Last year lots of “big” things happened to me. I bought a house, I took a show to Edinburgh, I lost three and a half stone, I got engaged, I got a pet, I got a promotion. Loads of things to put on facebook, straightforward things that people can like and comment “Yay!! Congrats :D”
This year, nothing’s really happened. I still have my house and my job and my home life. But I haven’t added anything new. I haven’t achieved anything – just maintained it. And this bothers the hell out of me.
The thing is though, this year has been my happiest ever . It is way more fun to live in a nice house than to buy and move into one. “Being engaged” is better than “getting engaged”. A pet that will headbutt me to tell me she wants her ears stroking is so much better than a nervous little creature who’s not used to me yet and I can only interact with through posting heart eye emoji captioned pictures of on Instagram. And the quiet satisfaction of putting word after word after word and then combing back through them, until you have a proto book lying heavy in its ringbinder, has been so much better for me than the fierce burn of a month in Edinburgh, running myself raw every night to try and impress a handful of strangers. Even though no one applauds.
You don’t love your partner more the day you get engaged than you do when he bursts into the room naked on a gloomy Tuesday morning and does a little dance to Taylor Swift for you and offers to pick up an emergency Christmas present for your Mum. There is a sparkle to the special times, the highlight moments, the landmarks – of course there is! – but I don’t think they’re more lovely than the normal fabric of life.
But this is not what we’re told. Some of my friends and I, brought up on SATs and GCSEs and dance recitals and AS Levels and Uni and end of term plays, really bloody struggled when we graduated and the landmarks, the structure, were taken away. Because if there wasn’t a test to pass at the end of the year, then how did you know your life was going well, that you were doing it right? What if you’re not doing it right? WHAT IF THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!
So you chase promotions, and milestones, and “achievements” – things that will reassure you that everything’s on track, and things to tell people when they ask how everything’s going.
“Yeah yeah great!” You can say. You can list all of the things you’ve done and move the conversation on. You don’t have to tell them that you’ve been having a bit of trouble sleeping this last week or two and you had insomnia off and on when you were a kid and teenager and it’s worrying you that it might come back. You don’t have to just leave the question hanging in the air, and try and think of what to say. Everything’s going fine. Life is life. What HAVE I done in the last couple of months? I went to work and went to the pub a few times, and watched Jessica Jones. Is that it? Surely that can’t be it.
I still expect to live my life like a season of a teen drama, or perhaps an early Harry Potter book. A life lesson, a Christmas holiday, some mild peril, a massive triumph and a nice fat summer holiday as a reward. On to the next level! But there isn’t a next level, is there? Life isn’t a story that you’re reading, that someone’s lovingly lined up for you to see what happens next. You have to write it yourself, and you have to be the one who decides what’ll give you the best chance at being happy. And it might not be the same thing that would make a good plot point, or that would make people pull an “oh, wow!” face when you tell them. It might just be, keeping on. Maintaining. Working quietly away at something. Living your life.
So what I’m going to try to remember for next year is to stop trying to “win” at life because it’s really not a game. It’s so much more important than that.