January. Flooded with indulgent memories of November and December, the notion that I am not good enough comes bobbing to the surface. Guilt curls her cold fingers around my shoulders hugging me in close-to-whisper fearful words. Impossible to ignore, messages bubble in my head chastising me for letting myself slide, lacking discipline.
Remember when you were in the habit of getting up before your kids to exercise, write or just sit in the dark and quiet?
Remember when fitness was second nature and the number on the scale or your abdomen shoved into a pair of jeans didn’t scream at you?
Those were the days.
The days you received compliments, so you knew you were on the right track.
The days when you felt confident as a woman, mother, and person.
The mountaintop….you’ve fallen off.
Guilt and her sinister truth-lies visit me every year. The successes, challenges, and triumphs constituting a year of my life, my journey, are undone with one turn of a calendar page. For me, January is a time filled with an urge to hustle to outrun guilt. I feel pressure to change to find happiness or fulfillment or something elusive and harder to define. Disguised in innocuous shiny wrapping, self-improvement beckons: “A new year dawns and with it a new chance to start over again.”
Here’s the rub, the idea of starting again adds to the overwhelming feelings of fear because it leads me to believe that since I am “starting over,” I must have failed at something. I can’t stand failure.
It is true that I have fallen off of a mountaintop I was very proud to have scaled. I have splash-landed in January, a rushing river of constant change, discipline, comparison, the allure of perfectionism, being well, and starting afresh. From the bank, the current of this river looks dazzling; the water is smooth as satin, graceful and seemingly kind. But as I dip my hand into the icy torrent to grasp at one of these sparkling ideals, I realize it is not gentle but punishing, and I get sucked under, void of air, and choke.
Most years, I reach into the icy barrage of January and end up being dragged along by some raging rapid of self-reformation that I half-heartedly glom onto in the few days between Christmas and New Years. After all, everyone seems to be doing the same thing, chasing down some dream to do better. I fight with the current, giving parts of myself to the newest most convincing quick fix, thinking that the way to the top of the mountain must be farther down-river, and I’m drowning.
In all honesty, I do want to be the best version of myself. But I have to stop and wonder about the motivation that pushes me; Am I trying to change because I don’t like myself?
This year I’m pushing back, realizing that I don’t have to be carried away in the current of Resolutions, Goal-Chasing, Self-Improvement, and It’s-Going-to-be-Different-This-Time-Around. I remember that I am a rock, a fallen piece of that mountain I once scaled. Down in this river, I realize it is perfectly fine to be a rock, large and immovable. I don’t have to rush with the current. Slipping past me go the daggers whispering “failure.” I stay cemented in this place where I’ve landed, sure that regardless of where I am, mountaintop or raging river, I am still made up of the same rock-solid sediment. Valuable, steadfast, strong.
You, too, can be a rock. You can stand still in quiet rebellion while the frenzy of January goes sailing around you. Self-criticism will push against you, coaxing little pieces of you to break off in pursuit of improvement. You don’t have to fix all of the flaws you might see in yourself. You are not failing when you choose to pause instead of burning rubber at the starting line. Begin something when it makes sense, because you are genuinely ready, because you are starting from a place of worthiness rather than defeat.
Honor the journey you have made to be at this very moment in time without adding qualifying statements that you are “Bad” or “Good.” It doesn’t matter how you ended the previous year because change is inevitable. There is no starting over; there is only moving on, moving forward. Stop and realize that being in the river in the first place is changing you. You don’t need to grab onto the latest craze floating by promising change just because it is January. You can let the momentum of the new year be something that inspires you. Inspiration-driven change is kinder and more lasting than the sort that comes with a bunch of kicking and screaming.
Rebel and hold your ground until you are ready to move. The mountains may quake in response. Let’s see what shakes loose.
Jennifer Van Winkle lives in Seattle with her husband and three children (twin boys and a baby girl). She is a teacher, musician, and currently a stay-at-home mom. She loves fueling the imaginations of her children with creativity, songs, all things science, good food and lots of play indoors and out. She blogs at Pepper Sprout Home and you can also find her on Instagram.