New Year, Old Me

On the first day of 2024, I finally found the courage to confront all my past New Year’s resolutions. Searching through my stack of diaries, I soon realized that not many of them were followed through beyond February. For some of them, ironically, I found myself grateful that I did not have the determination or the means to carry out — for instance, “lose weight” from sixth grade or “become popular” from fourth grade.

For years, I craved to be a better person, a worthier someone that I had so far failed to become. I wanted to be skinny, but I couldn’t do it. I decided weight loss was something I would magically gain the power to do on the morning of January 1. I wanted to be popular, and I couldn’t do it. I hoped that I would be reborn with a likable personality on January 1. But I woke up on both New Year’s Days as the same person I was the evening before. Even now, I am not skinny, nor am I popular. For once, however, I think I am starting to be fine with the old, familiar me. I know now that the goals I set in previous years had an unhealthy focus on what others thought about me, and their wording reflected that. There were often no concrete steps to reach these goals written down, simply a phrase to summarize all expectations of me. Starting this year, we should be wary of the unhealthy sentiments of reinventing oneself around the New Year, for they undermine self-esteem and present unrealistic goals. 

Most New Year’s resolutions aim to enhance our self-worth, but we should stop using counterproductive approaches to constructing the resolutions. We all want to love ourselves. We all want to know what it feels like to look into a mirror and feel content with what we see, outwards and inwards — but only a handful of us live that dream. So, every year, we decide to do whatever it takes for us to be finally satisfied with who we are. However, my New Year’s resolutions have so far in my life been counterproductive in improving my self-esteem. In fact, at times, they made me hate myself. The burden of wanting to keep a year-long streak of carrying out goals that improve my very self-worth takes a mental toll, even when I succeed in doing so. Every New Year’s resolution was a firm reminder that I was not enough. Every time I checked on my progress in sticking to my resolutions, I found myself spiraling into the abyss of my supposed inadequacies. Often, obsessing over bettering our self-worth results in a stressful mess which is the exact opposite of the intentions behind the resolutions. 

New Year’s resolutions are, more often than not, not simply difficult to follow through on — they are impossible. We have no one to blame for this sad reality but ourselves. I, like many others, wrote New Year’s resolutions in simple, all-encompassing wording: “exercise more” or “eat healthier.” In theory, both of those are realistic goals: there is a set precedent that you have to outperform. In reality, both of those are unattainable goals to follow through on without falling into a vicious pit of self-hatred or guilt that could swallow you whole.

Let’s look at a silly example to understand better. Imagine a duck that wants to “eat healthier” in the new year. The duck ate no greens the previous year, so he’s hoping he will eat some peas in the new year. After all, new year, new me, right? On the first day, he eats a handful of peas. Dissatisfied, he adds a few more peas to the mix the next day — so on and so forth. He had eaten almost 20 peas on January 29, but on January 30, he found himself a bit queasy. He eats five peas and then goes to sleep. When he wakes on the morning of the 31, he instantly feels terrible about himself. He had ruined his progress — failed to keep a promise he had made to himself! But did he truly fail? No, he had not. He had eaten no greens in the past year, so he was “eating healthier.” He was simply too absorbed in the narrow scope of the present to notice the progress being made. Because his phrasing wasn’t “eat three peas a day,” but instead “eat healthier,” he could interpret the resolution however it suited his self-hatred. The vague, “aspirational” wording we often use in our New Year’s resolutions allows us to relocate the bar of passing at a height just out of our reach every time our fingertips graze it. 

This year, I have finally started to feel okay with “new year, old me.” The old me is enough. I can be content with looking in the mirror to find the same person I saw in the mirror last year. My New Year’s resolutions are New Year’s suggestions. I have not resolved to change myself in any way. I can suggest a few ways to live a healthier lifestyle or find peace within myself, but I will not allow anyone, not even myself, to push me back into the cycle of self-hatred.

Andover is full of high-achieving, perfectionist students who like to push themselves and stretch their limits. Around the new year, it can be easy to resolve to fix ourselves, all of our broken bits all at once. Instead, I recommend celebrating all of our pieces, broken or intact. Create realistic, specific New Year’s suggestions for yourself that can improve the quality of your life rather than your self-worth. So, if anyone wants to join me in “trying to eat at least two hot meals a day,” I’ll be sitting in Upper Left.