The new year provides us with a predictable, sometimes relentless opportunity to look back on one year and resolve to do something differently in the year to come. A ridiculous number of these resolutions don’t last long but for these first few weeks, we find ourselves renewed with hope and commitment. We invent versions of ourselves and our lives that somehow exceed our current situation. In many ways I love this tradition and in others, it makes me a bit…uncomfortable.
While I’m all for continual improvement, I feel like we also spend an inordinate amount of time and energy beating ourselves up for what we are not rather than celebrating, appreciating, and nurturing what we are. From our bodies to our salaries, clothes or our habits it is always easy to feel dissatisfied and apologetic for what we have and do. At the new year, we often crystallize our focus on one of these very “flaws” and resolve to “fix” what we see as wrong. I would like to be gentler on myself but I also feel that self-awareness and new goals are critical to our ongoing growth and development. I find myself looking both outward and inward for ideas and can sometimes end up feeling rather torn.
As I reflect on this past year, one growing awareness is considering ways that I might apply my work skills to my personal life. As with most people, I have friends and family members with whom I would like to be more honest. In some cases, it’s that I’m sincerely concerned about a pattern of behavior or a specific choice and I wish I could find a way to constructively share those concerns. These suggestions come from a real place of love and compassion but it still feels dicey for a multitude of reasons. In other cases, there are behaviors and choices that just drive me batty. While it’s none of my business, I find myself wanting to step in and make suggestions, if nothing else, so I can feel better about the situation and the person. In most cases, humility reminds me that I don’t necessarily know better, fear reminds me that feedback could damage the relationship, and I end up saying nothing. After all, shouldn’t our friends and family accept us just the way we are? While I could happily facilitate a conversation between OTHER people in this situation, creating a safe space to be hard on problems but easy on people, I feel ill equipped to self moderate in my own relationships.
As a human and possible target of family/friend feedback myself, I feel this tension too. At times, I wish my brother, mom, or best friend would just come out and give me some ideas on how to do something different. On the flip side, I also know the sting or simple irrelevance of unwanted feedback. If I am to treat others the way I would like to be treated, how might we suss out the difference and know when and how to speak up?
We live and work in communities because we are stronger, smarter, and better equipped to meet the world’s challenges when we work together! Silence in the face of concern or frustration doesn’t do much to build togetherness. Rather, in saying nothing we may be perpetuating isolation from those we most care for. The researcher and the conflict resolver in me says that there has to be a better way.
In a way, this tension I feel with others has a lot to do with the feelings I have around New Year’s resolutions and the ways we turn a critical eye on ourselves. In this, I want to be both gentle and unconditionally accepting AND I want to challenge myself and others to continue to grow and improve. How then can we facilitate this balance? How can we create a space both for ourselves and for our loved ones in which we feel fully supported and nurtured, specifically to leave behind our current selves in the name of what we will eventually grow into? How might we self-moderate these exchanges to provide just that right balance?
As we embark on 2016, I hope you will continue to negotiate these challenges and grow ever closer to finding that balance in your own heart and with your own friends and family. I hope you will affirm and be patient with yourself even as you let go and grow. I also hope you will find the ways to affirm and be patient with your loved ones, even as you encourage them to grow into their best new selves too!