This is the first time I’ve considered New Year’s resolutions. Usually, I do my best to uphold Benjamin Franklin’s advice:
“Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.” — Benjamin Franklin
If I don’t like something, I prefer to change it ‘now’. I never liked waiting until the New Year to start making progress. But I feel differently this year.
You see, I’m a planner. I like to set myself milestones, both short-term and long-term goals; ‘things I want to achieve this year’, or ‘within the next five years’, or ‘things I want to do in my lifetime’. And although I always appreciated that the future is unpredictable and that my plans may change, I never foresaw any imminent, radical changes to my environment that would prevent me from carrying out my plan. I believed my goals were attainable, so long as I stuck to the plan.
But if there’s one thing that this year has taught me, it’s that the world is changing much faster than I imagine. My plans suddenly feel much more fragile. And, although I will forever continue to plan for the future, I’m also planning to focus on the present.
Here are my 4 resolutions for 2021 — all designed to enjoy the present.
1. Invest More Into Relationships
When lockdown hit, I was living in Geneva. I had recently moved and was working pretty long hours so my opportunities to socialize had been minimal. I had only made a couple of friends, and I was living in a shared apartment with an 80+-year-old land-lady.
She refused to let me work from home because she was convinced the law firm I worked for could spy on her if I used the wifi for work (no joke). Thankfully, since the whole office was working from home, my boss was kind enough to let me work in the office — alone. To say I was lonely during this time is an understatement.
The single most important thing that helped me get through the day was calling my family and friends. I made at least two phone calls throughout the day. I would schedule a call with a friend during my lunch-break, and call my family every evening. My weekends were also blissfully cluttered with Zoom calls.
I caught up with friends who I hadn’t spoken to for months or even years. I arranged group calls with cousins who would otherwise not know anything about each other’s lives. I started a project with my sister; we’re launching our new podcast in January 2021!
My life became so much more fun and meaningful when I brought more people into it. It’s not always easy to do when you’ve got a busy schedule. But I was working at least 12 hours a day during this period, and I still managed to be more sociable (albeit virtually) than ever. So, I know it can be done. And I plan to keep it up in 2021!
2. Celebrate At Every Opportunity
The first day of lockdown was also my 27th birthday. The opportunities to celebrate were zero unless I invited my 80+-year-old roommate to my room for a slice of cake — a plan on which, I passed.
Still, I decided I didn’t want to not celebrate. I realized that for various reasons, I hadn’t celebrated my 25th birthday, I hadn’t celebrated my 26th, and now I wasn’t going to celebrate my 27th?! I decided I deserved a celebration. Even if it was just a party for one that entailed me sitting on a green plastic children’s chair in my room, sipping wine and streaming a ‘live-online’ comedy show.
Life’s too short, and you don’t know what will happen next year. So why keep waiting for a good opportunity to celebrate?
I know some people aren’t really into birthdays or celebrations, and I’m aware these people can be perfectly happy. But frankly, there aren’t that many opportunities to celebrate. Seldom do we focus on the good things that we achieve and the milestones we hit. Lately, there’s been so much focus on the ‘bad’.
So I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to start celebrating key milestones and even small wins. I don’t care if it’s just ‘International Hummus Day’ or I’ve just finished a project for a client. Not every celebration has to be a big celebration. But I do think it’s good to acknowledge your achievements and reward yourself every once in a while. So that’s exactly what I plan to do.
3. Network Broadly
It’s during this time that I decided to set up my freelance writing business once my contract ended. Although I had done a lot of writing in all of my previous roles, I had no idea what the ‘freelance writer’ gig entailed. So, I unapologetically took to LinkedIn.
I reached out to other writers, and university professors who were former writers, and I asked for a moment of their time. To my surprise, the vast majority of people were keen to speak to me. They gave me invaluable advice and I grew to know a few of them well; in fact, a few of them became friends. I catch up with them every once in a while; we share our experiences, we chat, and they’re undoubtedly a great source of encouragement.
Networking can help you build a support system with like-minded people who can relate to your experience and provide advice and encouragement. It’s also a great way to meet interesting people who are involved in projects that you never even knew existed, and a way to learn about future opportunities, and build a better-rounded perspective of the opportunities that are out there.
So if networking isn’t something you’re accustomed to, I encourage you to take a leap of faith next year and reach out to a few people whose experience interests you. Be respectful of their time of course, but trust that you can bring something to the conversation too; try to find a mutual interest, and go for it!
4. Read More Fiction
This might sound like a strange addition to the list, but I’m firmly defending its presence. I was blind to the benefits to be derived from reading fiction. Over the past few years I’ve mainly read non-fiction books; self-help books about psychology, entrepreneurship, productivity, all within the ambit of self-improvement. But it turns out that reading fiction is also highly conducive to self-improvement.
Research in Neuroscience has shown that reading fiction helps you develop a range of useful life skills including empathy, communication, critical thinking and creativity skills. It also improves your memory function, your quality of sleep, and it can even lower your stress levels and boost your self-esteem.
Of course, other things are related too, but since I began to read more fiction in August 2020, I’ve definitely felt a positive change in my mood. Reading fiction is almost like meditating; your worries disappear and you’re immersed in a new reality for a moment. So in 2021, I’ll be following Tim Ferriss’ advice:
“Do not read non-fiction prior to bed, which encourages projection into the future and preoccupation/planning. Read fiction that engages the imagination and demands present-state attention.” — Tim Ferriss
This year has been underwhelming, stressful, and chaotic — on a global scale. I’m happy and grateful that I’ve enjoyed a lot of great days too, I’ve surpassed my expectations of what I would achieve, and I’m in a good place. But I’m excited to turn the page on 2020.
More than ever, I’m encouraged to start a fresh year, with a fresh set of intentions. I doubt the pandemic will improve in the near future, but at least it won’t come as a surprise.
The pandemic has made us aware of what’s important. And I encourage you to set intentions for the New Year that translate what you’ve learned in 2020, into actionable goals for 2021. If you’re out of ideas, you’re free to take mine:
1. Invest more into relationships
2. Celebrate at every opportunity
3. Network broadly
4. Read more fiction