Like everybody and their mother, the pandemic, and the years since March 2020, have left me feeling unmoored. And sad.
I don’t know if there was a specific moment where existence went from desperately treading water in the midst of a “racial reckoning”, and an ongoing health crisis, to more of a float – existing through it all, and taking the pandemic’s forced introspection as an opportunity to think with perhaps a dollop of kindness on who I was, who I am, and who I’d like to be. But somewhere along the line, the thoughts became slightly clearer, and I landed with a bit of grace for the younger me, and a handful of hopes for the current and future iterations of myself.
I’ve not always been the best at treating myself with kindness. While it was easy to think of friends as smart, kind, special people, applying those thoughts to myself often came with caveats. It’s always been easier to pick apart the things that didn’t work out – the choices I wished I made, and the decisions I wished I avoided – than it is to hold up the accomplishments and accept those as important parts of the fabric of my foundation as well.
Maybe 2023, is the year then, to try and turn that spotlight of kindness on myself.
With the beginning of a new year comes the setting of resolutions, the purchasing of a planner, and the promises of “new year, new me”. While I’ve happily partaken in the ritual of buying a new planner, it’s not enough to chart a new path forward. I realized I needed a new mindset too. So this year I’m stretching different muscles, reframing how I do things, and treating myself with the same level of compassion that I have always given freely to others.
Three major shifts in my mindset:
There’s a difference between running away from something and running towards something.
Oftentimes, I made decisions based on fear. I remember years ago getting a unique opportunity through school. It was semestered – I did the role for one semester and decided not to go back for the second. It wasn’t that I was bad at the job – in fact I think I had the potential to be quite good – but I confused the doubts that come with learning as a sign I didn’t have what it took to succeed.
I feared not being good enough, not meeting some imaginary standard that I’d set, or one that I assumed had been set for me. Or other times, I feared the unknown and worried desperately about what would happen if I let go of what was familiar and tried something new. I didn’t get the chance to imagine what could be on the other side of that fear because I often counted myself out first. While I don’t regret where I am now or the other exciting experiences I took a chance on that got me here — I do feel for the past me that felt like avoidance was the best approach. I’ve since learned that you don’t gain control by playing small. Instead, the world changes around you and you’re left wondering what could’ve been if you let yourself run loose.
Sometimes, leading with curiosity is enough.
The world is so much larger than what I’ve been able to see so far. In all of the experiences and opportunities that have meant the most to me, many of them have started with me thinking “oh, that might be interesting…”. I’ve had a tendency to believe that I need to do all the research, have all the answers, and be sure I’m doing the “right” thing before taking action. But, I want to remind myself not to count out the power of learning and sometimes trying something new provides insights and experiences I’d never have imagined for myself otherwise.
I remember years ago in therapy playing around with the idea of going to Paris for a solo trip, but I was so scared of travelling alone and all the potential things that could go wrong. In response, she asked “ok, if something happened what would you do?” After I walked through a range of options, she said “things may happen, but you know what to do to take care of yourself if you need to.” Right after my 30th birthday, I took myself to Paris. I was fine, and it was one of the best things I’ve done for myself thus far.
Curiosity ‘may kill the cat’, but stagnancy kills hope, dreams, and excitement. Curiosity and being willing to follow it, is I’ve learned, an antidote to staying stuck. I hope I remember not to preemptively deprive myself of the wonder of possibility.
Tuning out the noise and listening to your inner voice can bring clarity.
I often relied on the wisdom of others, wanting validation and confirmation that the choice I made, or the choices I wanted to make were the “right” ones. Why were my own feelings of doubt, excitement, or concern not good enough? In disregarding my own feelings I silenced myself and was often left with even less clarity than I started with. Years ago, in a career coaching group, the coach used the backpack metaphor – the basic principle being, that if you cram everything in a backpack, it gets heavy and weighs you down. Instead, choose what you need, hold onto the things that serve you and bring you joy and leave the rest.
In the quiet of the last few years, I tried to turn inward and listen. As I was reminded of in an intuition workshop I participated in last year, it takes practice to cultivate a relationship with that voice. The more you listen to and respect it, the clearer it becomes. The easier it becomes to separate your inner knowing from the whispers of anxiety, and most of all, it becomes easier to know the difference between your voice, and the voices, opinions and desires of everyone else. I hope for all versions of myself, that my inner voice is always able to make itself heard.
Despite my learnings, there’s still a small part of me that wishes I was entering 2023 with all of the answers. That knowing where I’ve been, and what I’ve learned, would be enough to arm me in the year ahead, prevent me from retreading familiar paths, and guarantee success in every area of life. But I know that’s not true. I know that it’s not possible. So instead of measurable resolutions for the year ahead, I’m moving forward with the hope that a backpack filled with wisdom is enough to help me see my past self with grace, and look with kindness on myself as I am now, and whoever I’ll become.
Patryce lives in Toronto. She can be found in spin class, your local bookshop, or trying to figure out the ideal watering schedule for her plants. You can find more of her work in a monthly newsletter that she co-authors with friends.
This essay was selected as part of Shedoesthecity’s New Voices Fund, established to help continue offering opportunities to talented emerging writers with less than 20 bylines. More info here.