This is it. The day everything changes. The day you strip off everything that’s been holding you back. Every bad habit. All that resistance. All those excuses. Goodbye, old skin.
Today, you’re new and gleaming.
Today is the day that some voice deep inside says, “Change,” and you startle awake.
Today is the clean break, the blank page between then and now.
Today you’re that lean body in the running shoe ad, sweating and loving it. You’ve got discipline to spare. This is it. It’s time.
Today the resolutions stick. You’ve turned the key. You’re pulling away from all that’s dragged you down.
Forget what it says on the calendar. It’s New Year’s. New Day. New You.
Words like that were playing in my head one morning not too long ago. I’d been stuck and frustrated the day before, looking at the puzzle of some writing I’d been working on between projects and thinking, “What a mess. It’s not coming together.” Which quickly spiraled into “I’m doing this all wrong,” and even, “What made me think I could do this?”
When 'Change!' gets wound up with disdain
My psyche’s go-to solution was to summon up some mix of a sports-drink ad copy and the theme from “Rocky,” with a dash of the boss I had at a newspaper once, a guy whose motto was JFDI—Just fuckin’ do it. I could just hear him standing over me saying, “What you need is discipline!”
I’m a sucker for the pitch, the whole fantasy that it’s possible to make a clean break with the past, to “get in the car and drive west till we’re not sad or broken anymore.”
But when I listened to the “whole new you” pep talk this last time around, it sounded less gleaming and hopeful than … mean. The “wad up the old you and toss it in the trash” didn’t sit so well. Behind the seductiveness of “clean break” and the ad world’s favorite word “New” was disdain. My manifesto had faith in CHANGE and that warrior writer it envisioned, the one with the perfect schedule and Michelle Obama arms. It just didn’t have a lot of faith in me.
So I thought I’d rewrite the script, see if I could make it gentler and truer and lighter. Less abs-of-steel determined, more embracing. I’m still getting used to the way it sounds. I think I like it.
Softer words, with room for all you are
This is it, the day I continue, the day I pick up where I left off, the day I find out where I’m going on the way there.
Today is the day I take another step down the path.
Today is the day I find the game in it.
Today is the day I praise my every effort, even the smallest one.
Today I stay with what haunts or daunts or eludes me, and feel my way toward it, phrase by phrase.
Today is the day I feed my work something new.
Today I tend a garden stewn with seeds from unmarked envelopes, a tiny plot filled shoots that could be anything—oaks or sage or weeds.
Today I wait and tend.
Today is the day I listen to the whisper inside that says “keep going” and “let’s get lost.”
Today I discover what’s next.
Your writing needs the you who keeps returning
Self-compassion and patience and a sense of play or curiosity produce a whole different kind of discipline, I think. If I’m stuck, playing makes me want to return to the puzzle. (I got over the sense of stuckness with my piece by using the old fortune cookie trick of tacking the words “in bed” to the end of every line until something shook loose a laugh and the spell of “this isn’t moving” was broken.) And the kinder I am to the “old” me, the easier it is to play.
Sometimes, the writing doesn’t tell you what it wants for a very long time. And as it lets you in, it doesn’t need to keep introducing itself to a string of “whole new yous.” It just needs the one who keeps coming back.