I had a hard time deciding how to structure this list. My first thought was to start with the great and end with the pathetic, to then conclude with how I would do better or different in 2023. But the pathetic is always more relatable, especially if, like me, you’re keenly aware of how full of it we humans tend to be, every last one of us convinced we’re at the center of the universe and that the universe cares about us specifically. We aren’t. It doesn’t.
I’ve opted to begin with the pathetic, then, because I’m a typical self-centered human who finds pondering the pathetic transformative. It helps me know myself and be a version I like more.
My need for approval is concerning.
Have you ever found yourself checking your social media of choice multiple times a day, far more than you know is healthy? Of course you haven’t! You’re mature and don’t need that kind of affirmation based on images showing a curated segment of your life. Moreover, you’re not even on any social media seeing as you have no time for that nonsense.
Turns out I’m not like you. I’m immature and foolish. A few times this year, I found myself shamefully caught up on my Instagram and Mailchimp stats. I’d enjoy little dopamine hits when my checks showed lots of likes and views. When the check didn’t deliver, I’d feel disappointed and ridiculous. When the checking became compulsive, my need for approval felt pathetic.
Bottom line: I’m not immune to the lure of social media. I’m as prone to its addictive power as any teenager.
I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life!
Is that pathetic when you’re 53 years old? Or is it just weird?
To be clear, it’s not that I’m trying to figure out the rest of my life in every way. I feel zero confusion about my family life, for instance. But the way things look, I may not be able to be a preschool special education teacher always. My back won’t take it. Plus, assuming I need to work until I’m 70+, I would love a new act for at least one decade of the 17 years remaining.
This year I’ve learned to be a little braver.
“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
This quote from Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural mystifies me. I love it. I believe it. Fear of fear is one of the main obstacles we all face in our quest for fulfillment and growth. Thus I try to analyze my fears always, to know how justified they are, and how much they’re keeping me from doing what I think is right or would ultimately enjoy.
Like a lot of people, I’m afraid of public speaking and of making a fool of myself. Because of this fear, and not despite it, I did an Instagram Live on my birthday and keep publishing stories where I disclose unpopular opinions and preferences, like why quiet quitters have a point and why I won’t ever have a dog.
I also have a fear of authority and of being evaluated. I mean, I get nervous when a supervisor observes me, this after 15+ years of teaching! Asking for support when my class sorely needs it also makes me crazy nervous about appearing incompetent. (There it is again, my need for approval.) Anyway, though I can’t get into more specifics here, I will say I’m quite proud that I persisted in tackling these work-related fears this year.
The fear-mitigating process makes you stronger. It can also be, well, fun. For instance, admitting to and writing about my fear of flying has helped my self-confidence while desensitizing myself to heights by purposely gazing down from any safe height was pretty fun (and funny for those watching).
Facing your fear of fear is more of an attitude than a one-time thing. I highly recommend it.
I’ve addressed the pathetic and accepted it as normal.
Regarding the small issue of what to do about my professional life, I’ve done several things. I’ve worked on my back pain so I can be a happy teacher for as long as possible. I’ve hired a coach to help me know my strengths (and many weaknesses) and what I can eventually and realistically aspire to do. I also have one paid writing client. Anyhow, this is all very much a work in progress. Any ideas and leads are welcome and infinitely appreciated.
As to my propensity for social media addiction, I’ve addressed that too. How so? By taking advantage of my obsessive nerd nature, and following my very own “social media once a day” rule, which applies to me since I never had a problem with duration, just with frequency. I downloaded a silly habit-tracking app and get to check off each day I follow my rule. I’m at 100%, probably because my social media checking hadn’t yet become a true bad habit.
The only potential drawback is that I know I could get carried away with the habit tracker. I’ve started to track how much I drink because I’ve recently been obsessed with the topic of alcohol and how almost any amount is related to numerous negative health outcomes (dementia in particular). From September 9 to December 25, I consumed one or two drinks on 10 days.
See what I mean by getting carried away?
More importantly, I’ve come to view my need for approval as a human need. It’s reassuring to know that I’m no different from Beyoncé or the U.S. President, as Oprah thankfully shared in the book What Happened to You?:
“Like clockwork, whether it’s the President of the United States, Beyoncé in all her Beyoncé-ness, a mother sharing a painful secret, or a convicted criminal in search of forgiveness, at the end of any interview, the person sitting across from me asks, ‘How did I do?’ as they scan my face for a reaction. ‘Was I okay?’ they always ask. The longing to be accepted and affirmed in their truth is the same for everyone.”
Social media is an outlet that appeals to our need to be seen, and we must be aware that it can become an unhealthy outlet. (Some say the algorithms are designed to do so.)
Last year, I resolved to focus more on process than outcome. For 2023, I want no focus, no theme. Maybe I’ll play around some more with my habit tracker, set myself one 30-day challenge or two, run a 10k, or join a book club. I’ve always wanted to be in a book club.
I’ll keep on pondering, learning, facing my fears, doubting my certainties, trying to do good, and making the most of my time here.
I still feel like a work in progress, and hope to feel that way until my last day.
Previous year-end reflections: