A Letter to 2021

A Letter to 2021

At brunch today, Shawn and I were joking about how I would start this year’s reflection letter: “Yo 2021, you promised you’d be better! You said you’d change! You said you wouldn’t keep doing the same shit!” Like a bad boyfriend, 2021 persisted with the same brand of bullshit. Like a good boyfriend, Shawn helped me laugh about it.

I think this year changed me. Probably for the better, but not necessarily the kind of ‘better’ where I actually feel better? Let me explain. It’s the kind of ‘changed for the better’ that comes with tearing down a beloved house. I took all the crap out, tore down the walls and cleaned out all the rubble. Something important was revealed through this process: good bones.

I’m still wandering the empty structure of the house, figuring out how I want to build the new one. Everything feels different but I can still see the good bones that I’ve built and that’s what makes me feel optimistic. I’m changed for the better because I get to rebuild another house that feels like home for this new version of myself. My life has good bones: healthy relationships, things to be passionate about, mental health tools, etc. There’s a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m relieved to no longer being trying to force myself to be happy in a house that didn’t feel like home anymore.

Dearest 2021,

You taught me to be honest with myself when something is not working and to change it to make it work for me instead of berating myself for not contorting to a mould that doesn’t fit. You didn’t exactly teach me how to make the changes, (2022 please help me) but you certainly showed me that its necessary.

This year, like the last few years, began with me breaking down my life on paper, trying to examine what was working and what wasn’t and creating strategies, goals and plans to change. With meticulous care, I mapped out how to create a perfect ‘me’ and a perfect life. Well, 2021, you were the year that finally showed me that that is too much. I have hated looking at all the ways that I want to change myself and my life for years in a row and always coming up severely short. And now, I’m tired of making myself feel bad for that.

I refuse to continue to shame myself for not meeting unrealistic expectations. I’m not doing it anymore. I’m finally sticking up for myself… to myself.

2021, you taught me that even if I were to accomplish every last one of the things I wanted to change about myself, I would never see myself as perfect. That’s when I realized, this is all kind of for nothing if I still feel like shit. The problem isn’t the structure of me, it’s how I treat me. Working towards self-acceptance and self-compassion has already been one of the most liberating things I have done for myself, though I’ve really only just dipped my toe in. If I can’t accept myself and show myself some compassion regardless of how successful or worthy I think I am, I will never feel the happiness I’m trying to feel. And as Julia Michaels put it, I just wanna be fucking happy.

2021, you revealed to me my ‘type A’ tendencies are in many ways, a manifestation of an unhealthy need for control. I’ve realized control and self-acceptance, at least for me, go hand in hand. I want to control my life to fit conventional measures of success so that people like and value me. I want to control myself to be perfect so that people accept me. Well, now I want to accept myself and my circumstances whether I deem either of them to be perfect. Because like I said, I’ll never be happy without that acceptance from myself anyways.

This year, I read something in Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion, that stuck with me and it was, “Suffering = Pain x resistance.” In other words, suffering occurs when we resist our pain. Pain is inevitable, and when given the space to be felt it will eventually naturally dissipate. 2021, you brought quite a bit of pain. Through the many small pains and the few big pains of the year, I’ve realized that I have created a lot of suffering in my life by resisting pain.

2021, you taught me that my intuition is a lot smarter than my efforts to control are. In other words, I never really have much control anyways. Realistically, most of what happens in life is out of my control and so learning to trust my own intuition in responding to life as it comes instead of trying to pre-plan everything in an attempt to have control is extremely worthwhile. It’s also kind of exhilarating. I feel a lot more alive when I’m not mapping out every detail of my life.

2021, you reminded me that that fire I feel for the things that I love, the one that’s been in me for literally as long as I can remember, is still there and is still very much a part of who I am. It’s why I can’t resist doing all of the things that I do; dancing, choreographing, making videos, writing, singing, acting, starting an Etsy shop, becoming a nutritionist. It’s such a hodge podge of things to deem necessary in one person’s life but to me it makes sense. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling disappointed in myself for not being amazing at one thing, or worrying that people think I’m some kind of commitment phobe disaster who can’t stick to anything. I’m finally starting to appreciate this aspect of myself again and I no longer want to hide or suppress it in order to not seem ‘weird’.

2021, you’ve left me feeling lighter. And no, not because I recently lost my appetite for a few days due to covid. Removing expectations has been a big contributor to this lightness. I have very little expectations of 2022; I’m working on trusting myself to do what’s best for me and I know that I won’t be able to foresee what those things will be. I expect myself to continue working on self-acceptance and self-compassion, I expect myself to prioritize staying close to my art and my creativity and to continue working on what’s important to me. I expect myself to be a loving person. And that’s kind of it.

As I read this back and edit, I feel a bit vulnerable as I realize that my own particular brand of gratitude and optimism that normally comes through in these reflections is not here. Honestly, this really illustrates how 2021 has changed me. I feel a big shift in how I view the world, how I view myself and how I intend to live my life. I actually do feel quite optimistic about the future and grateful for the lessons of this year, but with less sparkly naivety than in the past. I feel grounded and calm and somewhat patient.

I still have dreams for my life, but I am making the most conscious effort I ever have to enjoy life right now. Despite still being in a pandemic and still dealing with career uncertainties, I can create my own opportunities. No one is stopping me from throwing on music and moving, creating my own dance films or pieces of choreography. No one is stopping me from writing. No one is stopping me from pursuing any of my passions or career ambitions. Sure, no one is exactly throwing piles of money at me to do those things but I don’t care. If I want to do them, I can. I’m realizing that that’s powerful. I feel like life is anyone’s for their own taking and I’m just fucking ready to take mine.

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