Every year, I buy a blank notebook to use as my planner. Simple dotted notebook. No, I’m not a bullet journaling influencer. I keep it simple, 6 lines to divide up each week. It takes me all of 5 minutes to set up. Black ink on recycled paper.
Every year on January 1, I crack open a the new notebook, a couple hundred pages and 52 weeks ahead of me. I try to start with a broad view of the year, as one does at the beginning of the year.
On January 1, 2020, I wrote down a list of goals, or perhaps, reminders. 2020, I decided, was the year of clarity and focus. After a turbulent 2019, it was time I grow up. So I jotted down 5 things.
It’s been 6 months since I wrote those 5 points. And my life, and the world, has changed beyond recognition. In January, New York was still a pipe dream. I hadn’t even applied for my current job. It almost feels silly going back and reading these idyllic points I outlined for myself. They feel naive. They make me feel nostalgic for a past that seemed so much more simple. Where uncertainty was a little more of a predictable variable than a constant. When I had nothing, but still some semblance of control.
And now, 6 months and what feels like years later, as I reread what my naive early 2020 self had wrote, it feels simultaneously a little funny and a little sad. Because I know no matter how hard any of us try, we can only do so much. But at the same time, it takes hardship to grow, it is challenging to make change. And here we all are, just halfway through this crazy year, unsure of what to expect next, the past quickly fading into distant memory. And the present, an arduous constant, a never ending dystopian nightmare that put us all in collective grief for what once was, what could be.
Opt for clarity
These days, nothing is clear. The internet, our always on gathering space, is cluttered as ever. But in other ways, the faults of institutions have never been clearer. The systems that have failed the most vulnerable populations. The oversight that has neglected our neighbors. The lack of humanity in governance. It’s glaring. While the path forward may still be clouded, there’s an unexpected clarity in the present that can shape the future in important ways. As for that clear mind? Well, maybe we’ll check in after a few more months.
Keep goals in focus
As if this ain’t hard enough on a “normal” year. Let’s just say 2020 has really taken us for a ride. Personally, I was so close to some level of what I had hoped for. A new chapter. The next rung on this ever growing ladder of life. But jokes on all of us because the year had different plans for us.
It’s hard to remember what those goals were. And even harder to figure out a path forward when you don’t even know what tomorrow has in store. Focus is near impossible. And even when we try to pay attention, our collective memory struggles to keep up, to focus for long enough to make change. Community organization has never been stronger and more omnipresent (in the digital and physical worlds), and yet the challenges of organizing, of keeping movements on track, of steering the message, only seem to be amplified. Sometimes it’s easier to tune out. But we’re not here to do things the easy way.
Not that we have much of a choice these days, there are limited options to pivot in any realm. But it is hard to stay motivated even in the track you’re stuck on. Making decisions seem a little pointless, and it’s pretty easy and tempting to shift the blame for any consequences to the global pandemic or systemic racism or whatever else the world decides to throw on us on a given Tuesday. Perhaps only time will tell, as the dust settles. In the meantime, whether it’s taking it day by day, or trying to see the bigger picture, we owe it to ourselves to put in the effort and do the best we can, even if it’s the little things.
Convert darkness to light
There is a lot of darkness this year. Or at best, general grayness overshadowing the world. It takes a lot of effort and creativity to see the light. But sometimes it is the darkest part of life that bring out the best in people. Maybe it’s desperation. Defiant beauty. The most beautiful thing I’ve seen this month is (yes, the very one I hate), filled with people (another thing I dislike). Marching. Gathering in the middle of a pandemic to make a point. Social media feeds, something that can be so dark, being converted to a grassroots educational platform from the bottom up. It’s easy to be uninspired these days, to want to cancel everything and give up. So when there is even a flicker of hope, hold tight and walk toward the light.
Seek fulfillment in different spaces
It’s amazing how exhausting it can be to do nothing. To say this year has been mentally challenging would be an understatement. But confinement has inspired incredible creativity. From artists to technology innovators to industry movers to medical researchers, this year has already shown us that limitations are what force creativity.
While I can appreciate that on a macro level, it’s a lot harder to push through on a day to day basis. It’s been interesting, seeing what we do when we no longer value our time. Mundane tasks feel appealing. Things you normally wouldn’t do, walking across the city. Biking all the way up Manhattan. Waiting for bread to proof. Making ice cream. Watching an entire movie franchise (ok, this one we probably do regularly). When your options are limited, there’s not much to invest in. Consuming is easy. And you have so much time to read, watch, listen. But it’s also exhausting. Creating is even more tiring. Like a coach would tell an athlete, I’ve found the only way to push through is to listen to your mind like you should your body. When you have a burst of creative energy, sprint. When things are not feeling good, seek inspiration. Optimizing is a moving target, but the hardest part is yet to come. Trying not to beat myself up for not having anything to show for all this down time will be the real test.
Reflection, to me, sometimes feels like a chore. I hate having to think back on things, having to reassess, to analyze, to acknowledge former faults and failures. But to hold myself accountable to #1, it does provide some clarity.
If I could amend my January statements, I would add one more: connect. Connection means something so different now. But it’s so important. And it takes effort. It’s tiring. It can feel tedious. It can be rewarding, and it can be disappointing. But it’s necessary. I’ve never felt so connected and disconnected in my life. Physical distance seems irrelevant in a virtual world, but also, life on the other side of the world may as well be on a different plane of reality. So through screens we connect, we see the world through the perspectives of others. And someday, we’ll make tangible connections out of these mental and emotional ones.