Happy new year! Welcome to the 20s! And look – it’s January 1, so I’m going to talk about resolutions and goals and planning, because of course it’s on my mind. Though first I want to say that I have a weird tension about goal setting and resolutions and whatnot, because I don’t buy into new-year-new-you at all. No one is perfect but most of us are fine. You don’t need to change yourself unless you’re harming other people, or unless you genuinely want to.
And that wanting to is, I think, the difference between resolutions that succeed and the ones that don’t. The new-year-new-you pressure leads people to make resolutions they think they should make, things they think they should change. But one major thing I learned in therapy is that should is a bad motivation. It’s wrapped up in external expectations and often shame. Recalibrating my motivations from what I felt I should do, to what I find meaningful and want to do, has been a huge positive change in my life.
Which brings me to goals. I love setting goals because they help me clarify how I want to spend my time and what I think it’s important to spend my time on. A few years ago, a friend sent me this post from the wonderful Kelly Sue DeConnick and I adopted a lot of it. Twice a year I sit down and set out goals for the next six months, year, five years, and ten years, and I look back at what I’ve done in the last six months and year. And, like she says, it’s never good news. I’ve never met all of my goals. Heck, at best I meet maybe half of my goals. But I still find the process really valuable and rewarding, because it does help me figure out what matters to me right now, on a day-to-day basis, and give me a sense of what I want to work toward in the long term.
I’ve also learned a lot about what’s achievable, what’s luck, and what’s a reasonable expectation for me, as a single human being in the world. I started doing this goal setting in January 2017, which was between the releases of my two books, and I had a lot of lofty goals for the launch of Freed by Flame and Storm, for the project I was drafting then, and for my career over the next few years. Spoiler: failure on every single count. There were a lot of reasons for it, though: depression and burnout, stuff that was under control of my publisher and not me, and unrealistic expectations. (And where did those come from? Well, from what I thought my career should be, from what I thought I should achieve, the pace I thought I should achieve at……)
On the flip side, January 2017 was also full of anxiety and terror about the state of the world, and a lot of my goals were based around finding ways to help. And by the time 2017 ended, I had learned a ton about local politics, found a group doing work in my neighborhood that mattered to me, and overcome a ton of anxiety to do some volunteering. It’s something I can look back on and be proud of. It’s entirely possible I would have done that anyway, without January goal setting, because it was definitely at the front of my mind. But thinking it through, naming it and writing it down, really helped me.
Going into 2020, I spent some time thinking about what was rewarding last year, what I want to build on, where I want to focus. For the first time in awhile, I feel like I’ve actually got a pretty solid foundation to work from, too. Between the state of the world, pretty dreadful book sales, and my father’s death, I was in a really terrible place. But 2018 into 2019 was a bit better, definitely past the worst of it.
Last year was a year of rebuilding: focusing on finding joy in writing again, surprising myself by committing to swim lessons and loving them, and by the end of the year even getting a sense of what I want to do with my (non-writing) career. I did my best to let go of some toxic shoulds, like the guilt I felt over not having finished and sold anything since my first series. I really thought I should have by now. And it’s okay that I’m frustrated by that. But instead of spending all my energy berating myself for not having managed it, I was able to recommit to taking the time I need on my current WIP. Like I wrote last month: yeah, I wish it hadn’t taken me two years and three drafts to realize I need to throw it all out and start again. But I needed that time and those words to get to this point, and rush of energy I got when I sat down to outline felt good in a way that writing hadn’t in years.
The same goes for exercise — I should have been doing it all along, you know? But it hurt. Forcing myself into it from a place of anxiety made me miserable. But realizing that was how I felt, and what I was scared of, gave me the freedom to try something new, discover something I enjoy. And again with my career. I completed a major project early in 2019 and spent a lot of time figuring out what’s next. Not what my career path should look like, but what my skills are, what I love to do, and where that might take me.
The thing is, none of those things were exactly what was on my six-month or yearly goal list — at least not directly. Swimming? Wasn’t even an inkling in my mind last January. But I knew I wanted to get my arthritis under control and not be in pain anymore. I had yoga as my goal, which means I failed, but I swam instead, and I felt so good about it.
And for writing? Well, my goal was to get my WIP completed and out on submission, which felt realistic at the time. And that didn’t happen. But what did was that I finally figured out what the project needs to be and poured myself into it. And yeah, one of my 2020 goals is to finish a draft and a revision at least. Which, at this moment, feels realistic. But another, more important goal, is to feel good about what I write, and that one’s more important. Maybe I’ll throw this whole thing out again (though god, I hope not), or maybe it’ll take me three years to finish instead of three months. But I know that if I hit December 31 and can look back and feel good about what I wrote, that’ll be a win, no matter where I am in the process.
So happy new year! I hope it’s a good one, I hope that you will be able to do something that you love this year.