The Happy Death of Hopes and Dreams

Got your resolutions yet?

It’s that time of year with pages full of “retrospectives” and “renewed goals” and “how to crush it in 2019!” An offhand joke from my daughter recently inspired a different take on this arbitrary “end-of-year” fervor:

What if we gave it up?

Let me make the case for giving up on your hopes and dreams.

You’re Competing With Your Perfect Self

Somewhere – whether you got it as a kid, or through social media, or through some kind of conditioned on-the-job training (or all of the above) you got an image of Your Perfect Self. That’s not, by the way, the person you want to be – it’s the person you think you should be. The vision of yourself that is shaped by outside expectations.

The thing is, it’s a mental model. It’s an imaginary friend. It was possibly given to you by people with the best of intentions (I want you to achieve your potential!) and possibly with the deliberate intention of making you waste your energy on unattainable goals so that you would always feel inadequate.

Doesn’t matter. It exists, and it is part of the machine that is telling you that you should change a bunch of things about your life on January 1st, because you aren’t good enough right now.

“Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.” – Brené Brown

In Search of Enough You

That simple phrase – “good enough” – should lead you to one particular question that is is the Achilles’ heel of that perfectionism:

Good enough for what, exactly?

Wherever you are in your life, whatever you’ve achieved, the fact that you are reading this right now is an indication that you really are doing pretty well. You have access to technology, you’re taking the time to expand your knowledge, and rather than reading up on the latest Kardashian exploits you are reading a blog about personal development.

That’s pretty damn good. Give yourself credit for that.

But now that I’ve planted the seed in your brain, you might click away to see what the newest posts on TMZ are, and you know what? That’s ok too.

The voice that insists that it’s not ok, that tells you that you need to make resolutions and charts and goals and get up at 4am so you can be like The Successful People, that voice is playing into a fallacy. And it’s gonna be hard to hear this fallacy, I know, because while I can type it, and rationally I can believe it, I am a long, long way from internalizing it:

The opposite of work is not laziness.

That’s a really, really hard thing to hear, if you’re anything like me. There is this fear that if I don’t have a to-do list, a hustle, a side-hustle, a 5-year plan, and a morning routine I will slip into indolent comic-book-reading and doodling and eating cake all day.

That’s not true. Sure, I might for a while – I put off a lot of cake-eating comic doodling during my daily work, so when I grant myself some “slack” I have some serious chocolate Avengering to draw. But would I do nothing but that if given the opportunity.

“Studies indicate otherwise,” I typed, and then went to Google to find corroborating evidence. Instead, what I found was article after article stating: Humans are inherently lazy. Which means I wasted this entire blog post, and I guess yeah, we should make resolutions and…

…wait a minute. I’m noticing another thing those articles have in common: again and again, the refrain: “Perhaps we are exaggerating when we say…

It’s clickbait. When you read the articles, they are equating “finding an efficient way to do things” with “lazy” and sure, that’s one of my favorite sayings: Progress is made by lazy people finding easier ways to do things – (Heinlein).

But that is not the same as “if I don’t continuously try to change who I am, I will not be good enough.” We do, however, have a tendency to want to create busy-work for ourselves. We are naturally inclined to dislike the status-quo. And combine that with our unrealistic perfect self, and suddenly that “fresh start for the New Year” becomes really appealing.

Make an UnResolution

I’m not trying to fight human nature on this. And hey, the last thing I want to do is add to feelings of shame or inadequacy, so if you really want to make resolutions this new year, I’m cheering you on!

But what if we kind of made a meta-resolution. An un-resolution? Something like: I’m going to focus, this year, on accepting myself as a beautiful and good person just as I am. I’m going to acknowledge all the ways I am enough.

Maybe make a list of things you don’t want to change. Make a list of the things you want to keep doing, rather than the things you want to give up. Gather the things that you enjoy, that feed your soul, and remind yourself that there really isn’t any such thing as a “guilty pleasure” – because especially now, in what Kameron Hurley often refers to as “the Darkest Timeline”, the words of Audre Lorde ring especially true:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

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