I began 2016 in a bit of a panic. I had spent my New Year’s Eve watching TV in my PJs and eating macaroni cheese, but everyone I was friends with/semi-stalked online had seemingly spent it either doing yoga on a mountain as the sun set, sipping champagne with minor royals/characters from Made In Chelsea, or cuddled up with their adorable children in Joules clothing in the house they had managed to buy. It sent me into a bit of a spin. Why was everyone else doing so much compared to me? Why was I lagging so far behind?
So, in the spirit of “New Year, new me”, I decided that, in 2016, I was going to become one of the awe-inspiring, high-achieving women I saw online every day. As far as I could see, everyone else was juggling multiple projects with an Instagrammable relationship and a perfect flat and a buzzing social life effortlessly, so I should be able to as well.
It started well. I Marie Kondo’d my flat, took cute selfies with my husband and made lots of plans with my friends. I took a scary new job, which I threw myself into headfirst, revitalised my food blog, started a newsletter, looked into podcasting, began writing a book. I took on every project that sounded interesting in my new job, woke up early to work on my side projects and spent my evenings and weekends running around London or in front of the laptop. This is the part of the article where I’d tell you I felt exhilarated or miserable or something, but I can’t because I was so busy that I can’t really remember how I felt. I just kept going because, if I stopped for even a second, then everything would collapse.
I had tied my self-worth to the amount of things I could do, rather than my personality or the value of the things I was doing, and worked myself ragged trying to feel worthwhile because of it
And collapse it did, of course. A whiff of criticism saw me having a panic attack in the street, followed by a crying fit which lasted several hours and a dark patch which lasted several weeks. I had stretched myself so thin that a few tiny negative words had managed to break me. As far as I was concerned, I had failed. I wasn’t able to keep going at the pace I wanted to, so I had failed at everything. I was useless and pointless and everyone was going to hate me.
Except, this was nonsense, wasn’t it? I had somehow absorbed the notion that, unless I was doing everything, I might as well be doing nothing – but each of the things I was doing was good on its own. I had tied my self-worth to the amount of things I could do, rather than my personality or the value of the things I was doing, and worked myself ragged trying to feel worthwhile because of it. My friends, family and colleagues all gently told me I had to calm down and I was so exhausted and miserable that, for once, I listened.
I still have the newsletter. I like doing it, so I kept it going. I’ve quietly let my food blog go and cut my social life back to only the people I really love and the things I really like doing. I’ve given up on podcasts, realising that I like the idea of being into them, rather than the podcasts themselves, and although I’m still doing as much of the interesting stuff as I possibly can at work, I’m also training myself to say no when I have to, even if it means missing out. I’m lucky enough to have an agent who doesn’t mind if progress on the book is slow and a husband who is happiest watching Peep Show under a blanket and who doesn’t care if I still haven’t put my washing away.
It’s taking me a while to retrain my brain to be satisfied with doing less, but better, and even longer to stop it from automatically saying yes to everything, but it’ll be worth it in the end. By cutting down what I do with my life to the only the things I really want to do, I’m able to enjoy them more and do them better. If other people can balance a million projects with a buzzing social life and perfect wardrobe, then good for them, but that’s just not who I am and it doesn’t mean I’m failing or that I’m any less worthwhile than they are.
This New Year’s Eve, I will be in front of the TV again, but I won’t spend my New Year’s Day panicking. Instead, I’ll be looking at the things I want to – and realistically can – do in the upcoming year and, rather than feeling stressed and exhausted, I’ll be feeling excited and hopeful for what’s to come.