new year’s non-resolutions

This was my Christmas and it was mathematical.
This was my Christmas and it was mathematical.

Happy 2015, readers! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? “Why has Massive Hassle stopped updating?” you were undoubtedly asking your family over Christmas dinner, shedding distressed tears into your second helping of turkey. “I know, it’s tragic,” your grandmother almost certainly replied, “I fucking love that blog. Pass the sprouts.”

Long story short, a bunch of life happened all at once, but I’m back now and it is the dawn of a new year, which means it is time for an obligatory and indulgent personal post about my resolutions. I usually don’t make resolutions because they are boring and inevitably end up causing me more stress than I would have incurred by continuing to bumble around with no real plan. However, 2015 feels like it’s going to be a turning point in a lot of ways (see also: I have no idea where I’m going to be in a few months time) so this year I have decided to make a concession to tradition.

I have four resolutions, but in reality they are not resolutions at all. Overall, my New Year’s resolution is to be shit at things. That may sound a little counterproductive, but I’m fairly sure it’s going to be an effective strategy. Allow me to explain.

1. Exercise

I like exercising a lot. If I were to make a graph of my life, there would be a direct correlation between “Times I Have Been Happiest” and “Times I Was Exercising Regularly”. Several years ago, I managed to decouple exercise from my physical appearance in my head. Exercise stopped being a means to an end (where the end was Lean Sculpted Body) and started being an end in itself. I started to find joy in movement and sweat and even pain. My rising anxiety and deteriorating moods these past few months have definitely been linked to the fact that I sit at a desk all day and sit down more when I get home and do very little walking around in between (thanks to Geneva’s infuriatingly efficient and well-connected public transport system).

So why haven’t I been moving? Pure laziness is a factor, but another obstacle I have identified in myself is that I have an all-or-nothing attitude to exercise; partly borne of my own personality (see below) but also borne of the dominant narrative about what fitness and health look like. Most exercise-related advertisements focus on pushing your limits and then pushing them harder and pushing them until they break and then punching your limits in the face and kicking them and calling them names and finally vomiting on your limits, because you are totally extreme and kick ass. The rhetoric around fitness is go hard or go home.  And I totally fall for this. If I’m not running a full 5k, three times a week, what’s the point of running at all? If I’m not sweating my brains out in an expensive Bikram yoga class every evening, why bother?

For people like me who are, in our heart of hearts, fundamentally sedentary creatures, this narrative sets us up for immediate failure, followed by a guilt spiral, followed by avoidance of exercise due to guilt, followed by eating all the bread and lying down forever while our sports gear shrivels up and dies in the back of the wardrobe.

So this year, I give myself permission to be shit at exercise. I give myself permission to take it easy and stop punishing myself because I’m not hitting all the recommended goals. One short, slow, ungainly run a week is better than no run a week. Twenty minutes of super-basic yoga is better than no minutes of yoga. The hardest part of exercising (and life in general, really) is showing up. This year I’m going to show up for exercise. Maybe not regularly, maybe not for long intensive sessions, depending on what life throws at me, but I will be there and my sports bra will probably usually be clean.

2. Write

Adventure Time advice is basically always solid
Adventure Time advice is basically always solid

I got into a good writing habit this year. I got into the habit of sitting down after work and banging out 500 words of thoughts on the feminist topic du jour or getting down a scene that had been clanging around in my head all day. I have a bulging drafts folder that is a testament to my good writing habits.

What I did not get good at this year was showing people my writing or posting regularly on this blog. Massive Hassle has undoubtedly been one of the best decisions I’ve made in the last few years. Each and every post has been a learning experience and some of them have gained a fair amount traction on the wider interwebs as well, which is the best bonus I could ask for. But at some point I started feeling a lot of (almost entirely self-imposed) pressure to make every post perfect. Due to the all-or-nothing syndrome mentioned above, my drafts became 2000+ word long monsters as they tried to ramble through every possible angle on given issue. I started writing a post only to later dismiss the topic as too trivial, too broad, too specific or not feminist enough. Being a full-time editor meant that my editing powers were usually sapped by the time I got home in the evenings, meaning I had neither will nor skill to wrestle the beast-drafts into coherent posts. Things kept happening in the world (it’s been a big year for feminism!) and I started to get overwhelmed by the sense of obligation to write about every single one of them. Cue paralysis, cue guilt spiral, cue avoidance.

This year, I give myself permission to publish posts that do not comprehensively examine issues from every conceivable angle. I am not the New York Times and everything I write does not need to be meticulously researched to within an inch of its life. I am not a news outlet and I do not have an obligation to write about anything I don’t feel like writing about. This blog is and always will be a platform for my opinions, half-baked or otherwise. I give myself permission to be shit at writing this year.

3. Language

I have been living in Geneva for over a year now and my French is still rudimentary. There are plenty of good excuses for this – I work predominantly through English and only a handful of my friends are native French speakers – but the real reason is that I’m a lazy Anglophone and I have not tried hard enough. Sure, I took classes and then I did Duolingo every day for weeks and then I took more classes, but the truth is that I have been petrified of jumping into the deep end and actually speaking French in casual settings with native speakers. Why? Because I’m scared of sounding stupid.

