On Resolutions: Two Lists that Changed My Life

As a rule, I tend to avoid writing about myself in public— but some rules are meant to be broken. As 2014 draws to a close, I couldn’t help but write about what has been the absolute best and most favorite year of my life.

For most of my life, I’ve failed miserably at New Years Resolutions. There was the year when I got all excited (with a million other people) about learning how to code… and ended up being a Codecademy dropout in no time. There was another year where I was going to get back into running again but, … surprise! It’s actually really hard to get motivated to wake up early when you are a night owl and run through the pain of shin splints and past injuries in the frigid, icy cold of winter. Frustrated with my history of failed resolutions (we only really keep to them for about 6 weeks anyway), last year I decided to forego the tradition of setting myself up for failure for the first couple of months of a new year and try something entirely new.

Instead of making resolutions, I decided to make a list.

The list was simple but serious: it contained all of the things I feared the most— public speaking (the anxiety is real, y’all), rejection, ending up #foreveralone, being stuck in a career pattern I hated, and even deeper fears that that I’d never find my voice, and that I would never figure out how to develop my sense of confidence to write (to really write the way I wanted to). Thoroughly soaked in tears (the ones that come from a long bout of ugly crying), I sat at my desk for awhile and thought about this small yet immense, seemingly insurmountable group of fears. After the self-soothing part of my sobfest began to set in and that all-important post-cry catharsis was in full effect, I started doing what I do best, asking questions.

“What are you really afraid of here?”
“Why are you really afraid of these things?”

“Who hurt you and made you feel this way? And why are you letting them continue to do this?”

“Why are you being so awful and unforgiving to yourself? Is it really making the world a better place for you or for anyone else?”

And most importantly:

“Real talk, girl— are you really going to live the rest of your life like this when you have other options? Are you really okay with setting yourself up to ask, ‘What if?’ in the years to come? Why in the hell are you just SITTING HERE and accepting things that are well within your power to change when there are other options sitting right in front of you?”

After a few more minutes of hardcore self-interrogation, I knew that I could no longer accept nor defend holding onto the things I feared the most. Halfway through a glass of wine (trust me, it’s necessary for anxiety management during that whole self-soothing process), I knew there was no way that I could allow myself to waste another damned minute of my life being afraid of any of the things on that scary list. Doing so was unacceptable, indefensible, and absolutely idiotic given that there were other options at hand.

After thoroughly force-quitting the thought processes that had for so long held me prisoner to all of those stupid fears, I made another list. It went like this:

  • Write more, and write regularly about things you care about. (Even if it’s in a place no one else is allowed to see, it counts. The more reflective, the better..)
  • Give a talk about something you care about. (You’ve sat through too many awful lectures, presentations and panels full of the wrong ideas, or ones that didn’t go far enough to address the problems at hand.)
  • Fall in love with reading again. (You loved reading until getting a college education destroyed that. Get reacquainted with all of the technical parts you love and build that vocabulary, no excuses.)
  • Love fearlessly, and with all of your heart. (Stop hiding behind a wall and let him in. It’s okay if you love him more than he loves you.)

It has been a year since I made those two lists, and in that year, everything has changed.

At first, things happened slowly: I had to accept that if I were going to refuse to live in the shadow of my own fears, I was going to have to push myself every moment of every day until those fears disappeared entirely. Instead of letting opportunities pass me by, I slowly started speaking up, writing, and throwing my hat in the ring when I wanted to go after something new. Once I had committed to a project— whether it was speaking, writing, volunteering, working 1:1 with others— I told everyone I knew that I was doing it so that I couldn’t fall back on talking my way out of it. Even then, though, the battle wasn’t over— I can recall countless times that I seriously considered dropping out of a speaking opportunity, beat myself up over not saying something 100% perfectly, thought about turning down a writing opportunity because I didn’t feel like my voice mattered enough for anyone to listen to.

