Read This Essay By Cheryl Strayed Before You Make Any New Year's Resolutions

by Kerri Jarema
Lucas Ottone/Stocksy

For me, December is always simultaneously the most joyous and most difficult month of the year. I love the holidays, the twinkle lights, the carols, and the get-togethers. But when it comes to wrapping up the year that's gone and preparing for the year to come? I get so easily lost in the maelstrom of my own mind. I go over and over all of my perceived failures, my mistakes, my short-comings. And I make list upon list of all the ways I will make the next year better, bigger, brighter, bolder, braver — lest I want to doom myself to another 12 months of being a lazy, anxiety-ridden sad-sack who has accomplished nothing.

You're probably thinking, "That was way harsh, Tai." And you're right. But there is just something about the process of making New Year's Resolutions and goals that always turns me into my own worst critic. I tend to completely disregard every day accomplishments, quiet victories, and small joys as I look both backward and forward, not because they don't matter, but because my mind tells me they're just. not. big. enough. The accomplishment side of my brain wants so desperately for me to be number one on all those end of year bests lists — but it just never seems to deem me quite worthy.

And whenever I feel myself losing touch with reality — and more importantly, losing touch with all of the ways my life is weird and wonderful and so very worthy — I turn to Cheryl Strayed and her book Tiny Beautiful Things.

It would be impossible for me to pick just one essay from this book — a collection of columns that Strayed penned under a pseudonym for The Rumpus's Dear Sugar — but one that I turn to time and time again for comfort and inspiration when I've lost the self-love is "The Future Has An Ancient Heart." In this essay, Strayed writes to a group of college graduates who have asked for advice about their "entry into the real world."

She writes:

"There’s a line by the Italian writer Carlo Levi that I think is apt here: 'The future has an ancient heart.” I love it because it expresses with such grace and economy what is certainly true —that who we become is born of who we most primitively are; that we both know and cannot possibly know what it is we’ve yet to make manifest in our lives. I think it’s a useful sentiment for you to reflect upon now, sweet peas, at this moment when the future likely feels the opposite of ancient, when instead it feels like a Lamborghini that’s pulled up to the curb while every voice around demands you get in and drive."

I often get stuck behind the wheel of that car, desperate to get to where I'm going as fast as I can. The path to promise is paved with speed-bumps and screw-ups that I'm not sure I'll ever get over. But Strayed? She's been there, too. She does not shy away from her own mistakes; she talks about her divorce, drug addiction, her years spent working dead-end jobs. And yet, somehow, she's still standing.

And it's all because of one very big realization: no one has to do anything. Or more accurately, as Strayed writes, "You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all."

With December approaching I am reminding myself of this. I don't need to hold an impressive job title, or travel to far-flung locales, or have six digits in my bank account to have a good life. And I'm adopting the Strayed school of ancient thinking when it comes to my vision, and my goals, for the upcoming year.

I will apply myself "in directions for which we have no accurate measurement." I'll let myself be both "surprised and knowing" about my life's path, all at once. I'll hope for love, and for days of ease and a good sense of humor. And I'll work toward the day where my disbelief and certainty meet — "the unification of the ancient and the future parts of me" — where I get everything I intended, and am still surprised by what I got. I think those are some pretty good New Year's Resolutions, don't you?