I don’t tend to start my year with resolutions. Resolutions are too fixed, too inflexible…too cliche. I resist them. Or, occasionally, I say my resolution is “to be happy.”
How that happens between January 1st and December 31st is generally undefined. I’m all for having an end in mind, but growth isn’t a straight line, and goals are just guidelines. If 2019 taught me one thing, it’s that everything is subject to change.
Fortunately, 2019 taught me a bit more than that. Sure, I learned that Mint has an amazing tool for trip budgeting and that Crop Bistro in Cleveland has one of the BEST brunches, but right now I’m talking me-things. Things like what makes me tick, what gives me life, and how not to have a meltdown (that often).
I spent all last year working at being my best self, so it’s probably a good idea for me to pay attention to what worked and what didn’t. Basically, this is my 2018 happiness project, blog-sized.
Earlier this year, I attempted to move out on my own. That is, I thought about it seriously, mentioned it to a few people, and constructed a budget. After comparing my budget to the quality of life I demand for myself and my dog Cleo, I shed frustrated tears. A win-win situation was also lose-lose.
A month later I bought some paint, moved all the furniture in my living room, and turned the walls from beige to grey. If I wasn’t prepared to leave my space, I was at least going to love it. A couple months after that I flew to the Amalfi Coast, a trip made possible by the money I saved sharing space. By the second half of the year, I decided my priorities had changed entirely – right now, traveling is more important to me than living on my own.
It was shortly after the trip that I got introduced to the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It took me weeks longer than usual to finish the audiobook, but I’m glad I paced myself. The concepts were huge, and I found myself highlighting quotes every chapter. It takes time to put stuff like that into practice.
“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me…If I know where my yard begins and ends, I am free to do with it what I like.” Knocked on my ass. That was me reading this. In chapter two. And then every chapter after.
The book mentions a woman being hired to work part-time and being handed a full-time workload. Her boundary was: “Um, you’re paying me to work 20 hours, sir.” Her responsibility was telling him that she wasn’t about to work 40 hours and only get paid to work 20 hours. Raise your hand if you want to be this person!
These types of boundaries made sense right away, but it took me maybe 100 more pages to grasp the concept of emotional boundaries. Boundaries to say, “I love you but I can’t continue this conversation,” but also say “I want to talk things out before I get stuck in a negative thought loop.” Or even to say, “I understand why you need your space or time or own choices because I respect your boundaries.”
“We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside.”
These and other revelations taught me that I get to define my reality. So I had to shed some things. Slowly. Methodically. With difficulty.
Did I mention that 2018 was the first year I realized my mother did not have all the keys to the bank of life? I never thought she was a saint, I just thought her rulebook was the one to follow. Besides, I never wanted to be a saint; I wanted to be like her.
The problem is, I wanted to be more like me, too. Unlike my mother, I love to travel. Her typical trips are either work related or within driving distance. Mine revolve around beaches and flights. I also had to phase out my wardrobe of oversized shirts and unflattering business suits. My new wardrobe is 50% business casual, 50% quirky, and 90% fitted. I dumped the belief that all my clothes should hang loosely on my body, and adopted the mentality that if I dress in a way that makes me feel confident, I’ll always be dressed for success.
I also learned to define strength differently. I’ve always admired my mother’s ability to stay calm, cool, and collected.
Actually, it pisses me off. I swear her heart rate stayed below 80 bpm, even when I totaled my second car and got driven away in an ambulance. But it’s impressive all the same. I thought my stress responses to situations like this were a sign of weakness. But now I embrace how dope it is that I’m emotionally expressive. I conduct pain, I carry stress, but I also give a lot of love. I’m not sure these things could exist without each other.
Despite all this, I spent a lot of the fall months questioning myself. Was I happy with my job and salary? Did I have it in me to travel alone? Why was I still single? Would I marry Logic?
As it turns out, things aren’t always black and white (a fun pun for Logic fans). Answers aren’t always right and wrong, and choices aren’t always life or death. I enjoyed my job, but I also was open to new opportunities. I was fully capable of traveling alone, but it helps to know your destination. And why was I single? It’s complicated.
One of my friends told me I needed to find the equivalent of a unicorn. That was my type. A beautiful, wonderful mythical creature. As in, doesn’t exist.
I was devastated for five minutes before I decided that unicorns are the shit. I love unicorns, I am a unicorn, I deserve a unicorn. I’m single because what I’m waiting for is so special that nothing else will do. Great things take time.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” I thought of this quote a lot in 2018 because I spent a stupid amount of time being unhappy.
More than once, I found myself laying on the floor, sobbing, worrying the hell out of Cleo, and I considered my options.
- Give up. (Not an actual option.)
- Continue to be upset. (Temporary option.)
- Change something. (Actual solution.)
There’s not an actual world where you just decide to “control your emotions” or “change how you feel.” Unless you’re a child. Children bounce back faster than the coyote in a roadrunner cartoon. But adults? Adults have to figure out what they feel, why they feel it, what they said, what they should say, what they want, what they can do and whether they feel safe doing what makes them happy in a world that raises us to know fear and conformity.
So now we’ve arrived at my most important lesson from 2018, the one I should’ve known all along. If I want to be happy, I have to be me, unapologetically.