None of this was easy. It required making small, sometimes imperceptible changes to my habits, challenging myself and my old way of thinking, and worrying endlessly about stupid little things completely outside of my control. It required me to start spending more quality time with myself, and to give up easy, carefree weekends with friends with the hope that the work I do might be able to make a difference. But the more that I took chances, the more I fought back against the things I was afraid of, and the more that I learned to trust my instincts and to let go of the insecurities and small worries, the stronger I became.

Without even noticing it, I had done everything I set out to do ahead of schedule— and by the first week of August, I was already thinking about where I should go and what I should do next, as if this was the way things had always been.

This year, there’s another list— and just like last year, it started out with a list of my deepest fears and problems I’d like to solve, though with fewer tears and bigger goals this time around. In the spirit of telling everyone I know what I’ll be up to so that I don’t fail, here it is:

  • Figure out that social interaction thing. (You’re going to feel out of place and awkward, but it will get easier. Remember how procedural fluency works? That, but for social breaking the ice skills. )
  • Put your money where your mouth is. (If you’re going to yell at everyone to use SSL, get a freaking SSL cert for your site already. If you’re going to use and love open source technologies, find ways to contribute your time + skills to them. If you admire the work of others, find ways to share and support it and to give back to those who have inspired and supported you. )
  • Code something. (Learning isn’t easy, and you have no secret burning desire to become an engineer, but you know that it will help research projects, so bring one to life. If all else fails, No Starch Press has coding for kids books and you have really smart hacker friends who will help. Get with it already.)
  • Keep it going. (With the exception of some heartbreak, you have never been as happy or felt more like yourself as you are in this moment. Pace yourself, move forward, and most importantly— don’t look back.)
  • Dare to do whatever you want, and have faith that it will all work out.

There’s probably a little bit of irony here— I don’t do resolutions, and yet I was able to resolve and put some of my biggest fears to rest by resolving not to accept things that I have the power to change.  For me, making the list was only half of the battle: implementing it, patching the broken bits of myself, refactoring my internal infrastructure, triaging bugs and solving problems when everything crashed down around me has been a full-time (and sometimes overwhelming) job, and some of the most worthwhile work I have ever done.

What I went through in 2014, and what I will continue to fight against is not a unique : at some point in our lives, we all feel small, unimportant, powerless in the face of the world, destined to accept things the way that things are because we feel that we are unable to change them for the better. We let other people convince us and we convince ourselves that there are no other alternatives when the simple truth is that there is always another option at hand. There is no reason for any of us to accept and settle for an imperfect, stagnant world that doesn’t evolve and change for the better. All of us, each and very one of us, we are critical of our actions and behaviors and shortcomings, and sometimes our self-awareness is so broken that we don’t know how awful and inhumane we can be to our most private selves. If we’re going to get anywhere in this big, messy place, we’re going to have to stop that… because when we’re inhumane and awful to ourselves, we’re inhumane and awful to each other as well.

In code and in life, to make big things happen, to solve problems, we have to be thoughtful about what we build, what we tear down, and what we keep. This requires that we observe, analyze, and troubleshoot ourselves and the things we build: we have to test, plan and push what can feel like an endless series of tiny little changes into production and hope that it all works out. What we choose to do is just as important as what we choose not to do. So if you’re tired of making resolutions and watching them dissipate into nothing six weeks into the new year, if you’ve accidentally painted yourself in a corner, if for some reason there’s an awful little voice inside of you telling you that you can’t change anything… stop beating yourself up. Being awful to yourself doesn’t make you a better person, and it doesn’t make the world you live in a better place for you or anyone around you.  Nothing is inevitable: it may not be easy, but it’s never too late to let go of it all and dare to imagine a new life or a new future for yourself. So make a list of the things you care about, make a list of the things you want to improve, make a list of the things you fear the most— we are all capable of making big changes by changing tiny things about the world around us, one thing at a time.

And if you ever find yourself going through hell on the way to somewhere new, keep going. If you need someone to listen, ping me… I’m never more than a tweet away.

Bye bye, 2014. I will miss you with all of my heart <3


5 thoughts on “On Resolutions: Two Lists that Changed My Life

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