When I was in Primary School, I dreaded the annual report card. A year in my life, reduced to a symbol, quantified and measured against previous years. I was convinced that this was the year I’d finally messed it all up. I used to be better, I’d tell myself. I used to put more effort into my homework, I used to be more well-behaved, I used to get higher marks in class. This year I’d been coasting, and this lack of motivation would be reflected in my grade.
I’m not sure this is an appropriate amount of pressure for a 7 year old to feel.
Every year I went through this, and every year I was proven wrong. The grades would always improve until they became straight As, even though I never studied. Why study if you’re already getting perfect marks? Why study when you can play Diablo and WWF Smackdown? This continued until my Highers, when I got AAABC. A B in Computing and a C in Chemistry, two of my strongest subjects. It had finally happened – I’d messed up, my doomsaying came true, and it didn’t help that my dad never told anyone about the C. As far as everyone else was concerned, I’d only taken 4 Highers. A pass at Higher level in a difficult subject would be a cause for celebration for many. For me, it was nothing less than an outright failure to be swept under the rug.
This occurs to me now because it’s time for New Year’s resolutions, which are kind of a reverse report card for adults. In the absence of annual state-mandated testing, we test ourselves. And, as the joke usually goes, we always fail.
I used to love making lists of things I was going to do. My old notebooks are filled with to-do lists, with countless more thrown away over the years. I couldn’t bear the thought of someone seeing them. At some point I stopped because I realised I’d been treating the list as an accomplishment in itself rather than, you know, actually doing anything. New Year’s resolutions were much the same. I’d start the year with hundreds of ideas of how I was going to improve myself, forget about them within a week, and go back to doing whatever it was I did to pass the time. Eventually I ceased to care, and the New Year’s resolutions disappeared.
A common story, I imagine. What’s curious, though, is how irrelevant my resolutions ended up being. One day in my early 20s I found a couple of New Year’s lists from the past, and I was struck by how many of those things I actually ended up accomplishing independently of any January optimism. I never became a cutting-edge web designer or virtuoso bassist, but I did code a website from scratch and my playing certainly improved. These were things I just did naturally because I enjoyed them, and to hell with measured progress. It was never really that I wanted to be better at them, but that I wanted to have completely mastered them by December. Because even though I do these things for my own satisfaction, I was convinced I’d been coasting, and that my report card had been suffering. And I’m not sure this is an appropriate amount of pressure for a 20-something to feel.
So this year I think I’m going to start making those lists again. But for now, I have only one true New Year’s resolution:
Stop being so hard on yourself.