This Week I Quit 2016
2016 has been a shit year. From the ongoing tragedy in Syria, to Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and the deaths of so many our favourites artists, like Prince, Bowie, and Leonard Cohen to name just a few, it’s felt like a relentlessly awful year. Even our favourite YouTube pet, Frances from Cooking With Dog, passed away.
It hasn’t just been a few historically bad moments that made this year feel so dire, it’s the pervasive sense something was going wrong with the world, as if key parts of the social contract, our understanding of how things should be, were simply being ignored, torn up, or trampled under foot. Even this week we are waking to ever more horrifying news every day.
For me, it’s been a particularly rough year, a lot of things combined to bring me down a few months back and since then I’ve been slowly piecing my life back together. I know I’m not the only one eagerly anticipating an end to this year.
So, I’ve decided to quit 2016. I don’t just mean end the year. The calendar takes care of that for all of us. I mean I’m turning my back on this year in a decisive way – quite unlike anything I’ve ever done before.
How To Start A New Year
I normally approach the end of the year as an exercise in momentum and continuity. Sometime in late November I close my calendar, then focus on finishing the projects that need to be done before the Christmas holidays, while also planning how the new year will start. “Hit the ground running” is the way I often described my approach to starting the new year.
A productive January can set the tone for the rest of the year. I certainly have a lot more faith in this kind of momentum than I do in New Year’s Resolutions!
The essential ingredient is continuity. By closing the calendar well before the end of the year I would take back control of my work and my priorities. Then based on those I would plan for the start of the new year – more of the same but better.
How I’m Starting 2017
As you might have already guessed I’m not doing that this year. I closed my calendar a few weeks ago, but it felt more like a defeated gesture, like a garrison commander shutting the gates before a siege. I just wanted this year to end.
This left me wondering what I wanted to bring into the new year.
The answer was – as little as possible. In place of the full, planned, momentum-driven way I’m used to starting every year, I’m craving something more austere and restrained now, something more poetic.
Because despite the torrent of potentially world-changing news, it’s been a very flat, literal year. It’s like our lives have been reduced to headlines, bullet points and bylines. I know I’ve often felt jumpy and reactive this year; maybe you’ve felt the same. I just don’t want to believe life is really this superficial.
So, I’ve decided I can’t really trust my judgement right now. There’s something wrong with the code. A lot of what I’ve tried to do this year hasn’t worked out, so maybe there’s something fundamentally wrong with the projects I’ve tried to undertake. There must be a reason I’ve spent so much of this year feeling busy but being unproductive, churning, like a stuck computer, fans and drives whizzing, but the spinning ball on the screen a reminder that something has gone wrong behind the screen.
Quitting 2016 for me isn’t just about ending the year, it’s about quitting the unfinished projects and plans I made this year. Unless it’s very, very close to finishing right now, it’s gone. Any emails or messages I can’t reply to by the end of work on Friday will be deleted. Anything that’s still in my physical inbox, will go in the bin. Those projects and ideas I’ve been shuffling around in Omnifocus will be archived away.
Right now my calendar for January is almost empty and I’m going to keep it that way. I’m not taking any meetings till March. I start back at work on January 9 and it will really be a fresh start – clean desks and surfaces in a clean studio, office and workshop.
Put Trust In The Right Place
As creatives we often get caught up in our ideas and fear letting them go. It’s a kind of sunk cost fallacy, like when we buy a jacket, then never wear it, but find we can’t bring ourselves to throw it out because we’ve already spent the money and maybe, in the future we might find an occasion for it.
We have a good creative idea, so we think we need to act on it, then life goes on and we hold onto that idea, even if there are other, better things we should be focussing our time on.
The problem is even worse if you are good because then all your ideas will have real potential. It’s a lesson I’ve been thinking about while writing the “This Week I Quit” series, because a lot of things I’ve quit were good ideas at the time. But, it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed by a stockpile of ideas.
And, it really shouldn’t happen, if we trust the ideas will keep coming. It’s having the wisdom to choose the right creative ideas and having the courage to make the space in your life to do the work required to turn the idea into something tangible and worthwhile.
The real challenge, in any creative work, isn’t actually the creativity, the having ideas bit, it’s the wisdom and courage required to create something meaningful.
The Busy-ness Disease
In my 20s, for a few different reasons, I was surrounded by people who had a pretty dim view of human nature, who assumed most people were lazy and selfish. Often folks like this, when you ask them about how life is going, will say they’re very busy, as if busyness is some kind of virtue, which of course it isn’t.
While life does sometimes give us busy seasons, living in a way that’s constantly marked by busyness, by breathlessly rushing around and doing things is a mark of being unable to prioritise and organise one’s life well.
While I’ve long ago left behind that worldview, its shadow still lingers, like I suspect it does for many people who freelance or are self-employed. What if we don’t look busy enough?
Well, I want to look like I’m prioritising wisdom and courage, like I’m committed to a few meaningful things. I’d rather count the number of hours I sleep than the number of online followers I have. I want the feeling of turning the lights off every night in my studio, looking back on the work I’ve done that day to be enough validation for me, without needing to look for more in the fullness of my calendar or the volume of ideas in my inbox.
Because everything worthwhile I’ve ever done has come from a place of deep, reflective solitude, and given this year, it’s time to go back to that place. It’s time to embrace slow, considered, thoughtful, committed, poetic and graceful living. Goodbye 2016, you were loud, you were noisy, you were angry and you simply didn’t fit me well.
This Week I Quit is a (mostly) weekly series where I try, in a personal way, to address the habit of overcommitment. Each week I quit something, it could be an app, a habit, a possession, a word, anything that had a hold on my attention. I explain why I made the choice to quit and what it was like. Last time I Quit Pinterest and you can read all the posts in this series here.