A resolution against resolutions
I really like this reflection as someone who comes from the other side, someone who doesn’t do to do lists (but who has a partner who does and is incredibly productive). I’ve often compared myself to those who get shit done, and I’ve found myself wanting. But when I tried to live by lists, that never worked either.
So I do best by living with disciplines that are very few: 10 minutes of morning meditation, half an hour tai chi, and about 250 words of writing. My discipline isn’t about production though. It’s about grounding myself in the things that make me feel whole. I hope you can find and hold on to a few regular acts that do that for you. Mine doesn’t make the voice insisting on productivity go away, but it quiets it just enough.
In the I Ching, a Chinese system of divination, one of the pairs of trigrams is labeled “the taming power of the small.” May you find the Irina-sized discipline, the one that fits only you. Just big enough for that. And please be kind to yourself.
I loved reading this, Irina This part really struck me: "And this hole, this emptiness that many of us try to fill with work now, it’s older than Darwin and the Protestants and the Industrial Revolution. It’s a voice that says, You should not exist, your mere being puts you in debt. I find this voice in some medieval texts I read, in the notion that people must pay for sins they did not commit. I find it in the Western ascetic tradition, in ideas of self-discipline that are rooted in self-hatred, of self-abnegation to the point of annihilation."
I had never thought about this - how this urge, this almost survivor's guilt of the simply alive, stretches back so much further than we might assume upon first examination.
And so this is my resolution, all resolutions must die! (Just kidding, that's a Love & Thunder reference. 😅)
I enjoyed reading this. Particularly because it captures something that is quite paradoxical about how I'm approaching the year. On the one hand this is the first time I'm taking the whole new year, new me thing very seriously. I've got a theme and I'm working on a vision board, it's pretty elaborate.
On the other hand, I have decided to, in your own words, "be content to do a bit less than I could." Looking back at the last two years which were filled with mental breakdowns and suicide attempts, I'm convinced that the bible is right in shaming those who make things the essence of their lives, whatever those things are.
So this year I do have a vision board and all, but it's more to enable me escape workaholism than anything else. To try new things, to go out more, to cultivate friendships, to make my life beautiful in ways 10xing my income for last year cannot. And so help me God.
Mmmm. Yes and amen. I’m just easing into this new year and continuing to look for ways to be more in the flow and less in the fear.
Beautiful reflections! A much needed reminder at the start of the year! Thank you for writing this.
I am feeling exactly the same way. I am a very intentional person who engages in a lot os self reflection and simply do not have the energy for it in this moment. I do not want to not want to think in terms of goals at all. I met my goals last year and I'm not sure what that did for me. I'm opting out of the mythology that this universe wants constant output from me. I'm drinking tea, letting my thoughts be as foggy as the weather, and petting my dog.
I have never felt so seen. I always find the pressure of the new year so difficult. Reading your reflection made me finally put into words how I, and probably most creatives, feel this time of year: unfinished. Launching ourselves into a new year while our heads swim with yet-to-be-fleshed-out thoughts feels uncomfortable at best, and devastating at worst.
I really love your writing, your words come along with my angushes. Thanks to share with us this. I already read your recomendations: Swing times of Zadie Smith (I liked a lot) and El mal de montado of Vila-Matas (It brought smiles to my face).
This is really great. Thanks for writing this. It really resonates.
I love how you write so thoughtfully about this - and it really resonated with my own experience at New Year too.
It is easy to forget the things we achieve throughout the course of a year. But, also, when we seek that validation by quantifying every experience it actually ruins the simple enjoyment of living too. (i.e constantly thinking "how many of these have I written" or "how much better at this have I gotten" usually just puts us in a negative competition with ourselves!) .
So, I definitely agree with there being a lot of value in just taking things much more slowly or mindfully.
Maybe if we simply live each moment without the need to be making lists or tracking progress . . . then, more than likely, by the end of the year we would still look back at things in just the same way, and really appreciate just how much we accomplish even in small things!
It's like you held a mirror up, Irina! So much of this echoes, the curse of the efficiency trap, the refusal to conform, the appreciation of the moments in between. A wholehearted "yes!" to all this, and "no" to the mechanistic measures that stunt true blossoming into moments in favour of reaching for ever unreachable goals. Thank you for sharing.
I have had a similar experience of feeling like I've done nothing when in reality the numbers tell a different story. For me, this is connected with the remote work phenomenon of the pandemic. I started a new job at a new university in September 2020, and worked remotely for the entire first year. I was able to move to the new job's city in September 2021, but the campus moved in and out of the remote modality because of Covid numbers that semester, and I left that city in early March 2022, since which time I have continued to work remotely.
In this modality, creating relationships with coworkers has been incredibly difficult. Even when we were all theoretically working on campus, we were not spending time there or socializing. Everyone came just to teach. The only emails I get from my coworkers are when things go wrong--when a peer needs my help, when a superior is telling me I've made an error, when a member of my staff needs me to fix a malfunction in our systems. The lack of positive or even neutral interaction has created, for me, an urge to fill the relationships with more productivity. I resist this urge. That way lies madness. Instead, I am making a greater effort to send positive messages to peers and especially to the staff I supervise.
I suspect that other people may have experienced a similar dynamic in remote work, but I haven't seen anyone talking about it. In general, I really appreciate the option to do my job remotely, but I think this aspect of the modality needs more attention.
Grateful for this, just what I needed to hear. Enjoyed Setiya's MIDLIFE, will order this one as well. Warm wishes for 2023.
Great piece. Thanks.
Regarding being in eternal debt, you might like David Graeber's discussion of this concept in his book, Debt: The First 5000 Years.
Beautiful piece, thank you and Bonne Année !
Thanks so much for your thoughtful essay, Irina! as always, it is a treat to read your work and engage with your thinking. While I am fully aware that it is an enormous privilege to be able to say and pursue the mantra of "less is more," I must admit that that's exactly what I have been doing for the last year or so. I have noticed being so much happier when I spend time with lovely friends and family, cook delicious meals and/or go on longer walks listening to audio books than just simply producing work (in my particular case, that means writing academic papers). It is a privilege to have that time, yes. But I also decided to disappear from social media, read the news only once per day, and check my email less often. We can definitely find more pockets of minutes that we can repurpose for a better use--or simply, to allow the time to stretch a bit more...Thanks again for your wisdom, Irina! wishing you a Happy New Year!