Pretty much every barrier to contentment I face comes up because I haven’t yet finished accepting who I am, how human beings work, and how life goes down.
So this year, instead of setting New Year’s resolutions to go running at 5am, to give up sweets, or to learn how to re-wire a lamp (no thank you, yeah right and, re-what, now?), I’m going to dedicate my energy to accepting some truths:
That I’m always going to shop high street. So many people who wear vintage clothes look fantastic, chic and cool. But rather than just thinking that, I’ve been wasting energy chastising myself for continuing to purchase clothes from shops every Charlotte, Jemima and Louise can access. But then I realised – this is how I like to dress, and every time I walk into a vintage shop I feel like I do in a hardware store – I know that there is potential in here, but I just don’t have the skills or the vision to make it work for me. And that’s OK.
That my achievements are my achievements and your achievements are your achievements. I wrote a list of the reasons I haven’t yet done all of the things I’d like to do with my life recently, just to make my brain SHUT UP and stop making me feel like a failure. And the main one is this: Because I’ve been busy achieving other things, all of which I stand by. Your brain is so good at telling you what you haven’t done and terrible at acknowledging what you have. So I want to accept this and try to beat it at its own game. We each live different lives and it’s pointless to compare. It’s a much better use of time to be pleased with the life you have, to understand why it is how it is, and to focus on where you’re off to next.
That we’re just not minimalist people. I’m a huge fan of a clear-out and my favourite correspondence of all is a note from the British Heart Foundation to tell me how much my donations have raised. But I can’t give all our stuff away. I like to own books, lots of books. And clothes. And shoes. And old diaries with lists I might just need to refer to. And CDs because I still haven’t let go. My house is like my brain – busy, cluttered, covered in notes and so full of memories it’s ready to burst – and I’m alright with that.
That crisps are delicious and I like to eat them. I’m not going to try and kid anyone and say that I’m giving up treats. The way I feel when I see that Pringles are on offer for £1 a tube is probably similar to the way a football fan feels when Idontcare United does a goal or whatever – very excited indeed. So I’m not going to deprive myself entirely of this joy, I’ll just try and have a weekends-only rule, or something extremely self-restrained like that.
That conversations about money have to happen. One of the hardest parts of freelancing is the bit where you need to talk about cash. I’ve got better at it – I do it and I’m broadly happy with how it goes – but every part of me tenses when the conversation begins. I think it’s part human nature and part fear of being found out, which is weird because what are they going to find out? That I need to eat? HEAVEN FORBID. This is just a part of the process and I shouldn’t just accept it but welcome it. We all deserve to be paid for our work. And anyway, how else will I pay for those crisps?
That there are worse obsessions than the one I have with notebooks. Nothing brings me hope like a brand new pad. All that potential on those blank sheets – Will I write the next Bridget Jones? The next Hey Jude? The next How To Figure Out If Your Man Secretly Finds Your Laugh Irritating women’s magazine quiz? Paper is for me what drugs and alcohol and large televisions are for other people, except cheaper and much more civilised. We mustn’t beat ourselves up for having something harmless in our lives that we enjoy. Ok, my office might look like a stationery shop’s storage room, but who wouldn’t want to hang out in one of those?
That there will never be enough time. Age is realising that there is nothing you can do to stop time slipping away from you. It’s sitting with your family or friends and feeling the day being pulled out from under you before it’s even begun. Fighting it won’t do you any good – all you can do is try to dedicate the time you have to the people and opportunities that matter most. I want to use my time more efficiently – who doesn’t – but I also want to accept the decisions I make about how I use it. Regretting what you did with one day will only eat into the time you have on another, so that’s a stage we can afford to lose.
That you have to do things that scare you. Fancy being on telly? My friend, you’re going to have to stand in front of strangers and do some acting. Want to write for a magazine? Well, then you’re going to need to email the editor some ideas, probably be knocked back and then send some more. Scary, yes, but maybe also the one step between you and something worth a little perspiration. I have come to the conclusion that if I’m not scared or at least a little nervous about something, it’s generally because I don’t care about it, in which case, why am I doing it in the first place?
That most of the time I’ll never find out what you think anyway. It’s amazing that we invest so much time in worrying about feedback we’ll probably never receive. As much as I may worry that you thought I was a moron over dinner, that my eye make-up was poorly applied, or that my jokes were badly thought through, do I really think you’d say that to me? And if you did, a) Would we really be friends? and b) Wouldn’t I have the right to disagree? I worry about people thinking my writing is bad or silly or pointless, but I still continue to do it, which means I must believe in it. Happiness requires you to back yourself – to have faith that you are a good person and that you’re trying your best – in social situations, in your work, and in your application of eyeliner. And if not everybody likes it, that’s because people are different, which is healthy.
That life is not linear. One of the hardest things to get your head around is that there is no end point at which you’re handed a certificate for having done all of the things on your to-do list. Your life isn’t all set out in a line so that you can walk along it, ticking off your achievements on a clipboard. It’s much more interesting than that. I know this, I really do, I just forget it sometimes because I really like writing lists and crossing things off. So this year I want to remember how important it is to give yourself permission to stay open to what comes up, to change your mind, and to do what feels right for you.
That you can’t change people. Not the man on the tube who thinks he can sit with his legs spread so wide that they require their own carriage. Not the woman who doesn’t know to keep her questions about the film to herself until she leaves the cinema. And not the guy on the table opposite whose mother forgot to say EAT WITH YOUR MOUTH SHUT, YOU ANIMAL as frequently as mine did. More importantly, you also can’t change your friends, your family, or your spouse into different people. You can tell them if they’re upsetting you, but, after that, it’s up to them. All you can do is focus on being the kind of person you want to be.
I’ll be me and you be you and the rest of the year will take care of itself, I’m sure of it.
Happy New Year, friends.