Due to the ubiquitous nature of our language, Anglophones are largely unaccustomed to not being able to communicate fluently and easily. And sometimes I think the better you are at English, the harder it is let go of your native tongue. I am a verbal person. I’m not good at many things, but expressing myself through my words is definitely one of them. Speaking French means switching from a language in which I have rich vocabulary, full of quirky idioms and colourful turns of phrase, to one in which I know only a few hundred words and struggle with the conditional tense. I’m not used to feeling slow. I do not like not being able to express myself. So most of the time I chicken out and speak English, and most of the time the world lets me get away with it.

But the thing is, non-native English speakers don’t get to chicken out. They don’t get to assume that the rest of the world will meet them all the way, or even halfway. The vast majority of non-native English speakers go through that process of feeling stupid and slow as they gradually build up their fluency. So that fear is a) no excuse for anything and b) a surmountable barrier that I can and will push through.

This year, I give myself permission to speak shitty French until it gets better and start learning to be shit at Spanish too.

 4. Freelance

Professionally, I have learned a lot of things about myself this year. For example, getting up early does not get easier if you do it every day. Morning people are liars. Night owl and proud. Bed is heaven. I love you, bed, never change. I also learned that I’m good at jobs that have a beginning, middle and end and let me sit down and get in the zone for long periods of time, and that I like to do things completely and correctly. I definitely learned that I am not good at office politics, bureaucracy, talking to people or generally not being a massive bag of awkward.

But the most important thing I have learned is that I don’t want to jump into another 9 to 5 job just because that’s what expected of me. I’ve learned that don’t want to sit in an office for the rest of my life, even if that office says “Manager” or “Director” on the door. I want something different. It has been hard to admit this to myself because I feel like I’m disappointing people (not even specific people, just a vague amorphous blob of “people” who have believed in me over the years). It feels like failure, even though deciding not to settle should never feel like failure.

I want to be able to support myself with work I’m good at and don’t hate. I want flexibility. I want to travel. I want space to write this blog and to write the fiction I never show to anyone. I want the option to start work at 11am after a run and a good breakfast, or at 9pm when my brain is at its most active. I want the freedom to work on what I want, when I want. I don’t want a lot of money. I don’t want a “career” unless that career is as a full-time writer. I’ve been reading a lot about digital nomads and I’ve been thinking maybe that’s the path for me.

So as of 2015, I want to start building up experience as a professional freelance copy writer/editor/proofreader/general drafting and design and layout person. I have the skills, I just need to get better at selling them. I have already taken first steps with my current contract. This is the only thing I do not give myself permission to be shit at this year. I’m going to be the best damn freelance proofreader the world has ever seen. If I can do it from a hammock in Bali, all the better.

And that’s it. That’s my plan for 2015. TL;DR: Realistically, I don’t have time to run three times a week and also yoga three times a week and write 500 words every day and continue learning a second language and cook healthy wholesome meals for myself and give time to my relationships and also continue to pay rent and get enough sleep and maybe watch TV from time to time. It’s not possible and beating myself up about it won’t make it possible. This is going to be a year of letting things slide, deliberately and strategically. Letting things slide is how you discover what is essential to your happiness.

So Happy 2015, everyone! May you slide closer to wherever you want to be this year.

5 thoughts on “new year’s non-resolutions

  1. so one thing though that’s different in the anglophone sitch is that non-english speakers are pretty much surrounded by english all the time (songs, movies, games, advertisements, etc.). while we all know that doesn’t make anyone a good speaker, it DOES mean that they’ve had many many cumulative hours of exposure to english. i’m not writing to somehow lessen our anglophone shame or whatever, but rather suggest that you just watch french movies and eavesdrop and read french stuff and just immerse yourself in the french sound/wordscape. while it won’t make you a conversationalist, even if you’re not ostensibly “learning” french it should help somewhat! some of my most fluent students in turkey were sort of shy but watched a lot of american movies and played MMP games. and this is way easier than doing a language course! or talking to people! #linguist

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  2. I really want to be a digital nomad too. I’m only part time now in The Company, and I am trying to build up freelancy things to do so I can control my own life. But even with translation, the rates are so low. If you have any freelancer tips, I’d love to hear them.

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  3. I love this and can relate in a very big way! I’d been feeling immensely stressed in the last few months, having taken on way too many projects and struggling to deal with horrible office politics too. As of the new year, my workload has substantially decreased (for a variety of reasons) and it has been wonderful so far. I am also not Good At Exercise but I felt great about myself on Sunday for spending 10 minutes bopping along with a YouTube exercise video. I have also been baking compulsively – right now I have a tin of mushy flapjacks, cheesecake brownies and gingerbread in the kitchen. Having the time to pursue things that have nothing to do with “furthering” yourself or making money is intensely liberating. And professional autonomy is so precious too, particularly in writing. Your blog posts are uniformly wonderful but even if they’re not, they are still better out in the world than not! To a year of being shit! All the best with everything you’ve got planned 🙂

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