This post comes a little late, I know.
I’ve missed the annual flood of New Year think pieces and listicles, bashed out somewhere between the 1st and the 4th by put-upon junior writers and lifestyle editors nursing a week-long Bailey’s hangover, waxing lyrical about the relative merits and demerits of deciding to change our entire personalities each January, stuffed with dodgy statistics on the likelihood of sticking by our good intentions or – inevitably – failing once again to live up to our own impossibly high standards. Like much of the 9-5 crowd, I get through the first, painful day back at work by devouring these articles while mainlining coffee, allowing myself to be uplifted by the women’s magazines telling me I can change my life with a NutriBullet, and chuckling gamely along with a satirical takedown of Dry January in the Guardian.
New Year sceptics look away now: I enjoy making resolutions. There’s something about Romjul (the period between Christmas and New Year) that compels me to sit down with a new notebook and pen to scribble my impressions of the previous year and record my hopes and dreams for the coming months. I rarely resolve on a single task – to go to the gym (right), eat more greens (fine), drink less (HA). Instead, I prefer to choose a theme for the year, an overarching goal that guides my smaller, everyday decisions.
Last year, I wanted to focus on my professional ambitions – more specifically, on balancing a full-time job with creative and journalistic writing. I upped my freelance work, kicked myself into gear when it came to copywriting, learned how to pitch without prefacing every submission with an apology, got a promotion in my 9-5 and made a substantial dent in my novel through NaNoWriMo. I joined a writing group and went to Edinburgh on a writing weekend. I found a community of other people who shared and supported my goals and created a life that enables me to write what I love and still pay the rent, even if it means going short on sleep occasionally. In short, while 2016 royally sucked on a global scale, personally I had a bloody good year. I’m under no illusions that my resolution was responsible for that, but it certainly helped me to narrow my focus.
That doesn’t mean that the last year has been easy. As the world went to pot, I – like the majority of us – seriously struggled. Every time I heard the familiar ping of the BBC Breaking News app, my anxiety levels would rocket. Scrolling down my Twitter timeline would cause me to hyperventilate, feel faint and go into mental shutdown. Yet, as disaster after disaster struck, I gradually began to toughen up. My heart would hurt, my eyes would fill with tears, I would feel sick with distress at the state of the world, but I stopped having to look away. I was afraid, but I was also angry – and ready to do something about it.
This year, I want to stop feeling helpless. I want to know that in some small way, every single day, I’m connecting and contributing to something beyond myself. Last year my focus was inward. In 2017, I’m all about looking out.
To be clear, this resolution is not about joining the peace corps or quitting my job to volunteer full time or running as an MP. Instead, it’s about paying more attention, increasing awareness and actively participating in the world around me. It’s time to stop whining online and do something. Listen. Learn. Self-educate. Ask how I can help. Ask for help. Remind myself that people are good.
Here are some of the small steps I’m committing to taking in the next few months:
- Join the Women’s March
On 21st January (the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency), women and men around the world will march for the safeguarding of fundamental rights. I plan to be one of them.
To kick off a year of listening and learning, I’m working as a volunteer at TEDxEastEnd on 25th February. The theme is #SocietyBeyondBorders and there are amazing speakers lined up. I can’t wait.
- Get volunteering
As someone who works full-time, I’ve always found it difficult to find time for volunteering work. However, I hope to change that this year by signing up to run creative writing workshops for Ministry of Stories. It’s time to get over the sacrifice of a handful of holiday days.
- Re-start a book club
There are few things I enjoy more than discussing a novel over a glass of wine with a group of friends. It can’t be that difficult to find the time to do it.
- Prioritise my writing meet-ups
I am privileged to have found a group of intelligent, creative, talented woman who love to write. The least I can do is carve out one evening a month to give them feedback on their work – and to receive their valuable feedback on mine.
- Make space for loved ones
Meet friends and family face to face. Ask them questions about their lives. Listen to the answers.
- See the world
Travel to somewhere I’ve never been, whether that’s in the UK, Europe or beyond. Remember that travel doesn’t have to be cripplingly expensive or hugely time-consuming. Experience the world that lies beyond my immediate surroundings.
- Read & watch more widely.
At times last year, I felt like my skin had been peeled back. I became a raw nerve and it affected my cultural tastes. I couldn’t face absorbing anything that seemed even vaguely depressing or hinted at a less-than-happy ending. Now, it’s time to put an end to this self-imposed censorship and consume the full spectrum of human experience.
- Make time to people watch
Walk around the city. Watch people interact. Learn to listen. Learn to understand.
- Do some bloomin’ exercise
Meh. It had to be in there somewhere.