I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution in years, and this year wasn’t an exception. It’s too much of a guarantee and too much of a letdown that the momentum of that resolution will run out by about January 8. If I haven’t been able to conquer some ongoing unhealthy habit for months or perhaps years, almost no amount of willpower or New Year’s champagne, balloons, and confetti is going to change that habit as the hand on the clock ticks over to 12am on January 1! My wish to change some of my ways of thinking isn’t going to happen magically as I toss my 2018 calendar into the trash (or rather, tuck it into a drawer for a few months, in case I need to consult it).
I prefer to think of resolution-making as a year-round thing. As we grow older and as new circumstances show up in our lives, we continually have to adjust in some way. Maybe we get into a friendship situation we’ve never been in before, and we don’t really know how to deal with it initially. Maybe a partner points out to us something that we’d never noticed ourselves doing for the last 34 years. Maybe the not-so-pleasant surprises that show up in our lives are best handled in a way that is against our nature, and it takes a lot of time and effort and relapses to get us to a place of handling them effectively. It sometimes takes a while to realize that certain behaviours and thoughts aren’t doing anyone any good in the long run.
When I think of some adjustments that took place in my life in 2018, one example that comes to mind is my workplace and my job as a housekeeper. I’ve been working in the same unit for three years and in similar areas for a few years before that. Although I’m not absolutely perfect at my job, I am definitely familiar with how things run on this unit. And I’m learning that I must quash my “teacher” mode and my instinct to point out the obvious whenever a co-worker does something that, to me, doesn’t seem efficient, necessary, or sensical. I’ve learned to nonchalantly say little things here and there to help a new person do their job, but the mantra that runs through my head much of the time now is, “I am a housekeeper, not a supervisor… I’m doing my job, and that’s all I’m in charge of… I’m a housekeeper, not a supervisor.” An actual supervisor reminded me that if I have a problem with how someone is doing their job, I am to talk to a supervisor. (“I am a housekeeper, who is also a tattle-tale in some extreme cases when a co-worker is doing something that baffles my mind”?) A friend reminds me that sometimes I just have to think to myself, “Wow, that person really isn’t doing a very smart thing right now,” and just go on with my day. I’ve been reminded to not leave notes for others, because even though I might have the best intentions — complete with happy faces and “thanks!” written on them — some people misinterpret notes. The Handyman tells me, “This happens everywhere, in every workplace, no matter what kind of work you’re doing. Nothin’ you can do about it.” Oh.
This past year has also been a year of learning to hold back in other ways. A person in my circle is struggling with their marriage. I’ve seen it for a couple years and especially in the last year. I let it slide for a long time. I thought it was just me, imagining things or taking things personally. I’m seeing the problem for what it is now, and I want to leap in so I can fix things. I’ve tried to balance “meddling” with “Not my circus, not my monkeys!” In moments of confusion and sadness and simply just not liking the sounds of this marriage situation, I’ve tried to bring up the subject with said person in my circle and I’ve been shut down or ignored completely. When I see a giant red flag or many giant red flags, I want to wave them in front of all parties and say, “See? This is what’s going on! This isn’t healthy!” When I see those flags, I want to send magazine articles and Youtube video clips and share stories about “this other couple I know….” Perhaps this is good, to a point. Maybe some people need to know that they are not alone or crazy, or that they have permission to share what’s bothering them. There are also people who are not ready or willing to examine those red flags. The optimal role for me to play here might be to hold back — to be available whenever and however I might be needed, but to be passive. I’m learning that my M.O. isn’t always helpful. And so I email my person a cartoon. I keep conversation light. I ask “How are you?” and allow the conversation to go from there. I go against my instincts of trying to fix it all, and I talk instead about the wildebeest migration video clip that I watched last week.
One of my more simple, just-do-it resolutions this past year was to compile my essays in a book. I’d had the hankering to do so a few times throughout my life and a few people suggested to me that I should go ahead with it, but I would just brush away the thoughts pretty quickly. This past summer, though, I told myself that the next time someone made a suggestion, I would do it. I’d been waiting for… for what? Oh, maybe a few more years to pass? A few more essays? Something (an obvious sign, a publishing company, more confidence) to drop in my lap? Sure enough, a few weeks after making my little resolution, an acquaintance told me that she liked my most recent essay and suggested I “do more.” Over the course of a few weeks, I did more. I chose some of my favourite essays. I booked a session with a photographer, and I hired someone to edit my writing. I chatted with my librarian buddy, who recommended that I go ahead with publishing in a bigger way than I’d originally planned. At this time, I have no idea how things will work out. I might simply end up with a few copies of my book and give them to friends and family. Or maybe I’ll end up with 100,000 “likes” within two days on a Facebook page for my book. Who knows? But I’m “doing more,” at least.
Just as resolutions aren’t just for the new year, they’re also not limited to certain ages and phases of life. I am reminded of this when I talk with people who are twice my age. There is no point in anyone’s life where it’s all been figured out. There will always be some area in life that requires a bit of tweaking, and I imagine there’s more than a few people out there who’ve reached age 95 and had a somewhat startling realization that, “Oh, my! I guess I’ve had a misguided idea about ____ for nine decades!” We all learn at different speeds, and depending on a plethora of factors – personality, upbringing, exposure to the varying views, to name a few – it’s no surprise that what comes naturally to one person at age five will come very unnaturally to someone else at age 34 or 84. As well, many of our life lessons come with relapses. I was reassured at a workshop lately that when we’re trying to get out of an unhealthy pattern, one of the most difficult things to do is to drop the “all-or-nothing” mentality. We must expect that things might go slowly. Go for small steps, not enormous strides. Be prepared to feel stuck and to mess up. All your progress hasn’t been for nothing, even if you seemingly feel like you’re right back where you started when you made your resolution.
This all being said… I was pleasantly surprised when a little saying showed up “just in time” for the start of 2019. It wasn’t a brilliant brand-new revelation for me, and it probably would have been significant for me even if I had read it in, say, July or February. Even so, I was delighted on December 28 as I opened a packet of Yogi lemon ginger tea, and the tag attached to the tea bag reminded me, “Let things come to you.”
And so, I go forth into 2019 with that little tag perched beside my contact lens case on the bathroom counter. It reminds me that sometimes I need to go against my impulses to jump in and rescue people. I can hold off on intense conversations while waiting for my emotions to settle a bit, and I can let things play out on their own (which might mean waiting for someone else to reach out to me, or waiting for life circumstances to change, or simply waiting with complete uncertainty about what happens next!). The tea bag tag reminds me that I can’t force things to happen, because – surprise! – many things are not in my control anyway. Just like I couldn’t make new friends immediately after moving to a new city and just like it took years for me to reach a place where I’m not obsessing with food and my weight, so it might also take a long time for other situations to be sorted out. I can do my part, and then I can back away for an indefinite amount of time. And when I do that, I can make better use of my time and energy by investing them in places where I can make a noticeable difference here and now.
All the best of luck with your resolutions, whether you’re already working on them already, still planning the details, or unsure as of yet what those resolutions might be.