As we fall relentlessly towards the end of the twelfth month our thoughts become increasingly reflective. We tend to use December as a looking glass, sometimes tortuously so, and as a means to somehow dissect and then reconcile the last three hundred and sixty something days of our lives. I always find it interesting that we choose to compartmentalise our existence in this way, into small blocks with defined start and end dates instead of looking at the totality, but maybe this is a management tool that allows our brains to look with needed granularity. What I also find interesting is that I tend to think that more often than not that when we review our year, we focus on the negatives but not always the positives. This might be my own personal experience clouding my objectivity, but it feels common that this December perspective is as peculiar set of glasses that seem to favour the bad things that have happened to us, and not so much the good.
With wholehearted honesty I have caught myself saying these very words in just the last few weeks. “I can’t wait for this year to end”, or “This year has been so hard”. The truth is I can’t, and it has, but thinking back I’ve done this many times. It also seems that many others reflect this back as some kind of collective norm that through our shared discomfort allows us to accept our hardships together. Well, life is hard, so surely this is not entirely unexpected. However, this year I found myself doing something different. Something very simple that made me feel better and more empowered.
But why do we do this? Why do we focus on the more difficult parts of our lives? Why do we not get to the end of the year positively enthused by all of our experiences both good and bad knowing that these have shaped our very being and that we have survived and achieved and had impact. Is just crossing the finish not enough? For example, long distance runners can put themselves through incredible pain, yet push over the line with exhilaration and a never to be taken away sense of self-worth and achievement. They entered the race willingly yes, but maybe they underestimated how hard it would be. Yes, it may have been horrendous, and yes, there are moments where they might have wanted to stop and vomit, but they made it and celebrated. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say, ‘That was a tough but brilliant year”.
I can’t help but think that it’s because when things are painful, it hurts us, and quite simply the reason pain exists is to tell us that we are in a situation that isn’t all healthy or good for us. Pain and discomfort are stressors from which the mind and body tries to self-preserve. Happiness on the other hand doesn’t elicit such a powerful response because there is no harm to be caused (relatively speaking). Happiness can therefore continue to be absorbed. Pain on the other hand sometimes feels like trying to absorb a house brick into a sponge.
It’s for these reasons that we look back on our calendar years with a leaning towards the difficult because it is more easily remembered. Now, I’m not saying that we need to be all unicorns and rainbows about our experiences. I’m certainly not saying that we should discount our difficult times or our difficult years, and indeed there are some situations that are catastrophically and inescapably difficult. However, on the whole we do do ourselves a disservice. It’s here that retrospection comes into play, and a willingness to look at both the good, as well as the good that comes from the bad. After all, we often find ourselves looking to the future with the intent for it to be ‘better’, but how? What have we learnt of ourselves in the past? What challenges have we been defeated by but then risen again as a different but more resilient individual. I do think that as humans we don’t allow ourselves to feel good about our achievements, to dwell on them, to feel real pride, not with any arrogance or outward projections of comparative better value to anyone else, but just simply to let the good in. It is here that we achieve perspective, balance, and growth.
So how is this achieved. Well again, this is simple. It requires setting aside some time for self-development and analyses. Now this sounds quite psycho babble-ish, but I absolutely believe that in order to change, to grow, to re-balance, we need to invest time to just sit and think. So, take 30 minutes to sit and reflect on your own past year. Write down the good and the bad things. When you write down the good and the bad, write down how it changed you, what you learnt. This is a very simple exercise in self-development that can completely change your outlook. It may even alter your compass as you sail towards the future. If you’re feeling brave, share it (as I will do here) and let others know not only the fires that you’ve walked through but the changes that you’ve made and the things you’ve achieved as a human. It may even encourage them to think about it and do the same.
Now, it’s important to remember that achievement is relative, and that success is relative. Don’t use scales of comparison as they are redundant. All that matters is what you have been through and what you have done. For example, someone with anxiety may have worked for weeks and weeks on strategies to help them leave the house. When they successfully left the house the achievement was probably felt as much as an individual completing their first 100-mile ultra-marathon. Both will have worked incredibly hard. What is important is the knowledge of achievement, of the individual journey, but knowing that they are all different, and to a degree, incomparable.
So in summary, if you’re feeling bad about this year, (and if you’re feeling good about it) this can give you a different perspective that can help you feel better and propel you forward with more confidence and crucial knowledge about yourself. This has helped me personally and has allowed me to find some kind of acceptance and healing. I still live in anticipation of the punches that life will inevitably deliver, but I know with more depth that they will pass, that there will be good times to follow, and that I can allow myself to feel positive in the expansion as a result.
- My daughter continues to thrive and with real personality (I’ve learnt to let her go at her own pace and without pressure, and to be proud of my imperfect parenting)
- I’ve reconnected with old friends and continued to stay in touch with my very good friends (having been notoriously bad at this, I’ve learnt that real friends will always be there, but that it doesn’t take much effort to reach out, I just need to make the effort)
- I raced my first Sprint & Olympic distance triathlons (I’ve learnt that training works, that I can be disciplined, and that I can enjoy the process)
- My wife left a job that caused her anxiety and started a new one that has vastly improved our quality of life despite us having less money (I’ve learnt that money isn’t a substitute for happiness. I know I let this stop me from encouraging her earlier. I know as a family we are all much better off for it emotionally)
- My relationship with my sister is better than ever (This is due to sharing some tough times this year, and it has reconnected us in a different way; it’s made me learn to really appreciate the family that I have)
- I ran a marathon for Charity. Actually, what made it brilliant was running it with my goodfriend and sharing the experience. It’s my favourite marathon that I’ve ever run. (I’ve learnt that self-belief goes a long way. It feels good to share these experiences and it feels good to do things for and with others)
- I overcame my fear of swimming in open water (More on this below, but I’ve learnt that I can overcome my fears through being persistent and refusing to give up)
- I started mentoring for a local charity (I’ve learnt that being selfless is fulfilling as well as giving me new skills)
- I started YouBuu, my life coaching side hustle! I have started coaching and continue to coach people (I’ve learnt that sometimes you have to stop procrastinating and just do things! With good intent and good effort, things will happen)
- I learnt how to make a website and started writing again (This has taught me to not give up on the things you feel passionately about, and that pursuing the things you enjoy can give real satisfaction)
- I lost my younger sister (this taught me that life is precious, finite, and that I should live fearlessly)
- The relationship with my younger brother has become distant as he struggles to come to terms with our family situation and relationships (I’ve learnt to try not to judge, and to be as empathetic and accepting as possible, including my own failures that may have contributed)
- My mental health suffered throughout the year resulting in physical symptoms (this taught me to talk more, be more open, but also acknowledge to take time for self-care and not to just keep going)
- I suffered stress at work and saw my colleagues go through some very difficult redundancy consultations (this has taught me that there are some things that just aren’t in my control, but also that new opportunities and new beginnings can be created from the most difficult circumstances)
- I ended up in A&E after suffering a panic attack in the open water. (This has helped me to be a better, more confident swimmer (I think!?), and that fears can be overcome)
In conclusion, this list isn’t exhaustive, but it has made me realise just how many good things I’ve experienced this year. I feel very lucky, fortunate, and appreciative. There have been some very tough things to deal with too and I know that there always will be, but I’m still here and still moving forward. I actually feel very proud, and you know what, I’m going to allow myself to. Please allow yourself to as well.
Thanks for listening