The annual exchange of ‘Happy New Year’ emails between my friends has finally ceased. Most were full of well wishes for the year ahead and hopefulness that 2016 will be the best ever. When I asked one UK friend how was it to be back at work after the obligatory, half-term, two week Christmas break, his reply was breathtakingly honest – “It’s a bit depressing, given the weather, etc. All a bit, here we go again…..”.
I could definitely relate. For my Northern Hemisphere readers, January is a particularly bleak month. The holiday festivities are over. The house is looking barren and dreary without the Christmas tree and all the sparkling ornaments. Outside is just as lifeless with weather that is gray, rainy, cold, snowy, dull, miserable. Our spirits are drowning in the weight of overindulgence – both in our stomachs and on our credit cards. Before us, another 12 months beckons.
For many, this thought fills them with dread, because they know the rhythm of what lies ahead so well, that they can almost sleep-walk through the next 365 days. My friends who are event planners in investment banking are particularly prone to this despair, as year in year out they often execute the same annual conferences. To a large extent, they largely know what is in store for them for 2016 and in rolls in the thoughts, ‘Here we go again.”
In many ways, our 13+ years of formal education does little to prepare us for adulthood. Think about it. For most, the first 21 years of life involve great change and excitement. With each new ‘school’ year, we get a new teacher, new classes, new extra-curricular activities. The start of a ‘new year’ for children and adolescents is truly an opportunity for new beginnings. There is wonder about what will transpire in the months ahead. Subconsciously, we also know that if we muck it up this year, we truly and genuinely can make the next year our year. Throw in the summer holidays and we have a revolving door of change and things to look forward to.
This is not quite the same in adulthood. Most of us get stuck in the same company for several years, with little change in day to day and year on year projects. We are now responsible for executing a range of mundane tasks that our parents once dealt with. Grocery shopping. Taking out the trash. Taxes. Cleaning the house. Laundry. Cooking dinner. Our hectic Western lives are so chaotic that being in a routine becomes a necessity so that the whole house of cards doesn’t collapse. And before we know it life passes us by in an ordinary and routine blur.
A few years ago, I was discussing the monotony of life with my brother. His advice? Make sure you carve out some time each day to something just for yourself. Even if that is buying a magazine at the check-out counter and spending 30 minutes in the evening flicking through it. Good, but I went a step further. I created a list of things I want to do one day. Some of these involved activities I could action within 1 hour of my home, some required weeks off work. Whenever I found myself in a routine funk, I’d pull out my list and head off to do something new. To get ideas for new things to do, read your local paper or by a guidebook to your hometown/state. You’d be amazed at some of the off-the-wall adventures await around the corner.
I also made an effort to break my daily routine when I could. This is something I challenge everyone to do. Everyday, do one simple thing that is out of your normal regime. Take a different way to work. Brush your teeth with your opposite hand. If you are married, have a mid-week date night once a month. Try a new recipe. Go to a different restaurant. Explore a late night opening of an art gallery instead of sitting in front of the TV. Skype a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Join a book club. Take a wine-tasting, dancing, or drawing course. Camp out in your back yard on a Tuesday night. Cook Smores. Gaze at the stars. To keep the ‘Here we go again’ dread at bay, we need to break the routine, every goddamn single day if we can.
If that seems too much, remember the old adage ‘Stop and smell the roses’. There are amazing little experiences we can have everyday if we just allow ourselves 5 minutes each day to pause, breath and just be. I was reminded of this by my friend DJ just the other day. She was walking along the streets of a cold, January Zurich, when she took a moment to stop, look up at the sky, and capture the photo you see here. In her words, ‘It looked like a real-life Van Gogh right in front of me.’ A reminder to us all that if we put our ordinary, mundane, routine lives on hold for a moment, there is beauty and excitement to be had all around us. Grasp it, and be grateful that this time in your life isn’t one of those awful, rock bottom moments instead.
And when the tide does turns and you find yourself cresting up an amazing wave. Engage all five of your senses. Take it very smell, sound, taste, view, and feeling all in. Relish in the moment and let the memory keep you lifted for as long as you can.