Back to Work: The Pressure of the New Year

Do I really have to go out there?

This may be the hardest day of the year.

December happens at a fevered pitch. All month, the tension mounts as we approach Christmas, then New Years. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s hard to escape the hysteria. Santa Claus everywhere, and lights, and candy canes, and holiday parties. It’s Festive and Exciting and Exhausting.

And, if you’re like me, you spent a good part of December reflecting on the year behind you, and looking forward to the year ahead. What would the New Year hold?, we wondered. What did we want the new year to hold?

* * *

This year, my year-end reflections were more focused than usual, and more in-depth, thanks to a blogging project called Reverb 10. Participants got daily writing prompts, wrote blog posts and shared our posts through Twitter, using the hash tag #reverb10 (you can read all my Reverb posts here). It was a deeply rewarding experience, helping me fully digest the experiences of the past year and develop clear intentions for 2011.

Which is why today is so terribly hard.

For a month, I’ve been getting more and more excited about the possibilities of the year ahead. I started December feeling angry that I wasn’t making art, and ended the month with the clear goal of making a living doing what I love. I felt the clarity of that goal in every fiber of my being. And I spent December connecting with like-minded souls, people all over the world parsing their own experiences and setting their own intentions, and cheering me on — a true community of support.

* * *

But then, starting on New Years Eve, I started to get scared. The month of dreaming was coming to an end. It was time to act.

Why is it so much easier to say, “I will do X,” than to actually do it?

It isn’t, actually. I know that. DOING is easier than not doing — avoidance takes more energy than almost anything else. I know this, and still, I’m jittery today. Overwhelmed. As if everything 2011 holds needs to be realized on Monday morning, January 3rd. As if it all needs to happen at once.

It doesn’t, of course. I know this. But reading Twitter this morning, I sense I’m not the only one feeling the Pressure of the New Year. No matter how mindfully we set our intentions, or make our resolutions, when the day comes to begin putting intentions into action… fear strikes.

But here’s the thing: Today is just one day. Tomorrow is another day, just as big, and just as small, and just as important, as today… and the next day after that. And within each day, are moments – moments we can choose to spend frozen in fear, or deeply alive. For me, feeling alive means being awake to the world around me. To my warm, soft dog, Cosmo, lying on the couch beside me. To the warm golden light outside my window, the soft robe against my skin, the flickering candle across the room. All this is real.

* * *

As for your dreams? Your intentions? Hold them in your heart, but don’t let them shroud you — don’t let them be a gauze between you, and the here and now.

One thing that really helps: Break down big, lofty goals into small, tangible steps. For example, I want to develop a more regular yoga practice this year. Specifically, I want to go to a yoga class at a studio three times a week. So yesterday, I looked at my favorite studio’s class schedule, and decided on which three classes to go to this week.

That’s it. That’s all I can do. And rather than feel intimidated, I feel excited — proud that I’m moving forward, and excited for the time I’ve set aside in my week to do that which is most important to me.

Next, I need to give the same treatment to my other goal this year, which is to make a living doing what I love. Such a huge aspiration — it’s too big to hold onto, really, until I break it down into attainable steps. I think this is the perfect activity for the first week of a new year.

So know this: If you’re feeling paralyzed by the pressure of the new year — you are not alone, and you are not stuck. The pathway from fear to excitement is right within your reach. Take some time this week to brainstorm small, specific steps you can take to bring you closer to your goals (take them one at a time). Maybe organize these steps by month (“What I need to do in January if I want to do X by the end of the year”), or whatever time period feels right to you — daily steps, weekly steps, steps to take by April/August/December… At the end of the day, you’ll know you’ve found the right approach when you look at your list and it feels EXCITING. Doable. Like looking at a gorgeous palette of colors before you begin to paint.

And that fear? It may come back – in fact, it almost certainly will. It’s scary to get close to what we want. In our most vulnerable moments, it can feel so much easier to stick with that which is familiar, even if what’s familiar makes us feel like shit. In those moments, remind yourself: Avoidance is hard. It feels easy, but really, it’s so much harder than being alive.

