Many of my friends on Facebook, and many coaches whom I follow on Twitter, have described their New Year celebrations and expansive plans for 2019. For myself, this New Year has been more than usually underwhelming.
I often say inwardly that I would prefer to spend New Year’s Eve reading a book at home, rather than heading out into the cold to spend a few hours with friends at their home, partying, or down an ill-lit pub or club, downing Prosecco and champagne and other variants of bubbly. Invariably I get into the spirit of things, drink too much of the largely indistinguishable alcohols on offer, and wake up feeling the pain of hangover and the happiness of renewal of another New Year.
This year, and as I have done in almost all previous years, I ignored the urge to stay at home. I ventured out into the cold and down the quiet streets of my home town, ending up at the local Con Club. Unlike in all previous years, however, I really do wish I had just had a quiet evening in and read a book.
It’s not that the evening was an unmitigated disaster. Certainly not a car crash.
Apart from a half-hour argument about politics with a close friend, triggered by my anti-Brexit T-shirt, that lasted between 11.15 pm and around 11.45 (as far as I recall, from looking repeatedly at the clock) it was mostly quite pleasant. The conversation was lively, for the most part, and the refugees from another party towards midnight suggested we had not chosen the worst option in terms of the entertainment and company. The hugs and kisses at New Year were as happy and sincere as ever.
But definitely this year it did not go with the usual zing. My heart felt as if it were in another place from the crowded room, which smelt of spilt beer, and reverberated with the noise of the post- middle-aged rock band. The argument before midnight racketed around in my head after the bells had tolled like a deaf bat, leaving a bad aftertaste. I felt a gaping distance behind every burst of laughter.
When I got home, finally, I felt that everything was tainted, even my closest friendships. I remembered my mother, who died exactly two years earlier, and I felt emotional that my kids were now grown up and had (effectively) flown the parental nest.
The lengthening shadows of Brexit swept me into a deepening gloom that has not yet shifted.
Why do I tell you this? I’m sorry if this is not an upbeat New Year message. Nor do I have any terrific new insights to draw from my somewhat sub-optimal experience, beyond that life does not always go with a bang.
Of course, I hope that 2019 will be a wonderful year for myself, my family and every single one of my friends. I hope it will be wonderful for you too. And I still hope that Brexit will not happen. But the reality is that it is more likely to be a mixed bag, and that Brexit is more likely to happen than not. As my late father said, we’ll just have to find some way to “muddle through”.
At least this New Year has not kicked-off with unrealistic expectations. I often feel we are fed a diet of saccharin self-satisfaction through social media, a distorting mirror in which the reflection is always more perfect than the reality.
Recipes for the good life abound. Bob Dylan once said, “Everybody wants you to be just like them”. Whether it’s the peremptory injunctions for self-improvement on Twitter or book-length manuals for higher levels of performance and achievement; whether it’s picture perfect Selfie images on Instagram or lengthy descriptions of the family achievements over the last year on Facebook; TV-ready Ted talks or the video of New Year fireworks in Thailand on Youtube — the message from Social Media can be relentless: Someone has it better than you.
I hope that my rather downbeat New Year narrative will, at least, help to stem this relentless tide of false expectation and inflated comparison. At a deeper level, I hope also that those who read it will realise that it’s perfectly okay to have ups and downs.
I believe that coaching can help us learn from these highs and lows, to achieve deeper levels of self-awareness and inner contentment. I believe it can help us to exercise the will to achieve our deepest goals, but also deepen self-acceptance so that we do not have to listen to the constant noise of self-comparison.
In that spirit* I would like to leave you with the following thoughts:
Real life is often less than perfect, even at New Year, with all its hilarity and hope. The hand we are dealt contains spades as well as hearts, clubs as well as diamonds. Our moods are often positive, but sometimes not. We make mistakes, so do our friends; we have regrets, so do they. The year ahead will have highs but also lows. Some will be our fault, others will be down to events beyond our control.
We will achieve some of our cherished hopes through character, attitude, hard work, spirit and good luck; but sometimes we will fail. We will overcome some fears, but not all. Hopefully we will feel happy, joyous, warm, excited, loving, loved; but we will also go through periods where we are sad, frustrated, impatient, angry, maybe even despairing at times. Hopefully, our friends, family, loved ones will give us comfort and support; but it is not unlikely that on some days, we will have to hold ourselves.
Whatever 2019 holds for you, my best wishes and warm regards.
* I hope those who read this post will do so in the spirit in which it is intended, and not regard it as negative or depressing. Feel free to comment and I will certainly reply. Look after yourselves in the year ahead. Please do seek help if you feel hopeless or unable to cope.