“So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
For self assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions”
I tend to get So this is the New Year by Death Cab for Cutie stuck in my head around this time of year as I watch everyone else reflecting on the previous year – setting goals or hoping for better luck as the clock strikes midnight. I find it very difficult to judge the progress of my life in calendar years. The up’s and downs of my roller coaster ride on this weird little sphere don’t seem to align very well with the 1st of January.
I suffer from “over-achiever syndrome” and I know I’m not the only one. New Year’s resolutions seem quite unnecessary as we are constantly setting ourselves goals to achieve. Our lives are wasted if we are not consistently “achieving”. Our expectations of ourselves can be quite unrealistic so failure is common and provides a fantastic opportunity for self loathing. When successful we rarely take time to celebrate this, instead, we look towards our next target. We are never “good enough”.
During races or extremely hard adventures, I have a tendency to forget a lot of the details. Someone else who is not suffering to the same extent might be able to recount the turns of the trail. However, I just have to shrug and say I started there and ended here. My brain is so focused on just maintaining movement I can’t absorb and retain memories of the event. Until October, 2019 has this same haze about it. I pushed myself so far and so regularly out of my comfort zone, I have to look back and wonder “what really happened this year?”. It’s a little frightening as I can’t really quantify what I “achieved”.
Reflecting over the past few days, I think a lot of this year has been about going backwards to go forwards. And more importantly being okay with that. I’m living at home. I am sleeping the single bed I have had since I was a child. My room is still decorated with metallic purple paint and horse riding ribbons. And while it’s hard to justify to some people, I am actually really okay with that right now.
I’m running a bit again. I’m getting back on my mountain bike. I’m doing things that earlier this year I would not have thought were “me” anymore. Old used parts of me I had all but thrown away. But coming home and sliding back into a former pre-made shell feels really good. It’s like going back to an earlier version of myself with a greater self awareness. It gives me a chance to ask myself things like “what is fun” rather than “what can I do to achieve”.
Between Christmas and New Years I took the opportunity to try and complete a traverse of the Tararua main range in sub 24hrs. It’s a goal that has been kicking around in the back of my head for years, my parents’ house is a stone’s throw from the start line. The stars seemed to align when an adventure buddy made it to Masterton for Christmas and a mate in Welly offered to retrieve us from the Kitoke car park. We went for it a little under prepared and on a marginal forecast filled with the confidence of past glories.
I had built it up in my head as “I really want this” for many probably unhealthy reasons. So when after 12hrs on the go through a night of fog and rising wind we got to Junction Knob and I made the call to bail from the route it could’ve become a real disaster in my head. But to my surprise I didn’t burst into tears making that decision like a previous version of myself would have. I had a really fun time up until about 3am, had suffered through the zombie mode in the promise of the coming daylight but when that promise only bought a slightly lighter shade of grey and a fierce wind the decision to quit seemed quite acceptable. It just wasn’t fun anymore. I didn’t have to punish myself for it.
On New Years day I was invited on my first canyoning trip. I felt pretty lucky to tag along. However, doing a suggested three day canyon in one we reduced our gear to two canyoning specific bags. The guys I was with carried one each. I was left unburdened. Normally, I would not be happy with this scenario. In the past, I would have at some point made a fuss about carrying one of the bags, ended up slowing everyone down in the long run and wrecking myself more.
The seemingly endless river scrambling provided plenty of time to turn this issue over in my mind. I was essentially just more baggage for the boys on the trip. However, they had invited me to be there I could only guess because it would be more fun, because banter, laughter, and stories are the fun bit about adventures. It was human connection bonded through a puzzle or quest. Not just a puzzle or quest that requires more than one human.
Part of my identity is stitched into being stubborn, independent, and tough. My father still loves to recount how from a very young age I refused to be read to at night because “I could do it myself”. I couldn’t of course. I probably had the book upside down. But letting go of some of that fierce determination to be independent sometimes feels like accepting defeat. I also feel people admire toughness and I want to project that image. I can only hope the rational argument of being more fun to be around rather than being more tenacious wins out among the people I spend time with.
So in looking back at what I have “achieved” in 2019. It’s not a time or a grade or a distance. But it feels somehow like progress. Real, hard fought, progress towards being the human I want to be. I may have made a few mistakes, got lost down a few rabbit holes, and suffered a bit along the way. But I guess that’s life. My immeasurable, incalculable but not entirely uncontrollable goal for now then, chase the fun in life and remember to be kind to yourself along the way.