It is easy, even natural, to draw boundaries in time. Placing arbitrary starts and stops on a life consisting of a continuous march of days makes it easier to review, to plan, and to adapt. Without the milestones of birthdays, semesters, or seasons, life can start to feel like a featureless, mind-numbing horizon that goes on forever. (Life is Kansas.) That’s why, toward the end of each year, we feel the urge to recap the year to our friends and family–to take stock of what has occurred and how we have changed as a result.
Each year at Christmas, I relish receiving updates from my friends and family, whether it be letters, a handwritten note, or a photo chronicling the passage of time and the inevitable growth that accompanies it. Children grow, leave, return, and introduce children of their own. Families adapt and change. Careers shoot off in new and unexpected directions. It is an annual survey of the shifts in life’s landscapes: sometimes seismic, sometimes-minute.
Often, the most profound changes–those with the largest impacts–are not the ones that can be seen in a photograph or easily written up in a paragraph-long summary on a greeting card. They are deeper, bigger, and more hidden. For me, 2017 was a year filled with these type of changes.
On the surface, very little has changed. I still live in my little house, I still have the same job. Both I and my dog are a year older. I still garden, and cook, and play the piano, and record audiobooks, and make YouTube videos about fountain pens. I’m still single and I still don’t have kids.
Nevertheless, this has been a year of drastic change. It was the year I had to say a heartbroken goodbye to a dear friend whose life ended far too soon–a friend whose acceptance and support and love helped me through a very difficult time in my life, and a friend who I can’t help but feel I let down when it was my turn to support her.
2017 was the year where I realized the importance of experiences over things and began to build memories attached to people and places. It was the year I decided I was willing to start going on vacations by myself because I was tired of waiting for someone to go with me. It was the year I started to sell off and give away my things in an effort to simplify my life (although that will be a long-term project.)
2017 was the year I finally started to silence the decades-long assault of internal self-doubt and self-loathing that had driven me to focus my energies on gaining acceptance from other people rather than just being me. It was the year that I finally set down the emotional baggage of a hurtful past I had been carrying with me for years–and I just kept walking. Not coincidentally, it was also the year I started being able to define myself not by what I do, but by who I am.
2017 was the year during which I found that I am not, as I had long assumed, a raging introvert. It was the year that I rediscovered how much I love having people in my life. It was the year I learned that I still know how to make friends, and how important the right friends can be. It was a year for saying “yes” when asked to do something or go somewhere: Yes to dinners out, to theater shows, to museum trips, to nightclubs, to Starbucks in the middle of the day for coffee and a vent session.
2017 was the year I finally realized that my emotional sensitivity isn’t a burden or something to be ashamed of, but a strength. It was the year I let down my walls and allowed myself to be vulnerable and open. It was the year of laughter and tears and joys and frustrations and allowing myself to feel all of them in equal measure.
2017 was the year I stopped eating my feelings and began feeling them instead. It was also, not coincidentally, the year I dropped nearly 40 pounds of excess weight and bought a new wardrobe.
2017 was the year I tried to stop making excuses for why I was alone and started accepting the risk of rejection. It was a year of realizing that the journey of life is meant to be an opportunity to experiment and experience rather than play it safe. It was a year of quieting the fear that has driven so many of my decisions in life.
2017 was the year I got back onstage in front of an audience and sang for the first time in over a decade. It was the year I wrote some great songs and a thoroughly mediocre romance novel. It was the year I sat down at the piano and sang at the top of my lungs almost every single night…just because I wanted to.
2017 was, in summary, one of the most seismic, profound, life-changing 365-day periods in the landscape of my life. It was hard as hell, but it was an amazing year for me. And it was the year where, for the first time I was able to look at myself and say, “You know what? I actually like who I am.”
Today, as the full moon shines down upon this new year, I am happy to not look upon the next 365 days as a laundry list of things about myself I need to improve. 2018 is not about losing those last 20 pounds, saving up another $1,000, or writing a certain number of songs. This year is, as are all years, about living life.
That’s my only goal this year: keep it up. Live my life. Live it out loud, with tears, laughter, new and old friends, new romance, and a metric butt-ton of new experiences. The arrival of January 1st is a terrible reason to start making a change, but it is one of those waypoints on the road of life where you can look back and say, “This was a good year.”
And it really was.