It’s New Years Eve, so let’s reflect, since that’s what people tend to do on this day each year.
The past twelve months may have been for you a year of joy and fantastic momentum. Or perhaps it felt more like a slog through the boggy areas of your life. Maybe it was the hardest year you’ve ever experienced, one marked by loss, depression, illness, or strained relationships. If it’s been a fantastic year, you might hear things like “How can you make next year even better?!” Or “What’s your next growth area going to be?” If it’s been a slow slog, you could hear “What have you learned from your struggles?” Or “Chin up, it’ll get better. Stay positive” If it’s been a year of heartache, you may hear things like, “It’s in the past, so don’t focus on what has happened, look toward the future.” Or “Here, try this, you’ll feel better.”
There is a lot of advice out there. Sometimes it’s helpful, sometimes it’s not. Growth mindset is fantastic. Until you’re too tired or too busy surviving to grow another inch.
We cannot control how other people respond to our life story. But we can control how we do (most of the time – if you are struggling with mental illness or clinical depression this is not necessarily the case, and asking for and accepting help is important).
Whatever sort of year it has been, the things that happened in the last twelve months will always be with you. The year that’s nearly done is part of your life experience, and it always will be, whether the events that transpired were worthy of celebration or a doorway to heart wrenching grief. You can continue striving, look for the next area of growth, or set your sights on what’s yet to come instead of lamenting what has happened. You can also simply acknowledge the sort of year you’ve just navigated and gently set it down to be absorbed into the soil of your life.
Set it down, and work it into the soil a bit (this is different than burying it never to be seen again..) so it can feed whatever it is that needs to happen next — even if what needs to happen next is completely unknown. Even if what needs to happen next isn’t something you would have chosen.
Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are some years that ask questions and some years that answer.” For most of us, I think the question years far outnumber the ones that answer. It can be tough to discern what sort of year it’s been until years later, because some questions take an awfully long time to answer. Answers are often quite different than anticipated. And answers even sometimes come in the form of another question.
However you are feeling here on the cusp of a new year, know this: You are not defined by what has happened to you or what you have achieved. You are not your trauma, or even your successes. Those things have plenty of impact on your life, of course, but they aren’t the core of who you are. You are a human being full of nuance and light and shadow and pain and healing, something hard to define with spoken language. You are a part of the Earth’s body, part of the human collective voice, part of a mystical universe experiencing life on a planet of blood and bone and soil.
Look at what has come to pass, set it down gently, and allow whatever parts of it you can to nourish you. Acknowledge what you can’t control, and identify what you can. Use the strength that you have, in the aspects of your life where you have agency, to cultivate the life conditions you most need to thrive.
*This post has been adapted to serve as the afterword of Slouching Toward Radiance.