces the colors out from the Earth. Trees tend to save their best outfits for the curtain call before they go to their winter sleep and nothing makes me feel more joy than being around them in their technicolor dream coats. I’m thankful I was able to refuel my brain and refill my imagination tank with them.
I know there’s much to be thankful for, a list that includes breath in my lungs, love in my heart and a roof over my head. But for today, when I feel all icky and gross, I’m focusing on that singular leafy thing to be thankful for.
Maya Angelou said, “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” The concept that gratitude is the foundation on which we kneel is so powerful. That should be our home base. That should be the epicenter from which everything in our lives should spring forth. So I’m thankful for this past year, or at least trying to be. I’m thankful even for the clamped off moments I’d rather forget because they have afforded me this corner on which to pivot. My goals for the next twelve months are set, some of which feel merely like alterations of last year’s list, but they’re set. I can’t change what’s happened this past year, but I can get out in front of what’s to come. Thankfully, onward.