What are some specific steps you’re taking to realize your goals in 2011?

Photo above by Flickr user Paolo Margari

 

11 thoughts on “Back to Work: The Pressure of the New Year

  1. Have to say, I have the opposite going on. I'm not overwhelmed, but that's because I have little going on. I'm in "idle" for the season, as it were. And if anything, that's been hard. Because I'm so used to go-go-go….that it's disorienting/disheartening/depressing to not. Because in my case, it means that although I have possibilities, they're not moving into reality yet. So for me, it's all about continuing to toss my line in the water. Over and over. Someone will bite. And in the meantime, it is entirely too early in the day/year/season/hour to call things a washout. And with that, I am going to shut down the laptop, play with my kid, get out a bit. It's cold, but the sun is out full blast. And I know that if I were happily busy and overwhelmed and working the 9 to 5, I'd want to get out and some of that lucky old son. Letting go, every day. That's the challenge.

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  2. First of all, AMEN! I've had a great 6 or so weeks of anticipation of the fresh start a new year brings and waking up to the reality of it this morning was less "fresh" than I had hoped. The kitchen floor still needs to be cleaned, the dogs still barked at an ungodly hour, and there's still a half dead little Christmas tree in the middle of my dining room table! The new year fairies seem to have skipped over prepping my house for all the fantastic plans I have for organizing the chaos and clutter and making time and space to relax more and take better care of my family.Your reminder that everything I'm hoping to accomplish in 2011 doesn't have to be done by 7:30pm tonight when Chris walks through the door is perfectly timed. I'm going to start by breaking down all that I'm hoping to accomplish into weekly chunks (as soon as the kids give me 10 minutes to do it). The one specific step that I did take forward was closing up my old journal, filled with the roller coaster of the last 6 months, and starting a fresh new one on Saturday morning. I think I actually love cracking open a new journal even more than the new year itself!

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  3. @Amanda – am I intentionally idle? Oh hell no. But circumstances will not allow me to move. Therefore I am making peace with the idle. I am, shall we say, somewhat underemployed. But i realize I have the luxury of being in this position but not having to worry about making the monthly nut. So I try to remind myself every day to slow the heck down, appreciate what there is, and simply take tomorrow as it comes.

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  4. Michelle – I think there's a reason we're friends! Well, a whole bunch of them…. what I mean to say is, I'm so glad this post helped you out šŸ™‚ (I also have a dying Christmas tree, if it makes you feel any better.)Slowburn…I've been there. Without knowing the particulars of your situation – is there a reason you can't be plotting your escape, ie your route to more fulfilling employment? And/or, can you pour your full capabilities into a personal creative project?

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  5. Beautiful post, Amanda. I have the same feeling. As I start working on my goals, specifically the ones that require me to put myself out there into the world and see if I can make a-go of my yoga classes, I feel as much fear as I do excitement. I guess all I can really do is to keep going – the world is going to troll on with or without us trying to do the work we love so we might as well give it a whirl!

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  6. Amanda – great post! I also felt that fear this morning that you describe. I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one. I just left my full-time job in December and am now consulting and, like you, trying to walk a path where I hope to make a living doing what I love. We'll see how it goes. When all else fails, I go for a walk which helps me clear my mind and get energized to take my next step. Take care.

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  7. Slowburn: Sounds like you can't make any external changes for now, so your focus on savoring time with your children and 'embracing idleness' makes good sense…I wish you the best of luck finding joy in your current circumstances. I know how hard it can be when it seems the only path to joy is making changes that feel out of reach. I don't know if you practice yoga or meditation but I find both very helpful in anchoring me in a positive way in the here and now.Christa, Katie – how comforting to know others feel the same mix of fear and excitement. I think you hit the nail on the head, Christa: "I guess all I can really do is to keep going – the world is going to troll on with or without us trying to do the work we love so we might as well give it a whirl!"Whirling away we go…

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