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I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s. For as long as I can remember, the day has always come with a low-level sense of dread, usually accompanied by intermittent depressive doses in the lead up to the ball drop. Seeing ads and Times Square coverage of joyous people partying as they herald the flip of the calendar page only seems to make it worse, acting as a reminder of how I should be feeling but am not: happy, and looking forward to all that a new set of 12 months could have to offer, rather than what the past 12 have been.

To some extent, I do look to the new year with anticipation and hope.

It’s hard to dismiss the idea of an exciting restart completely. But, nonetheless, every year, I am awash with letdown. As John Lennon sings in “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”:

…and what you have done? 

Another year over, a new one just begun.

The duo of lines is my ear worm, playing on repeat in my skull now and, I’m sure, for days to come. But if I’m supposed to hear it with a gladdened lilt, I do not.

As someone who was described as an “achiever” in a college strengths’ survey, every year, I place bright green checkmarks next to each goal with my mental marker, excited to check them off. As a self-diagnosed dreamer, I have a tendency of elevating my own expectations, tingeing them in romanticism and the golden light of what could be.

When I reach the end of the year, I check over my work like that same fastidious student submitting a paper. But the achiever often fails to see the bright side, the progress, the successes. Instead, she slathers a bold red X next to each misstep, failure, and incompletion, giving no time or space for the crestfallen dreamer to grieve over.

The “shoulding” on myself begins:

I should have completed that; I should have tried harder; I should be farther along in life than I am.

In short, “shoulding” on yourself is not exactly the positive attitude you want to take into the new year. Try as I may to temper my own expectations, I end up here most Decembers anyways, wallowing and wanting to crank the sad tunes.

And in all honesty, I’m tired of it. I’d like the pattern to break, the bleakness to disperse, and no one else has the plans to take it down but me.

So, this year, I am adding one more task to the list, one on which the achiever and dreamer agree:

Be kinder to myself—and to see kindness in others.

For most of my life, I’ve viewed success as the way to happiness, and success as finite accomplishments. While I still believe joy can come from hard work, chasing a feeling I’ve never quite caught and needing to build one task on another over and over is exhausting and, at times, a few steps short of soul-crushing.

For my first act of personal kindness, it seems a frameshift is in order, one taking me away from looking at the expectations I have not met. It goes without saying that I will not always hit the mark. It’s part of being human, after all, and in those moments I don’t succeed, I need to learn to not be my own bully; keep the insults out of my head and out of my mouth.

Of course, addressing unmet expectations is important. It drives us forward and towards change. But, just as important is having the ability to break your gaze from the road not taken to see all the road you’ve traveled. Expectations I’ve met and those I never had but surprised myself with anyways should be just as worthy of my attention if not more than those I fell short of, and I should treat them as such.

Then, there’s my expectations for others.

Despite my writings in which I try to craft stories of the world I like to believe in, where people support and surprise and care for one another, all cards on the table, I struggle to trust people.

I’ve seen many examples of good humans and good relationships in my life, but it’s those humans that manipulate and use, the relationships that are mostly fighting, snide remarks, and degradation that stick out to me, and have me building walls around myself rather than draw bridges.

However, believing that people will disappoint you is not a fair game. It’s stacking the deck against them, and in a way, against myself, as I am constantly preparing for that fall, reinforcing walls when I feel them start to lower to ensure I don’t feel too much, and in turn, hurt when they prove me right.

It may feel like a safer way to live in the world at times, but it’s also a cynical way to view it. It reminds me of a quote I have in my office by Roald Dahl: “Those who don’t believe in magic never find it.” In expecting the worst, you only find things that support your belief, and miss the signs—some big and some small—of all the amazing, caring things that humans do. Yes, people have the capacity for crappiness, but also for kindness, and I need to have faith that the latter is more prevalent than the former.

As 2022 begins, this is the me I hope to cultivate throughout the rest of my year:

1) A woman who believes she is deserving of cutting herself a break, and

2) A woman who believes the best thought about people, who believes that that people deserve the benefit of the doubt.

I know that these goals are a work progress, and not something that will be complete by 11:59 P.M. on December 31st. I’d dare say that most worthwhile resolutions never are.

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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