The first day of 2016 didn’t go quite as I had planned. Like everyone, I associate the New Year with new beginnings and endless possibilities. I envisaged myself waking up on January 1st with boundless energy and infinite optimism – despite the hangover and the lack of sleep. In my daydreams, I went for a power walk on the beach at dawn, then came home and made banana-blueberry pancakes and created a vision board for my 2016 goals. In reality, I binge-watched Gilmore Girls while it poured with rain, pausing only for takeout at 4pm. But you know what? It felt good.
That said, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed with myself. Is this really how you want to start 2016, whispered the devil on my shoulder. You should be starting as you mean to continue! Setting a good precedent!
Every year it’s the same. December is a mad rush to cram a month’s worth of work into less than three weeks, Christmas is fun but exhausting (and taxing on both the wallet and the waistline). By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, I’ve usually just settled into holiday mode, and the last thing on my mind is all the virtuous things I’m going to accomplish in the 12 months ahead. Yet for some reason I always expect to wake up feeling like a new person – it’s as if I believe there’s a magic New Year’s Eve fairy that goes around topping up everyone’s energy levels when the clock strikes midnight. “Happy New Year! Here’s enough energy to get you through the next 12 months! Don’t use it all at once!”
Usually I’m all for the New Year’s Eve fairy. A figment of my imagination she may be, but most years I feel her magic. No matter how tired or hungover, I’d feel giddy with anticipation about the adventures awaiting me over the next 12 months.
Maybe it’s because Auckland decided to put on one helluva storm, or maybe it’s because I couldn’t pull myself away from Gilmore Girls, but this year I didn’t feel her spell. Instead I felt a non-negotiable desire to do sweet-f***-all. To check out for a couple of days – to ignore the to-do lists, the should-do lists and even the could-do lists. To just be lazy and stay up late and sleep in and eat too much chocolate and not leave the house. I’m sure most people can relate to this – in fact, most people probably just call it ‘rest’ and leave it at that. But I seem to have developed an unhealthy relationship with rest – it’s often accompanied by guilt. A cloud of disapproval that follows me around, whispering you’re wasting one of the precious days of your precious life. That novels not going to write itself, Jess. You have some time off, you should be making the most of it and doing all those things you wish you could be doing when you’re working, blah, blah, blah… Please tell me I’m not alone in this?
I managed to suppress the guilt for the most part, and I enjoyed a few slow, simple days – and I felt better for it. But because I’m a notorious overthinker, I’ve been musing about the guilty-rest situation and how I can prevent it from happening every time I want to enjoy a lazy day (or three). And I think I might have figured out what causes guilt to rear its ugly head every time I want to do nothing.
I think I feel guilty about resting because I have a ‘rainy day list’. I have a list of things I’d like to do ‘when I get time’. You know when you get really busy, and you become consumed with whatever it is that’s taking up a disproportionate amount of your time – be it work, school, family? Everything else – all of those other things that bring you happiness – they are moved to the rainy day list. They are shunted down the priority ladder. You think to yourself – I’ll just do that on the weekend. And then this weekend becomes next weekend. And then that weekend becomes a holiday. And then that holiday becomes next year. And before you know it, you’ve got a long list of things you’d really like to do if only you could find a few hours. So when you get a few free hours, you’re conflicted. Do you rest? Or do you pick something from the list and make a start?
Again, please tell me I’m not the only one trapped in this vicious cycle?
I’ve been aware of this cycle for a while now – it’s one of the key reasons I took the plunge and started my own business in August. I craved the flexibility and freedom to create my own path. Since quitting the 9 to 5 life I have definitely enjoyed more autonomy, and a million other benefits – that goes without saying. But I must admit, I half-expected I’d have more time to do all of the things on my rainy day list. In reality, I’m working longer hours than I ever have before. The months leading up to Christmas were busy and exhilarating – a flurry of deadlines, meetings, early mornings and late nights. It was wonderful, but it was also exhausting. And my rainy day list grew longer each day. Every time I took on a new assignment, something else was pushed to the bottom of the list – to the point where my Christmas holiday was starting to look a lot like work.
Some of you might be thinking – well, that’s just life. Certain things will always take priority over others, and you will always have a rainy day list. The list itself I can accept – but what worries me is when the list doesn’t just include ‘nice-to-haves’, but things that are really important to your happiness and sense of identity. All too often, things that I love doing, that make me a well-rounded, confident person, end up on my rainy day list – things like reading, journaling, cooking, walking. No wonder the guilt kicks in when I try to rest – because it’s also mixed with an anxiety that I’ll never have enough time to dedicate to the small rituals that give me pleasure.
When I started freelancing, I thought I’d have more time – but the past few months have been a hugely important reminder that I can’t just sit around and wait for free time. There will always be tasks demanding my attention; chores to be done, assignments to finish, projects to get ahead on. If I want to read more, or exercise more, or cook more, then I have to make time. There’s no way around this – my work situation might have changed, but I didn’t magically gain more hours in the day.
So one of my resolutions heading into 2016 is to do my best to incorporate the things I love into my daily routine – no excuses. Otherwise, I know I’ll be on the fast track to burnout. Dedicating time to cook an elaborate meal, or read a few chapters of a book, or go for a long walk, will actually make me a better writer in the long run – even if doing this seems counter-intuitive when I’ve got a full calendar of non-negotiable deadlines. The reality is, the work will always get done. And there’s no limit to how long I could spend on something. If I give myself a week to work on one article, it would take a week. One of the challenging aspects of freelancing is completing tasks without going over time. So I might as well say yes to more fun. I have faith this will help me stay motivated and complete life’s duller tasks with more joy.
I have to laugh – most people ask me how on earth I find the motivation to work from home. But I think my real problem is that I’m too studious! Who would have thought that’d end up being my achilles heel?
Here’s hoping this bout of overthinking has resulted in a strategy to live more awesomely moving forward. Here’s to a fun-filled 2016.
Anyone already nailed this way of living and has some advice to share?
Happy New Year!