A happy new year to all of you! We’re in the first week of yet another January and I swear the whole thing smells like a new car, radiates with the blinding whiteness of sneakers fresh out of their box, feels crisp like a newly bought spiral notebook in August, and seems as unadulterated as the perfectly level surface of a jar of just-opened peanut butter. It really is a beautiful thing.
And as bright and shiny and new as it all seems, I often have to remind myself that it’s not actually a brand new start at all. I don’t particularly mean in that in a bad way, but more in a practical one. The countless calories I consumed on New Year’s Eve don’t just disappear when the clock strikes midnight (wouldn’t it be nice, though?). Neither my mistakes nor my triumphs vanish, my connections remain intact, the experiences I’ve collected over 26 years are still guiding me, the chapters of my story stay in print, my thoughts and feelings and values and passions and commitments–all right where I left them at 11:59pm on Dec. 31st.
Jan. 1 isn’t a reset button for me, but it’s an opportunity to recommit (or commit for the first time) to the things that matter the most. I’ll share a few with you here.
First, I’d like to renew my commitment to community. I’ve spent the last several weeks thinking very long and deep in a head-hurting kind of way about the idea of community – not specific individual ones, but the Big Picture Idea of Community. In my graduate program, it was an expectation that we built community within the program. We made an attempt to create a space of warmth and safety and love for all of us, and though that commitment sometimes waned (speaking both in terms of my personal commitment and that of the overall collective), it was nevertheless a concept that was in the foreground of thoughts and conversations. I perhaps didn’t recognize or value its importance until I was removed from that experience.
In my full-time professional role now I’ve made intentional, concerted, and I promise you quite exhausting effort toward establishing community within the staff I now work with. This is something not done simply or quickly, partially due to the fact that not everybody recognizes the benefits to or importance of such a thing. To have to create buy-in from other people that may be perfectly friendly enough but don’t understand the value of creating true community with each other is an arduous process. It surprises many people to learn that it’s not my first instinct to be relational. It’s not even my second instinct. It may not be my third for all I know, but it’s important. And I get that now – after feeling so new to everything and everybody all of the time, I finally learned that connection is key. It’s exhausting to be the person putting in so much energy to establish that connection, and that exhaustion often precedes discouragement, but I have recommitted to pressing on.
Second, I am recommitted to writing more. Each of my journal entries since about March of last year inevitably starts with an apology to an imaginary reader for my lack of timely reflection on an entire string of events that transpired in the last sixish weeks. A hasty jot-down of notes and thoughts in a slapdash effort to simply “catch up” isn’t exactly proving to be the mindful exercise I intended journaling to be. Surely, if I pull my puddle of a brain away from just one episode of Parks and Rec on Netflix every night, I can use that 22 minutes for something a bit more meaningful. The Netflix addiction rages hard, though. The freedom to veg out after graduation was novel at first, and I’m embarrassed to say that novelty has yet to wear off. It may need some help wearing off, I think – some combination of will power and exploring interests that are a bit more tangible than a TV remote.
Next, I am committed to exploring every toddler’s favorite word, “no.” I mastered it around the time I was 2 or so, but the skill quickly faded, and now here I am in my mid-20s agreeing to second dates where there wasn’t a spark on the first one, tip-toeing around students that ask direct questions about if they should pursue an academic dismissal appeal, and watching the responsibilities I have with a volunteer role I hold for a Greek organization swell to levels that sometimes feel unmanageable. I’m continuing to unpack exactly why I struggle with that – partially because I like to be liked and prefer not to cause other people upset, but I think also because I don’t entirely trust myself. Maybe that guy is great and first dates are just awkward anyway. Maybe I don’t know that student’s entire story about why they earned a .8 GPA last semester so I shouldn’t be too direct. Maybe I should be taking on more things because I’m not contributing enough to the organization.
OR – No thank you, I’m not interested in a second date, but it was nice to get to know you. No, I do not think you have strong chances of being reinstated after your dismissal because you were too hungover to go to class. No, I cannot do those other three things because I’m already giving what I’m able to give. I need to learn it, embrace it, and by golly, use it.
Finally, I’d like to commit to doing laundry more often. Responsible adults do laundry, dagnabbit, and I am a responsible adult. Also, though I got into student affairs for the fame and fortune (just as, I’m sure, many of you did), I’m much too broke to buy new clothes. So laundry it is.
May your new year bring you moments of joy and learning!