I’m not a fan of New Years Eve as a rule. I find that events loaded with expectation rarely deliver. As it happens the New Year’s Eve just gone was probably my favourite to date; the husband and I played board games with my mum, my brother and his girlfriend. It was meant to be a quiet night in but there were impromptu cocktails at a bar that delivered on both concept and glass contents and a near miss as we almost set a footballer’s balcony on fire with a paper lantern (he’s a neighbour of my mum’s, were weren’t roaming the streets of Manchester in search of ASBO’s).
But I love the early weeks of a new year. Optimism is all around. Plenty of us wrangle with self doubt and undercutting much of our ability to step out and be brilliant is our perception of the past. It’s not our fault, we’re conditioned to be nice and to not show off (girls more than boys). When I’m working with my life coaching students and clients I often ask them to list their achievements and qualities without qualifying them. It’s surprisingly challenging.
When I look at my list of the 30 things I hoped to achieve before I’m 30, many seem silly. I qualify them. Take for example my wish to go to Russia. I want to qualify in so many ways to play it down. Firstly, I used to say ‘but it was so long ago.’ What is daft about this is that following my visit in 2002 I returned in 2008, ‘but it’s easy when you’ve been somewhere once.’ I felt that it didn’t count that I was on a university trip (the first time) or that I took a taxi instead of public transport (the second time) and even then was travelling with a group. I berate myself for only knowing the word for thank you and not learning any more.
But I went. As a teenager looking out of a rainy window over the Vale of York, I promised myself I’d go to Russia. That I’d see palaces and have adventures. I succeeded. At The Catherine Palace (summer residence of the Tsars) near St Petersberg I saw a (reconstructed) room with walls of amber which both dazzled me and confirmed my dreams of a world full of wonder. Then, one evening as our fellow students were discussing where to find culture, a guy I had previously not noticed grabbed my hand and pulled me into an alcove. I had been selected by him on the grounds of being the person most likely to be up for a laugh.
We paused at the top of some steps of what appeared to be a bar just as the owner looked out. We were encouraged inside, we saw live music, we made friends and we drank a lot of vodka. We had missed the subway home so got a taxi to a hotel where initially I was accused of prostitution (“if you are students on holiday where is your luggage?”). We headed out early for campus and found ourselves in a square where Goldeneye was filmed. It was deserted and beautiful. Everyone assumed that we’d hooked up of course but we knew we’d experienced something more exciting.
That took effort. It was a challenge to remind myself that I had an amazing adventure in St Petersberg one night. A challenge to remind myself that I can and have realised my dreams. So much easier to play it down, to say I didn’t do anything special and why put myself on the line when I may not succeed.
But in the early weeks of January we are better at being hopeful. While we may berate ourselves for our perceived shortcomings, we often subscribe to the surge of optimism that’s all around and start diets and plan trips. While I make changes year round (my September trip to Turkey was conceived around Easter), I make more at this time of year. My resolutions as they are have been made with the husband (start a joint savings account and see more of our friends).
If you pay attention to the advice trotted out then we want to be making small changes that we can keep, meaningful changes that work towards fulfilling our greater goals and oh I forget, I’m yawning so much.
Don’t be boring. Just because we won’t stick to most of it isn’t a reason to go big, go crazy. I’ve been accused of being flaky in the past because I start lots of things and abandon many. But I finished the PhD, I’m still writing this column, I’ve spoken to the same man nearly every day for almost five years and he’s still my favourite person in the world. I don’t fear getting things wrong or making mistakes. I know I have a wonderful marriage and am confident it’ll last until one of us dies precisely because I got it so wrong in the past.
I am trying with the small changes I admit (I’m dallying with Fly Lady cleaning) but I also mean to go big. In June 2010 I wrote about my 30 before I’m 30 list. Since then I have got a tattoo, bought a corset and taken a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park but there are still ten things on my list.
1) Publish a book
2) Have a baby
3) Cook a multibird roast
4) Go to an airport and take a flight chosen on the spot
5) Watch a sunset and a sun rise without going to bed
6) Make a film or documentary
7) Ride a motorcycle
8) Take a photo worth framing on a large canvas and hang it in my home
9) Be suspended by rope
10) Buy an entire animal (eg. a pig) and cook it
Some of these are already being planned. I’m cooking a multibird roast at Easter (done myself, not one of those Aldi jobs) and there is a pig at my uncle’s place fattening as I type. Others I fear are too aspirational but it’s January and actually hope doesn’t need to triumph over experience for experience has taught me that when you really put your mind to it, great things are possible.
Happy New Year, may your dreams come true and your adventures be plentiful.