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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Giving Yourself a Break


Given that it's New Year's Day today, and that I've recently made the big move out of London and back to the Bay Area, where I grew up, I've been thinking lately about the year that's just gone, and what to expect from the year to come.

2013 was a great year for me – in some areas, it was my best year ever. My work life, in particular, went very well: I was promoted; my blogs and comment pieces got a lot of attention from the media, which got me quoted by various big news sources and resulted in me appearing on TV four times; and of course, I managed to get transferred over to the US.

I feel a little less accomplished in some other areas, though. I was a little less active in dating last year, although that's understandable, since I spent the entire year preparing for this move.

In terms of writing, I think I spun my wheels a bit when revising short stories, but on the other hand, I had some amazing bursts of productivity on my novel, and was able to start on my first new short story in three years. And as I've already mentioned, I spent a lot of time actually going out and meeting writers. Oh, uh, and I got published.

So the worry is, to some extent, whether 2014 will be as good as 2013 was. I think in some ways this is a holdover from my more difficult days of 2006-2008. At the time, I'd imposed a structure on the previous few years, in which my only "good" years were the even ones. This kind of fell apart when I realized all the ways in which 2008 was a really shitty year for me, but more importantly, from 2009 onwards, I started taking more responsibility for my health, my happiness and what I was doing at work or in my personal life.

Work, in fact, is where I can see the clearest progression. I didn't exactly start off amazingly in 2006, when I first moved back to London, but my work took a dip for a couple of years after that, and when I got made redundant from that job, five years later, it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I found myself in a new environment, where I had to work hard to catch up to my colleagues' level, and pretty soon realized it was all going pretty well. If nothing else, hearing "Well done" whenever I'd turn in a piece of written work helped a whole lot.

The conclusion I've come to, then, is that 2014 doesn't have to be amazing in the same ways as 2013 was. I think it's unlikely that I'll get promoted again so quickly, and appearing on TV will be difficult to pull off (though not impossible, since Bloomberg broadcasts a tech show from San Francisco). But I think the best thing for me to do is concentrate on the core competencies of my job, ie writing, and let everything else come in its own time.

The other conclusion is that I can probably excel in other areas of my life. While it's out of my hands whether I can get another story published, I can improve my chances by writing more stories, revising my existing ones, and being more proactive about submitting them. As for fitness, I think it's reasonable to expect that I can run another pair of half-marathons and finish at least one of them in under two hours, while improving my diet and general fitness level.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that whether a year is good or not depends on more than just one factor; it's an idea that I know I've had a lot of difficulty internalizing. Our culture is geared toward ever more, ever faster and ever better, which is probably an outgrowth of capitalist society in general, and of the rise of publicly traded corporations in particular.

We set certain metrics for ourselves to determine how successful we are – for many people this is money earned, but for me another is how successful I am with dating – and we tend to ignore successes in other areas. I suppose that's because of confirmation bias – if we're geared to think of ourselves as inadequate, we'll only pay attention to the areas in which we are deficient.

Chris Hardwick and his book The Nerdist Way do get mentioned a lot on this blog, but I feel that he makes an excellent point when he says to give yourself a break from time to time. We aren't machines that can constantly spit out perfect performances, however we choose to define them; sometimes things don't work out as expected, for reasons entirely out of our control.

But if we can focus on the things that we can fix, rather than stressing about the things we can't, we'll at least not expend a lot of energy telling ourselves how shitty we are.

So if you're still working on your resolutions for 2014, take a step back and think about whether they're all based around one goal, and try to think of all the good things you've done in other areas of your life so far. It might not be as sexy as getting more money, or buying a new house, or going out with increasingly attractive people, but it might spur you to continue the good work in those other areas.

Happy 2014!