Dear Self: 2016 New Year’s Letter

Another year has come and gone and 2016 is rolling in like an out of control freight train.  It’s that special time when the whole world looks backward and forward and people are so full of hope that it’s almost contagious.  Almost.

But this isn’t about them, is it?  No, it’s about us.  Me and you, self.  So fuck those hopeful dudes and let’s take a hard look at where we are right now.

2015 was not what we expected, not by a long shot — but that seems to be the theme these days.  The last few years have been filled with unexpected news, unplanned tragedies and uncontrollable emergencies..  But along with that, we’ve also been witness to unbridled acts of kindness, unrepentantly loyal friendships and unbelievable compassion.

We saw that, more than ever, our networks and our relationships weren’t just a net made of moments, but instead a raft that kept us from sinking into the black deep.  We found kindness and understanding and hands to help us up when we started to sink.  We found that even in the worst situations, there could be a point of light somewhere in the distance to focus on.

I had ignorantly believed that getting through 2015 meant an end to my term as a medical guinea pig, that after the last surgery it would all be maintenance and living better and being better to myself.  I thought we’d gotten through the worst of it.  From where I’m sitting today, it’s clear that we’re sailing right into a storm, the likes of which we’ve never known.  It’s going to be something, alright, but if this year and the years before it have shown us anything, it’s that we have all the tools and resources and people we need to make it through.

This is the year you’ll have to admit that you’re going to have to step back from work some to give yourself room to breathe.  This is the year where there’s not going to be a choice between health and work, and you’re going to have to accept that.  But, as you shed hard deadlines, you’ll be opening yourself up to other possibilities, other opportunities, and you’ll be able to help more people with every stroke of the key.

There’s only going to be one go at this life, and that means that you need to lay some groundwork for something bigger than yourself, bigger than a paycheck, bigger than your monthly budget — starting right now.  It’s time to build a thing that will live on, because God knows that there’s no promise that there’s going to be a tomorrow.  If you don’t do your part to touch and inspire and help, who will?

This year, you have to remember to be a helper.  If there’s nothing else people remember you for, they should remember that you were put on this planet to help.  Life is short, as we’ve seen in the last few years.  We’ve lost some beautiful minds to the void — all we have left of them are the moments we shared.  Judith’s forever our Ray of Sunshine, Kat’s love for “that man” will always be fresh — if it’s to be your turn, you need to be more than just curse words and bad jokes.

You’re getting ready to go on a journey of monumental proportions.  Unlike the many before it, this one has no guarantee of calm seas, no promise of an easy or safe return.  But you’ve got to go.  You have to face the wind and beat your breast as you scream, “C’mon, 2016, bring it on!  I’m ready for you, you motherfucker!”

This is a year that will change your life forever.  You have to make it count.

Dead Week is a Time for Writers to Reflect on the New Year

Being a full time professional writer means a lot of things, but mostly that you’re always busy writing, writing, writing… and not having nearly enough time to plan or reflect on how you’re doing or how far you’ve come.  That’s why I look forward to Dead Week each and every year — it gives me breathing room enough to write my New Year letter to myself, adjust my business plans, re-balance my calendar and screw around some.  It’s truly the best time of the year.

What is Dead Week?

Ah.  That’s the question, I guess, isn’t it?  Dead Week is usually what colleges call that week before finals, but it means something else for writers.  For journalists, it’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s, when nothing really happens that’s newsworthy.  That also happens to apply to copywriters and digital marketers, because, frankly, all our clients are out on break, too.  So we get this one especially precious week each year to just… breathe.

Breathing is lovely.  It’s the best, actually.  After a day or two of non-stop binge drinking or playing video games or committing serial murders, your brain gets back in the right place to work for another long stretch.  But, before you do that, I think it’s really important that you assess your situation.  Where are you?  Where have you been?  Where are you going?

That last question is the most important one.  Sure, you can survive as a writer without a plan, but you’ll never thrive.  You’ll never be organized enough, you’ll never really reach your potential if you don’t have some sort of structure and a direction to set your rudder.  You don’t have to be like me or any other writer, but you need to figure out who you do want to be and put together a plan for giving it a go.  That’s where the New Year’s letter can help.

Components of a Good New Year’s Letter

I started writing New Year’s letters after a major medical issue that left me bed ridden for months.  It helped me find some focus and really gauge where I was in my career.  I also found the whole exercise quite cathartic and frankly, I needed that.  I still need that.  The first one was in 2012, published on Facebook for my tiny following.  Now I publish them every year and stick a copy here for you to read if you’re so inclined.

If you’re looking for some direction for your own New Year’s Letter, here are some components I’ve found to be really helpful:

Failings.  It’s vital that you own your failings for the last year.  Did you seriously fuck up a relationship or make a huge professional mistake last year that continues to plague you?  Own it.  Put it on paper, bring it to light, show the world how big of a mistake you realize it was.  It’s a great way to come out of that pile of garbage you created all fresh and new and clean.

Successes.  When you win, everybody wins — assuming you’re not a dick about it.  You deserve to cheer your own successes and to acknowledge them, because, frankly, they’re what you’re going to build on in the new year.  So, whether you finally gave up the crack pipe or just figured out how to work your dishwasher so that even the dirty pots get clean, claim it and be proud for just a moment.

Projects.  We’ll all end the year with a project or six that aren’t finished.  It’s ok, it’s normal.  Really.  But you need a plan to get them done, so include them in your New Year’s Letter.  For example, if you’re trying to hop genres or get into a new niche, it’s important that you follow through with that project, even if it’s to a lesser end than you hoped.  Trying and doing and finishing, these are the things that matter.

