5 things I learned in 2019

Somehow, today is the 30th December 2019. I don’t know where the year has gone, but honestly I’m glad it’s over.

This has been a challenging year for so many of us in so many ways. 2019 rounds out 10 years of upheaval, both in a big political sense and a smaller, more personal one. For me it really is the icing on the cake of a difficult decade. The person I was in 2010 is not the person who is going into 2020 – in just 10 years I’ve gone from being a terrified 13 year old in the throes of anorexia to a (slightly less) terrified 23 year old with (some of) her shit together. That’s some serious growth. I want to make sure I’m keeping that momentum and appetite for change as I go into the 2020s.

But I am not a resolutions person. I hate the pressure that comes with “starting afresh” on New Year’s Day (when, frankly, I’m usually hungover and not in the mood for getting out of bed, let alone new beginnings). What I do like about New Year is the opportunity to reflect. Each New Year’s Eve I’ve made a ritual of looking back through my calendar and taking stock of just exactly what the hell happened in the past 365 days. This year, it’s been a lot: I moved out of London, quit my job, travelled by myself for the first time ever. I started an MA in creative writing, absorbing myself in the art form I’ve loved since I could pick up a pen. And I’ve challenged myself to start playing and making music again, something I used to care about passionately but drifted away from in recent years.

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This year I fulfilled a lifelong dream of travelling to NYC – by myself. I’m anxious af so that was a pretty big deal!

The only thing I regret about 2019 is that I failed to get a new tattoo this year. If I were to make any resolutions, it would be to correct that massive error in my priorities and get my butt into a tattoo studio ASAP.

But all jokes aside, I do believe that reflection on where you’ve been is the key to moving forward in life. So I thought I’d take a moment to think about what 2019 has taught me, in the hopes that I can take these lessons with me as I enter the next stages of my life. I’d really recommend doing this if you find yourself feeling a little lost or overwhelmed as you’re going into the new year! You don’t have to share it with the internet (I’m just an over-sharer) but it might help you notice some things you’re grateful for, and other things you’d like to change.

Without further ado, here are 5 things I’ve learned in 2019:

1. You are not alone, even if you feel like it.

I started 2019 in a dark place. I was depressed and anxious to the point where I spent almost every evening and weekend alone, eschewing plans with my partner and friends because I honestly felt like I was the most boring person in the world and no one would want to see me anyway. I lost friends because of that. I was stuck in a viscous, self-defeating cycle of pushing people away and feeling lonely as hell.

But just because I felt lonely didn’t mean I was actually alone. The philosopher Sartre talks of loneliness as the absence of presence. It’s about longing for someone else to be there when they’re not. Thinking about loneliness in this way is comforting for me. It’s helped me to separate out the feeling from the reality: just because I’m feeling lonely, that doesn’t mean I actually have no one. I do have people in my life and I miss them. So I should reach out to them, even if it’s scary.

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Marching for Mind at London Pride is easily one of my top memories of 2019.

2. It’s ok to give up on something, even if that something is a sensible job.

Fresh out of an undergraduate degree, there’s a tonne of pressure. It feels like the world has picked you up from a place of order and certainty and dropped you into a jungle of uncertainty. The natural impulse is to find your way out of here, as quickly as you can.

Needing money and experience, after graduation I went straight into a job that wasn’t a great fit for me. I learned a lot and met incredible people, but I knew long term that it was not the path I wanted to carve out for my life. So I quit. It took a lot of courage and some serious financial planning, but for the first time in my life I allowed myself to give up on something sensible in order to pursue what made my heart sing. It was absolutely terrifying but honestly a very helpful experience, because now I know that it’s ok to let go of what doesn’t serve me.

3. Your body is not the enemy. Really.

Honestly, I yoyo on this one all the time. I have days where I hate my body with a fury. But I’m having more and more days where my body simply doesn’t matter to me anymore. Not in the sense that I don’t take care of it, but in the sense that I simply don’t see controlling my external appearance through diet and exercise as a priority anymore.

If you’ve ever experienced an eating disorder or body dysmorphia or insecure body image of any kind, you know that it’s so. fucking. hard. to let go of that urge to control and mould and shape and perfect. Our society encourages it – rewards it, even. What I’ve found very helpful is A) saying “fuck you” to diet culture (read Megan Jayne Crabbe’s Body Positive Power for more on this), and B) reorganising my priorities so that I’m focussing more of my precious energy on my goals, dreams and relationships than something as changeable and transient as my appearance. It’s truly liberating and, I think, a very radical act for a womxn today.

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For the first time in 8 years, I have no clue how much I weigh. Not pinning my self-worth to a number on a scale has done wonders for my confidence.

4. You won’t always get rewarded for doing what you love. Do it anyway.

The fear of failure has defined my life. It’s kept me from doing what I love in case I’m “not good enough”. The reality is, with that mentality, I will never do what I love.

The artist Picasso once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts“. It’s this idea that I’m trying to hold onto. I might not get a distinction for my MA; I may not get 1 million likes on my Insta posts; I probably won’t get a record deal from singing at an open mic night. But those things are not what’s important – as measures of success, they’re transient and fickle and mostly out of my control. What’s more important is that I’m honouring myself by using my talents and allowing myself to invest in my passions.

5. If you don’t think something is a problem, that’s because it’s not a problem for you. Listen better and educate yourself.

As a privileged person, there are many things I simply don’t see – my privilege acts like blinkers, closing off certain realities from view. Never was this more apparent to me than when I found out that a friend’s sister was being denied life-saving medication because of drug shortages caused by Brexit. Consequently, the sister ended up in hospital. This is something I, as someone lucky enough not to need medication, may never have known was happening. A blindspot like this could have affected the way I voted in the recent election.

It’s my job to make sure my blindspots don’t become prejudices. It’s my job to read the books, watch the news and documentaries, and listen as much as I can to people who’s life experiences are different from my own. And it’s also my job to speak up when I can. Otherwise, as the Upanishad proverb goes:

Abiding in the midst of ignorance, thinking themselves wise and learned, fools go aimlessly hither and thither, like blind led by the blind“.

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