I don’t know about you, but I was relieved when 2012 swept in the other day. For one thing, I was overjoyed to finally be able to put up my new calendar, which features beautifully photographed antique teapots in lush settings. And if I happen to get tired of looking at teapots, I can always swap this calender for the tastefully arty Maxfield Parrish one that hangs in the hallway. I’m even enjoying my very businesslike Letts of London 2012 desk diary, with oodles of space for scribbling notes.
Fun and frivolous reasons for welcoming 2012 aside, I was happy to put 2011 behind me since it was not the best year I’ve ever had. But I’ll be quick to point out that it was not the worst year, either. Unlike some of my friends, I was lucky–no true disasters occurred, and I count my blessings for this. Nonetheless, 2011 seemed to weigh heavily on me, challenging me at every turn, to the point where by the end of the year, I was finding that the simplest things–even activities I usually enjoy, like baking cookies–required almost Herculean efforts on my behalf. Although I seemed to achieve a fair bit this past year, I’ve frankly been worried about the toll those accomplishments have taken on my body and my spirit recently.
I’ve always considered myself an introspective person, but despite this, I often haven’t stopped to analyze what role I play in my own well-being and simply push myself through low-energy periods, misguidedly assuming that determination alone will see me through. In years past, at the beginning of a new year, I would often throw in a few resolutions to theoretically strengthen my will, resolutions that inevitably fell by the wayside within a few short weeks (or sometimes even days). No amount of determination and resolve has ever made me feel any better when I feel physically and mentally deflated.
What has made me feel better lately is reflecting on the uselessness of most resolutions. I came to the conclusion that they are the last thing I need to be heaping on myself–now or at any other time of the year. Most resolutions just underscore a feeling of personal inadequacy; I make resolutions to do this, that, or the other thing when I don’t feel good enough. Yes, there’s always room for improvement–I could probably waste less time and be more productive if I really set my mind to it, and I’m sure that many of us fall into this category. But the pressure of trying to live up to an ideal of non-stop accomplishment exacts a cost. Do any of us really need to put that much more pressure on ourselves? Is life not already challenging enough for most people? Must we always be so focused on accomplishing things?
In 2011, my focus on accomplishment went far beyond what was healthy. In an effort to push my business to the next level, I developed a kind of tunnel vision: all my thoughts and activities seemed to be directed by the need to accomplish, and I felt utterly tyrannized by the word should. Where was fun, play, and relaxation? Like those poor souls who are incapable of taking a vacation, had I simply forgotten how to relax? The thought was horrifying. With such an imbalance in my life, no wonder I’ve felt so out of whack.
My last afternoon of the year was spent puttering–reading for pleasure instead of for work (a book about the history of handwriting, which was more entertaining than you might imagine), clipping mouth-watering recipes from magazines, watching the woodpeckers gorging themselves at the suet feeder, drinking my favourite Indian spice tea, and eating those orange double chocolate cookies I hadn’t much enjoyed making (since they were needed for Christmas Day). I wondered aloud when I had last had an afternoon of such satisfying purposelessness. This year, my only resolution is to allow myself to spend more time drifting in this way, free from the need for constant accomplishment. Happy new year.