December 27, 2013

I’m a Sucker for Fresh Starts.

Maybe it’s time I let go of that need to start fresh and instead use the lessons I’ve learned as my goals for the new year.

When I start something new, it’s usually on a Monday. Maybe it’s a Sunday, if I’m feeling a bit ambitious. It’s the first of the month. If that doesn’t work out, then I have to wait until the 15th. It’s a new season. It’s my birthday.

It’s the day after my birthday and a Monday—the holy grail of fresh starts.

It’s the first of the year. Ah, New Year Resolutions.

New Year’s Eve: “As of 12 midnight, I’m going on a fast to cleanse my body before an insane diet that I can never hope to realistically maintain. My hair will be styled. I will not say the wrong thing ever again. I will mother like nobody’s business. I will meditate, be humble, work hard and never sleep. I will be perfect. New year, new me.”

“January 1st, 9:00 a.m.: ” This should be a day off because it’s a holiday and I need a recovery day from the festivities. I need a better sleep before I do this. I’ll start tomorrow.”

Janurary 2nd, 11:00 a.m.: “Coffee can be considered natural as long as it’s black. Okay, maybe a little sugar. Orange juice is alright too—it’s got vitamins. If no one sees me eating cheese, it never happened.”

January 2nd, 11:15 a.m.: “It’s too cold to walk outside.”

January 3rd: “Leftover turkey, two beers and a Pinterest marathon until 3:00 a.m.”

I don’t even make a resolutions list. I just decide that the flipping of one year to the next is the best time to decide that I should become an infallible quasi-human, free from all flaws and defects.

Despite this admittance, I am typing this with my new Fitbit flex bumping against the keyboard—the only thing on the Christmas wish list given to my husband. And the fresh start has worked for me in the past; I quit smoking on October 1st and never looked back. (Actually, I did, many times and it was a difficult path to stay on.)

While my health is (still) a priority, I’ve decided that it’s not going to be a resolution item. I’d like to slowly wade into changing my lifestyle like it’s a cold lake. (I’ve already started dipping my toes into Zumba.) Eventually, my whole self will be submerged and I’ll get used to the temperature.

In fact, I’m not going to make resolutions at all.

Honestly, when do we ever stop learning and evolving? This means we will never just be something once the new year rolls around. Planning to be healthier as of January 1st doesn’t mean that whatever compels me to eat poorly and not exercise is going to change as immediately as the date.

Instead, I’m going to start this year by acting on some lessons I’ve been taught by others and ones that I’ve learned the hard way myself.

This is a time to acknowledge personal growth and achievements of the past year so that we can skip on to the next learning adventures in the year to come.

A sample of four lessons I’ve learned from the past year:

I don’t have to stop loving someone when I don’t like them. I’m capable of forgiving.

Living with people means buttons are inevitably pushed. This is especially true when there’s a teenage boy in the house and the marriage is new. (We’re coming up on one year, soon.) I can remember holding onto anger when I was 10 years younger, just because it felt comfortable. One slight and the relationship was doomed, and I required a fresh start to get it back on track, if it could be salvaged at all.

I’m still working on this but I realize there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage and a perfect family; both require effort and sometimes we’ll make mistakes. Years ago, those were just words but really living it has put the meaning into them. This is the reality of any relationship—family, friend, partner or child.

Every person who seeks me out or acknowledges me deserves my attention.

If someone values me enough to seek an answer, I will respect them enough to try and provide it. When I’ve been spoken to, I will acknowledge. Every (genuine) email to me deserves a response. Every text message and every question my kid asks. Every effort put toward my own benefit gets, at the very least, a thanks from me.

Feeling invisible and unappreciated sucks, and I think every human is worth a few words when they’ve reached out to another.

The world won’t end if a kid has an ice cream sundae for dinner.

The same goes for adults. My nine-year-old recently came down with a painful case of strep throat while traveling and instead of trying to force something healthy on a child who was miserable, I let him have ice cream and chocolate syrup.

When things are tough, we tend to be even tougher on ourselves and this is a reminder to let up a little.

When we put another person in our shoes we are often more forgiving than we would be toward ourselves in each situation. There is a time to be hard and there is a time to be gentle, with other beings and with ourselves.

I am worth something.

We are worth the effort. We are worth the time. We are worthy of love, honesty, kindness and respect. And if anyone’s decided that we aren’t, that’s okay. This is a lesson that I’ve struggled with my entire life: it’s not my job to keep other people accountable.

“It’s just not fair that he got away with doing that to me, without having to answer for it.” Sound familiar? I struggle with this every day. Whether it’s a life-changing misdeed, disrespect or an unkind word, I am learning that each person has their own accountability scale—some think being a jerk is fine, and others would apologize profusely over nothing.

Neither are bad people, necessarily, but we get to make our own choices about whether (and how) we let this affect us: letting go, leaving the situation altogether or discussion and resolution.

As I learn this lesson, I realize that I would like my own accountability to be top notch, especially when it comes to interactions with someone who’s been unkind or selfish. I’ve been learning the concept of experiencing emotions, rather than having them define me. While this has been increasingly helpful in my day-to-day, I still need a tool for the gaps in between, when I’m not as mindful. That tool is ego. I feel good when I know I’ve treated others with kindness and respect.

I know that I have (hopefully) many more years and lessons to come.

I look at my sons and realize how many lessons they have yet to learn. I’ll bet my grandma looks at me the same way. (Oh, how I wish I could have the wisdom of the elderly.)

As I move forward into the new year, my only plan is to continue to act with the knowledge I’ve gained in an effort to make this upcoming year (and myself) even better than before.

It’s not a fresh start. It’s another layer of life.

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Photo: Ben Tesch/Flickr

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