Thoughts on the New Year: 2016 Edition

This is the fifth edition of my annual Thoughts on the New Year essay. I wrote it over three sessions, starting in the lobby of a Midas on New Year’s Eve and completing it the morning of New Year’s Day  at a crowded breakfast table. It feels awfully scattershot to me, but that’s how my brain works. See previous editions of this essay here.

Could any New Year’s Eve feel more unexpected? Sure, this is the inevitable end of any year: they all must end 365 or 366 days after they begin. But usually I’m at least aware that the year is ending for a couple weeks before it actually does. 2015 was so full, from beginning to end, that I haven’t felt any natural slowdown of this year or the attendant excitement for the coming one. That’s not a bad thing — tonight will be a fantastic night spent with friends and family– but it just feels different.

For the last several years, New Year’s — and all the hope and expectation that comes with it — has led me to think very deeply and feel very intensely about the coming year. That’s resulted in four consecutive annual editions of this essay. (Five in a row, whoa!) While writing this essay has become an important part of my New Year tradition, I didn’t start thinking about this year’s essay until this afternoon

As 2014 turned into 2015,  I committed myself to digging in, focusing, being more consistent, and chugging along like a tugboat captain. It was the Year of Stability. But it was still a year I was  excited about. And it didn’t disappoint: I followed up running a marathon in 2014 with running two more, and finishing the second under three hours. (Something achieved by only 2 1/2 percent of everyone who attempts a marathon — itself less than two percent of the population.) After nearly two years at a very good job I got a new one, and was able to quit my second job. Oh, and I got married.

All of those feats are indicators of stability. Marriage is stability. Long distance running is itself an endeavor of persistence, and it’s an activity I began in earnest in 2013 and am continuing into next year. That’s stability. And sure, I changed jobs, but I did so in a move that will hopefully allow me professional stability in a way I’ve never had..

So while chugging along I did some really great things, but it was stable. This was the first year since I was in high school in which I didn’t move. The apartment in which my wife, my cat, and I live isn’t great — I decided yesterday that it’s the third- or fourth-worst of the 12 or more I’ve lived in as an adult — and I don’t particularly like the area where we live. I feel, occasionally, that I’m performing well below my ambitions. But committing to my plan, working hard, and digging in was my goal for this past year. In addition to my very real and tangible and exciting successes, achieving that more passive goal is its own victory. I end 2015 feeling very good about the year.

The end of 2015 snuck up on me. Here we are, but when did we get here? When did all this time pass? This year has been busy, right up to the last few hours. (It’s so busy that I began this essay in the lobby of a Midas, watching the second Hangover movie while getting an oil change.) Suddenly tomorrow is next year and I’ve hardly thought about it at all.

As I’ve noted in every New Year’s essay since my first one in 2011, I don’t like resolutions. (But this year I make some, see below.) Too often they’re negative, and they carry little weight beyond the end of January. I instead try to frame it positively. One year I tried to smile more, then I tried to laugh more, hug more. These are all conscious, intentional actions that I can take that simultaneously improve my happiness — smiling is not necessarily an indicator of happiness, but can also have a calculable positive impact on your emotional state — while directly affecting my relationships and interactions with those around me.

All of those, though, are essentially personal. This year I’m continuing the practice of actively and intentionally doing something in an effort to markedly improve my well-being. But after six years of focusing primarily inward, I’m making my focus this year on the people around me. 2016, then, is the Year of Other People*.

At the risk of sounding a little vague and annoyingly business-y, this year I’m trying to connect more. I think I can be personable and warm and charming, but I have always struggled to make many deep and real connections with people. I can meet people and be nice but very rarely and slowly do acquaintances turn into friends. This is especially true with male friends, for whatever reason. I blame this on not having any brothers and not playing sports until I was well into middle school, but of course it could also be a result of countless other factors.

This year I’m going to make more connections, and strengthen the ones I have. And at some point this year I’m going to figure out a less lame way to articulate that.

Still, I do have more deeply personal goals for this coming year. 2015 carried a negative element that I’m going to need to work through this coming year. In the last few years I’ve done a great job of getting back to the person I once wanted to be, by constantly pursuing learning. I can remember, several times this past year, telling my wife(!) that I felt closer to my authentic self than I had in years. I was interested again in music and writing and creativity, working again in those realms. I’m back to pursuing learning in a way that feels genuinely and authentically liberating (and fun). But in my pursuit of knowledges, I’ve reached the same frustrating point with several. With the languages I’m learning (and the ones I want to but haven’t started) and my harmonica playing, I know enough now to know what expertise sounds like, and to know that I’m miles away from that. Earlier in my life, this is the point where I would get demoralized and abandon the pursuit. I can’t do that this year. These are things I want to know, and I know I can learn them.

As I wrap up another year’s reflection, the only question left is perhaps the most important: What am I listening to as 2016 begins? Del McCoury’s version of the classic The Streets of Baltimore, because on top of everything I just spent over a thousand words saying, I’m also a little homesick:

One disappointment I anticipate for this year is that, barring a family emergency, I don’t think I’ll make it back home in 2016.

*This practice of giving each year a specific name started in 2010 with the Year of the Alex, and continued into 2011 with The Year of Good Decisions. 2012 was the Year of Good Work, which led to 2013, the Year of Getting Right. In 2014 I marked the Year of Good Returns, and last year I sought out the Year of Stability

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