Everything’s OK. What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?
It’s almost as though someone’s been reading my advice to my past self. The fact is, though, that there wasn’t any one particular moment this year when I got the proof that everything was going to be okay — not unless you want to point to something as obvious as getting the call from my dean saying my promotion had gone through, which wasn’t really a moment indicating that everything would be alright but rather that it was alright, and in fact had more or less been alright for a while, if not exactly all along.
Anyhow, that moment is too easy, too conclusive. Instead, I want to think about the myriad small moments in which I find ways to convince myself that it’s all going to be okay.
The paradigmatic one of these came for me at some point late in college or early in grad school; I can’t remember which. In any case, I was staring down the end of a semester that was coming much too quickly, with a mountain of deadlines and term papers and exams and the like to get through, and looking at the list of what needed to be done, and the too-few hours left to me to get it done in, and a low-grade panic started to set in. It just wasn’t possible.
But something in me stopped and said, look. You’ve had lots of semesters like this before. And you always think you can’t get it all done. And yet you always do.
In fact, you have never not gotten it all done.
So draw a breath. You’re going to get it all done. It’s all going to be okay.
I go through this routine — making a list of what needs to be done; beginning to freak out about the list’s impossibility; convincing myself that it’s in fact perfectly possible — at least once a semester. And some of those semesters have been more difficult than others, but it’s all always turned out okay.
I now find myself going through a variant of this routine whenever I start a new writing project. I face the blankness of the text document or the roughness of what I thought was an outline but that turns out to be a few half-baked bullet points, and think, I’ve got no idea how to write this, what ever made me think I could. And usually the first day of working on the essay or article or whatever is miserable.
But the second day is almost always a little bit better. And at some point in the first week of writing, I turn a corner: some connection gets made, some point gets clarified, some small gesture appears that lets me know that even though there’s a lot yet to be done — some of which is just going to suck — in the end, it’s all going to be okay.
Those are the moments that keep me moving forward, the moments I need to hold on to. Just like facing down a miserable end-of-semester to-do list, facing down an empty text document is perfectly do-able. I do it more or less every time. The trick is just drawing that breath and pressing forward.