At the start of December 2015, I was preparing for my full transformation into an organized, energized achiever. The me I'd been my whole life—the woman who wore perpetually hot sauce-stained jeans and had developed a charming rash of unknown origin on her left ankle—would step aside, and let a kitten-heeled, Economist-reading, compost-making goddess take the reins. She'd be capable and organized, and I bet she could whip up a holistic remedy for that rash too.
I suspected that this transfer of power would be a hostile takeover, so I spent the better part of the month preparing myself for the challenge. I mapped out the life I wanted for myself, writing down more than 100 resolutions across fourteen categories. My goals ranged from the grandiose (write a memoir!) to the mundane (organize the apartment!).
In Google Drive, I created my own utopia, with pie charts to map my progress, a color-coded daily schedule, and fourteen folders full of possibilities. Go ahead, check out a few of my completely achievable life goals for 2015:
1. Take an online class on sustainability.
2. Make my own toothpaste (cross-check with "Physical Self" folder for how many times per week you're supposed to brush your teeth).
3. Start an online magazine about sustainable travel.
4. Figure out what sustainable travel actually is.
5. Make compost.
1. Become a yoga teacher.
2. Go to yoga two times in a row without feeling like you're dying.
3. Wear more red lipstick (cross-check with "Sustainability" folder for vegan makeup brands with recycled packaging).
4. Make your own clothes.
5. Find all the buttons missing from three of your coats (cross-check with "Home" folder for where the f*ck those buttons might be).
6. Learn how to sew on a button without massive blood loss.
Some of the resolutions were more poignant. Another folder was full of longing for closeness with my clan, which was—and remains—spread across three continents.
1. Call grandma in Russia once a week.
2. Take guitar lessons with Dad over Skype.
3. Plan a trip to see Cousin Anya in Amsterdam before she has the baby.
With so many hours spent anticipating the enormous successes that were just around the corner, New Year's Eve felt miraculous. "Bring it," I whispered as the clock struck twelve. And the next morning, I got to work: I clung to my schedule, ticking off boxes of fulfilled obligations. My apartment was practically spotless, I went to yoga, I signed up for an online course entitled "Introduction to Sustainability," I called my mom almost every day, and I started a new editing job. I even made my boyfriend breakfast, although it was admittedly a kind of pumpkin mush that he could only describe as "not soup." The first few weeks were promising... at least on paper.
How I actually felt was a different story. Obsessing over getting through my daily to-do lists, I barely left my apartment. Unplanned meetings with friends or long meandering walks were out of the question. I called my grandma out of obligation, usually as I hurried to a yoga class. Keeping the apartment spotless left no time for lipstick or kitten heels. I was stressed and disconnected, feeling only the occasional jolt of relief when the day was over, never in the process of actually performing the tasks I'd decided were so important.
Week by week, I began to slide into a full-on, slow-motion resolutions failure. It was like tripping on the sidewalk, taking an embarrassing, wobbly five steps, then hitting the pavement full force. Within nine weeks, the pie charts and the schedule were abandoned. Yoga soon followed, as did the “Introduction to Sustainability” course, as well as any attempts at homemaking.
I'm still afraid that they don't know the real me, and one day they'll discover that the person they love is actually twelve weasels in a Masha costume.
Having invested so much time, energy, and hope into this transformation, I felt devastated and guilty. Why did sticking to my resolutions feel just as terrible as abandoning them? Why in the world was there no joy in becoming who I wanted to be?
In the many months since, I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out why my plan failed so miserably. I read books like Anita Moorjani's Dying To Be Me, Wayne Dyer's Inspiration: Your Ultimate Calling, and poured over Louise Hay's website. I also tried meditation, and while that usually just turned into naptime, it also gave me space for introspection. In the end, I learned that my color-coded schedule was jinxed from the get-go. Basically, if my gigantic Near Year's Eve resolution had been a building, it would have been condemned before I lay down the first brick.
Aside from the fact that my New Year's resolutions actively violated laws of time and physics, my biggest obstacle was this: I believed that once I became a person worthy of accepting, then I would accept myself. It seems logical, but there's a catch—if I believed that I didn't deserve to feel good, then how could I ever feel good? If I didn't matter, then nothing I did could matter, either.
Once I made this realization, I looked to see which of my resolutions were jeopardized by a lack of self-love. The answer was "many." One of the most raw and painful realizations came when I looked at my relationships. My family has always been on my side, offering support and love no matter what was going on in my life. But I still don't talk to them as often or as intimately as I want to. Why? Because I'm still afraid that they don't know the real me, and one day they'll discover that the person they love is actually twelve weasels in a Masha costume.
This imposter feeling has kept me from my friends too. I convinced myself they were better off without me, despite their loving emails and phone calls. The feeling kept me from pursuing my writing, from experimenting with photography, making collages out of tissue paper... and a million other things. And that feeling has been my companion for a very long time.
One thing I do love about myself is my resilience. Once I untangled the mess I had made of my resolutions, I came up with a new plan, a better plan, with just one resolution for 2017: accept my value as a human being, just the way I am.
Why did sticking to my resolutions feel just as terrible as abandoning them?
So how does one go about learning to accept herself? I had no f*cking idea, so I began by accepting my love for ticking off boxes and making lists. I swapped out my folders of cross-posted resolutions for a small notebook, where every day, I write down the things that made me feel good, self-loving actions that I took, and any evidence I found that the universe doesn't hate me.
Sometimes it's really easy fill in the blanks: a friend paying me a compliment, buying myself flowers, receiving praise at work. Other days, I really have to scrape the bottom of the barrel ("took a shower" has made it on the list a few times) but without fail, every time I add something to the list, I feel better.
I've made small shifts that feel big. I tossed a pair of boots that looked great but made me want to chop off my feet to stop the pain. I leave parties the second I'm bored, raising a few eyebrows in the process. I've started to open up to my family about my feelings of inadequacy. Sometimes the most loving thing I can do is turn down a fun offer because finishing my work feels better than playing hooky. Sometimes I blow off work for an afternoon cuddle with my boyfriend and our cat. Anytime a panicked voice screams, "But what about all the things!" I remind myself that as far as self-improvement goes, my only job is to do what feels good.
I've also stopped defending myself. A year ago, had my boyfriend made an accurate observation about me being messy, I would have made him sit through a presentation on why that's simply not true. These days, I gleefully respond with a "yep!" as I fish cookie crumbs out of my bra. It's incredibly liberating.
My coats are still buttonless, I'm still using store-bought toothpaste, and I have come to accept that I will simply never make compost. But I did do some amazing things this year: I visited my cousin in Amsterdam and got to see bright tulip fields from the air, and I started teaching a writing class that has brought me more joy than I could have imagined… plus, I finally figured out the cause of that rash on my ankle. Ironically, the culprit was the desk chair where I had spent weeks planning out all of my failed resolutions. I’d sat there the same way every day, with one leg tucked under me, my ankle rubbing against the chair's edge day after day. In chasing down an idealized version of myself on paper, I had left my actual, imperfect, real self bruised and rash-covered. So I traded in the chair for a floor cushion, where I can sit cross-legged in front of a coffee table, a purring cat in my lap... and I feel so much better.