On being … a new year?

By Ingrid Sapona

January has never felt like a new year to me. September – now that has always felt like the start of something. Sure, it probably goes back to all those years of school (K-12+ for those of us who continued on to university). Even when your school years are long behind you, the academic calendar still matters if you have kids or colleagues whose life revolves around the school year.

Since January 1st just feels like the start of a long month of short days, I never really got the idea of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve also found it odd that people decide that at one point in the year they’re going to focus on all sorts of behaviours that they realize probably aren’t that helpful and they resolve to change them – or work on them. I’m all for introspection, but who needs the added pressure of a deadline? 

So, 2016 started for me much the way most years do: resolution-free. Actually, that’s not totally true. Sometime last fall, after finding a couple new recipes that I really liked, I realized my cooking repertoire could use some more new recipes. So, I decided that in 2016 I’d make a concerted effort to try new recipes for mains and sides (I’ve never needed an excuse to try new dessert recipes). I even set a measurable goal: by the end of 2016, I want 12 new recipes that I enjoy making, eating, and sharing with others. Mind you, that’s not as easy as it sounds because I’ve got pretty high standards when it comes to what I’d serve guests. (If it goes well, I’ve already got a plan for 2017: finding the perfect wine to go with each of 2016’s new dishes!)

Anyway, after returning from celebrations with my family, I was back to my usual routine. Then, about the third day back at work, I checked in with a client to see where things stood on a project we started just before Christmas. In an e-mail back, they explained what they’d like me to do. But, it was so vague and jargon-laden, I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do.

My first reaction was to feel stupid. Given that I’d already done some work on the project, shouldn’t I understand what they’re talking about? Then, without my usual hesitation and fear of looking dumb, I wrote them back and simply said I didn’t understand what they were talking about. As I sent it, I felt oddly transformed. I realized I’m tired of feeling like I’ve got to take sole responsibility for not understanding what clients want. After all, I’m not a mind reader.

The client promptly wrote back, apologizing for being vague and then they more clearly set out what they want me to do. An interesting and eye opening exchange, I thought… And with that, I decided to put the responsibility on clients for clarification from now on. No more feeling like I ought to figure it all out by myself!

Then, on another day during that first week of January, I was reading my e-mail in box and one item was from a LinkedIn group. It was one of many such groups I belong to that focus on some aspect of what I do for a living. I opened the e-mail, quickly confirmed that it was a typical self-promotion-type comment, and went to delete the message. But, for some reason, rather than merely deleting it, this time I scrolled to the bottom and clicked “unsubscribe”. It felt empowering – like I was taking back control of my in box. No more inane messages from that group!

Over the next couple days, I decided to try that approach with the myriad of other e-mail messages I get daily. Unless the message is from someone I really want to hear from, or is about something I’m really interested in (like recipes, given my 2016 goal), if there’s an unsubscribe option at the bottom, I clicked it. You know something – it’s been great! My in box is no longer full every time I return to my desk, and I’m not wasting time on BOGO promotions for things I don’t need or seat sales to places I’ll never go.

By the end of that first week of January, I realized that maybe the quiet of a long winter month is a good time to try some new approaches. In fact, I even think I’ve stumbled on a workable approach to New Year’s resolutions. The trick is to not think too much about them – just give them room and time to find you. Go ahead – it’s definitely not too late – give it a try!

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


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