“New Year, New You.” What a load of bollocks that is. I threw that notion in the bin many years ago. And I haven’t made a New Year resolution for as long as I can remember. If I were to make one related to this space it would probably be to stop writing Wicked Wednesday posts on a Thursday one hour before the deadline. But I also know myself well enough to know that Marie will get at least five messages from me this year saying “oops, I missed the Linky tool by 10 minutes.”
One thing I have done every year since 2011 is spend the time between the family Christmas commitments and back to work on the first Monday in January reflecting on the year gone by, what went well and what didn’t and how I want to evolve myself. This habit was born out of my switch from employment to self-employment and the fact that I was missing the structure of the annual appraisal process. I know – weird! You’re meant to hate appraisals and 365 feedback but I bloody love it. I was missing the opportunity for structured reflection when I came across an article from a self-employed man who every winter took himself off for a week of solitude, self-appraisal and personal goal setting.
Now, every year during this period I reflect on the whole year and the whole me – both personally and professionally. When you’re self-employed, boundaries between the parts of your life blur even more significantly than they do for anyone in our ‘always switched on’ culture. Also – to state the blindingly obviously – when you are your own boss you literally have nobody else to blame for your professional frustrations. Yes, of course there are influencing factors like clients being dickheads or moving budgets or natural disasters that change a whole schedule, but essentially you control your own direction and change what you want and need to.
This annual process of review has helped me spot trends in my work patterns and make peace with them and I have adjusted my personal life accordingly. Sure, I’d rather not have to work 12 hour days for most of the winter but now, rather than see that as a burden I see it as banking time. So when summer rolls around and work goes quiet it would literally not occur to me to sit at my desk trying to create or chase work. I down tools and head off for photo adventures, lazy lunches and gallery outings. I feel absolutely no guilt for this and I shrug off the ‘lucky you’ comments because I can’t be arsed to waste time explaining why I deserve this. And when it’s 11pm in January and I am still at my desk I remind myself that summer is coming.
This period of reflection has also helped me spot the trends in what causes me stress and what creates joy. The process of observing myself means I know myself so much better than I ever did. I absolutely know there are some things I have to have to be my best me. To be me at all, actually.
I can’t not travel. I have always loved travel but actually I now know it is more than something I love to do, it is my red thread. Without a trip planned in and something to research, work towards and save for, all the hours and the work stress can seem without purpose. For me, there is no energy like the energy I feel when I step off a plane and smell a new country.
I have to cook. In cooking I relax, I daydream, I nourish myself and it feels good. I am not a ready meal snob (you do you!) but for me personally I find the idea of shoving something in a microwave like my meal doesn’t matter because I am only cooking for one genuinely soul-destroying. And cooking for and with people and sharing meals and many bottles of wine around my dining table is pretty much the clearest way I have to express love.
I have to take photos. That used to just be travel photos and photos around London but clearly in the last five years that has evolved into this project, which is now such a big part of who I am and the friendships I have.
Finally, I have to have time alone. If someone had told me a few years ago how much I would grow into myself through the simple process of living alone and wallowing in peace and solitude I would not have waited until I was 40 to live alone.
When I started this annual process of reflection I started setting goals alongside it. Not resolutions, goals. They were fun things to work towards – volunteer at the Olympics, have more sex, travel to all the EU countries. But in recent years they started to get more specific – read 30 books, run 500 miles, walk 500 miles and walk five hundred more, visit 24 exhibitions, write two posts a month and take a photo every week, two new recipes a month. At first this was fun but every year I was upping numbers and creating more targets. I am a completer finisher so saying I will do something and then not doing it causes me huge stress but the targets I was setting myself were not being mindful of my work patterns. The process had started to eat itself and I had started to put myself under constant pressure to ‘do’ all the time. I was forgetting how to just be.
So this year I will be more light touch. I will travel, I will photograph people and places, I will cook for me and those I love, I will read, I will write, I will wander round galleries, I will train for a 10k and a half marathon (both booked), I will continue to nurture and be committed to my most important partnership, I will explore the opportunities for kinky fun with friends I trust, I will do some new dating because I feel like soaking up the rush of NRE. But this year there will be no numbers because numbers stress me out.