New Goals.  I’m sure you’ve got shiny new plans for 2016… if  you don’t, maybe you should find a few.  After all, new goals help us all stay motivated and moving toward that direction in which we’re headed.  Now, when I say goals, I mean concrete, distinct, actionable goals.  Not “I’d like to be a better person.”  BAH!  Maybe you want to be more patient with your coworkers or make more time for your children — whatever it is that you really want, don’t forget to spell it out in detail.  You’ll thank me for this next year.

Writing a New Year’s letter doesn’t have to be an exercise in pain, but it should be a really deep look into the void.  When you use it like a tool instead of like a diary, you can set some wheels in motion, throw the breaks on the ones that aren’t working for you and generally figure your life out in little moments.  After all, the New Year is as good a time for reflection as any — and what else do you have on your plate this week?

My New Year’s Letter for 2015

I decided that instead of just sharing this letter with my social media crew, I’d put it out here, in my blog, for the whole world to see.  I realize you don’t know me, so some of the things I have to say to myself may not make any sense or resonate with you, but maybe, just maybe, you’ll be inspired/amused/angered/betrayed enough to spur you into doing something.  Or not.  Your call, really.

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I’ve been working on this letter for days, now, several different iterations later, I think maybe I finally have it right.  It’s fitting, I suppose, since that’s sort of how 2014 went, and all those years before… since I started writing these, at least.  Those of you who have been with me since the beginning of these letters knows that it’s been a pretty crazy ride since my life changed dramatically in 2011.

I want to first thank you.  All of you.  Those of you who are still here, those who have moved on, and those who are no longer with us — each and every one of you made today possible.  Every single one of you made sure I held it together, made sure I kept going, even when I didn’t think I could.  Everything I do is a little monument to your dedication and friendship and I fully expect to spend the rest of my life finding ways to repay your kindness.

So, onto the letter proper!

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New Year’s Day is like any other day, really, so the fact that I chose this arbitrary day and not, say, March 17th or August 24th, to do a yearly round-up isn’t really all that special.  But it is important that I keep doing these.  The chronicle is good for me and I think other people sometimes get some use from it, too.  This past year has been an interesting one, as years ago, and a lot of things have changed.  The biggest of those changes, I think, was in April, when we lost our Judith.

Oh, Judith…. I still break out in tears when I think about you.  Your death has been such a loss in the community of writers that we formed — your death has been such a loss to me, to Sue, to all of us.  We still feel it every day… our real life friends and companions think we’re crazy when we take the sight of a wild rabbit as a hopeful sign you’re still with us, even a little bit.

I’m not ashamed of how much I loved you.  You were like a sister to me.  It’s hard for me to get too close to people — but it was never hard with you.  I have no doubt I will spend the rest of my life missing you profoundly.  My only regret was not spending more time with you… always too busy with work, too wrapped up in a world that spins out of my control 24 hours a day.  Judith, I’m so sorry for that.

I know that most people think that the biggest challenge this year was all the medical stuff — two nasal surgeries, an unholy number of tests and procedures, but it wasn’t.  It was Judith.  Not just her loss, but the crushing feeling that life is too too unpredictable and death is a sudden and definite stop for all of us.

I think that means something different to everybody, but for me, that means I have to learn to set boundaries — with friends, with clients, within my marriage — that allow me to do more of what I need to do for my own well-being.  I need to spend more time with those people who are awesome and bring me up and I need to spend more time doing things that make me feel good about myself.

I need to work better and torture myself less over the imperfect words that come out of my keyboard.  They will never be perfect.  They can’t be perfect.  I have to accept that — that’s one of my greatest downfalls.  The pressure of perfection, it gets to me and leaves me mentally frozen.  And that’s no place to be.  This year, I’m letting go of that.  I’m going to learn to accept that close enough is OK.  There are not enough words in this language to express what I mean most of the time — so instead of torturing myself, I’m going to accept the flaws inherent to human expression.

There were a number of challenges in 2014 that I hope to never face again, besides the loss of Our Judith.  This is where we talk about the medical stuff.  I saw my primary care doctor on the 30th, and I thanked him profusely.  In a little under a year, he’s gotten me set up with the medical professionals I need to put all this stuff behind me — or at least into a holding pattern that’s somewhat predictable.  He also gave me hope that I could take all those medical problems I’ve been fighting with and trust them to another person.  He took my worry away.

My doctor attended to all my parts — from top to bottom — and in 2015, I will be a new person.  Two more surgeries, a few more tweaks to my drug cocktail and we’re there.  This time last year, it took almost 100 pills a day to keep me able to work and function — today I take ten.  Just ten little pills, and none of them hardcore addictive.  I also have two inhalers and a lidocaine patch, but this is still massive improvement.  You have no idea.  It’s just… incredible.

I’ve spent too many days this month gawking at the change.  It wasn’t that long ago that I realized we had reached this point — a place I honestly never believed we’d reach.  When I get in the shower and I’m not short of breath, when I sleep through the night, when I remember something that happened without the help of a Post-It Note, I just can’t fathom.  It’s still a precarious balance, to be sure, but at least it is a balance.  And that’s what 2015 is going to be about.

Balance is the most important thing any of us can hope to achieve, I think.  Balancing life and work, balancing the body and the soul, balancing healthy eating with the occasional tater tot…. that’s what life is really about.  This year we’re all going to achieve great things — and we’re going to find some balance, I think, guys.  Here’s to 2015!  Let’s get on it!