A New Year's dialogue with myself
As January 1 approaches, I predictably feel a lot of internal pressure to write some kind of “year-in-review” post.
Most of it I can chalk up to the nauseatingly familiar drone of my resident inner drill sergeant. “Look at all these other influencers posting their years-in-review, no wonder they have so many more followers”; “isn’t this supposed to be your whole schtick?”; “how do you expect to impress the top-level people if you can’t even come up with something inspiring to post on f*cking New Year’s?”; that sort of drivel.
But if I listen closely, there’s also the quiet undertone of some sort of genuine longing, some honest, grasping desire to reflect and connect—which my inner drill sergeant is of course all too eager to assimilate into his cacophonous chorus of guilt and shame.
So let me now do what I might coach a client to do: take that longing aside, give it some breathing room, feed it with my interest and attention and energy, show it I really do care; empower it to say what it wants to say, and then decide if the output is worth sharing with my readers. [Plot spoiler: obviously I’ve decided that it is. But that wasn’t a foregone conclusion when I started this exercise.]
What is it you’re longing for, me? (This is so stupid, what does it even have to do with build- Shhh; quiet down, drill sergeant, I want to hear this.)
Well, I don’t know if it’s something worth sharing publicly or not, but I do know that New Year’s has always been my personal favorite holiday, and I feel like I want to mark it somehow, to express what it means to me.
Remind me again why it’s your favorite?
At first it was just the specialness and joy of getting to dress up the New Year tree (a.k.a. “yolka”; it’s a USSR thing) and stay up till midnight and celebrate this grand new beginning with mom and dad and grandma and the performers on TV and seemingly the whole world… And you know how I love to tell the story of our annual family outing to the Christmas Tree Disposal pile at Broad Ripple Park in Indianapolis each December 27, and picking out the choicest of the lush, gorgeous trees freshly discarded by the ever-punctual Americans…
Yes—come to think of it, why do you love that story so much?
Partly because it highlights our family’s scrappy immigrant way, that “relentless resourcefulness” (relentless and shameless, in our case!) that’s become such a core part of my character and mindset. But also it’s just a bit rogue and irreverent in that way I like to be about the occasions and customs that mean the most to me. Maybe because by ignoring or even actively flouting the meaningless conventions tied to them, I can distill them down to their essential meaning, and then create new, personalized rituals that directly connect to that meaning.
So then what is the essence of New Year’s for you? And how has it changed since then?
Well, as I got into the habit of journaling and setting yearly resolutions for myself as a teenager, New Year’s also came to represent this yearly moment of heightened purpose and consciousness; this special invitation to “level up,” to hold myself accountable to the goals that still mattered and sub out the ones that didn’t, to get a fresh start on life and on myself. But of course this whole “conscious reset” piece depended on that original sense of “specialness” and “irreverent celebration” to inspire and energize it; the whole context for reviewing and updating my goals and holding myself accountable was this intense awareness of how magical and magnificent life could be—an awareness that was not always so accessible to me on all the other days, as we both know. Remember how deeply shaken I felt that one year when dad casually asked whether perhaps I was “getting too old for the tree”? I told him “no,” of course, and that was officially the end of it—only I couldn’t stop thinking about it afterward. That innocuous suggestion threw my whole nascent worldview into doubt…
Yes, of course I remember. In fact, I just dug up our 12-year-old self’s diary entry immediately following that conversation, and it’s darker than I recalled:
Could I begin to grow out of traditions like this? Actually, now that I think about it, with most it’s already happened. Looks like it’s happening with New Year’s too…. I guess this is how life is. The more you mature, the less happy you become.
Oof. Do you think perhaps the need to actively resist and counteract that gloomy premise is part of what New Year’s has become about for you?
Yes, of course it has. As you darn well know, silly me.
Yeah, fair enough. Wait, so is this why you get so anal about insisting that we watch the live footage of the ball drop in Times Square every New Year’s Eve, right down to the last note of Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” no matter where we are or what we’re doing at the time?
Yes, of course. Even on that fraught New Year’s Eve of 2018, 2 weeks after mom had died, when [my now husband] Matt and I had just been dating for like 3 months and decided to go ahead with our planned Japan trip because it’s what mom would’ve done (she lived to travel) and it wasn’t like staying home wallowing would bring her back… Midnight in New York was 2pm in Japan, and we were in the middle of our hike around Mt Fuji. I had to fight back tears more fiercely than usual while watching the shaky YouTube livestream of the ball drop on Matt’s phone, even as the video cut in and out and Matt got progressively annoyed and we both stood braced against the icy wind of the mountainside. It was sublime.
Right; and I guess it’s also why Matt and everyone else you’ve ever been close with has had to sit through your two New Year’s movies—Holiday and When Harry Met Sally—every year on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, respectively?
Yeah, it is why, come to think of it.
Speaking of which, what does each of those movies mean to you, exactly? And why are they both so inextricably tied to New Year’s?
Well, they are both, in very different ways, about taking your own happiness seriously, even—or especially—as an adult. In Holiday, the Cary Grant character—who is as silly and playfully irreverent as he is goal-directed and industrious—finds himself about to settle into a safe, respectful life without much joy in it, and has to resist its inertial pull. In When Harry Met Sally, Harry finally mans up at the point when he sheds the last of his cynicism and unabashedly confides his love—because “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” I guess it’s not a total coincidence that Matt and I chose “It Had to Be You” [the song that plays during Harry’s realization] as our wedding song. And in both movies, of course, the big self-realizations happen on or around the New Year’s Eve countdown.
Ok, so that’s what New Year’s is about for you: celebrating and recommitting to life’s immense potential for happiness, with all the conscious reflection and bold, irreverent action and fanatical relishing of joy that this requires. What specific form is all that taking for you today, as you reflect back on 2023 and look ahead to 2024?
Mostly I’m overwhelmed with how much I already have to celebrate and to relish, and simultaneously afraid of getting complacent if I don’t take the time to reflect and act. Last year I managed to skimp on my annual “year-in-review” journaling by giving birth to Adam instead, at which point the parenting of a newborn and a 3-year-old (whom I somehow fell even more deeply in love with after the newborn arrived) made the fanatical relishing of joy an (almost literal) no-brainer. And now Adam is practically a toddler (!), and I’m spending more time than ever on the work I love, and I’m writing a book, and my marriage is flourishing, and ChatGPT is here (and perhaps will even be able to conduct this interview itself by the end of 2024), and the future is almost blindingly bright.
Which brings us back to our original question: what is it you’re longing for, me?
I guess it’s to make sure we don’t go blind to the brightness; that is, to not lose sight of the playfully irreverent joy that makes New Year’s my most sacred holiday. I want to shine light on that joy, to infuse it in every goal I set, in every coaching session I conduct, every course I teach, every framework I build—every post I write. Hardly what our inner drill sergeant was going for with this “Year-in-Review” business, I realize…
Yeah, well—good thing he’s not the boss of us.
Happy New Year, friends; and may you relish the joy of all you build in 2024.
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