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Letting go of end-of-year shoulds
and making space for things you want (even if you don't know what you want yet)
Winter break has always been a reflective time for me. I remember journaling in bed at home in high school, finally having some space away from daily routines. In college, the break between semesters when I didn’t have finals or projects looming over me. These breaks were built in when I was younger, but I’m finding I need to be more intentional at making that space now.
Yet now I find myself with a few quiet days in a mountain town with the intention of having some spacious time, and already, I find myself worrying about optimizing this time. How do I make the most of each day? This book I took out from the library is a bit fluffy — should I read something more culturally meaningful and timely? As I notice these thoughts, I also try to remind myself to let go of the need to optimize relaxation time.
I both want to have a clear intention of making space for myself for reading and writing at the end of the year, and also make space for if those things just don’t happen. I started off the year with the intention to publish regularly on this substack. I clearly did not prioritize doing so, even though I know I feel better when I write regularly, and I’d like to have some compassion for myself for not doing the things I said I’d do.
I want to both set clear intentions and let go of specific expectations around outcomes and how I spend my time these next few days (and beyond).
The end of year is honestly a brutal time — I know it’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of year, but...this year (and well, last year too), it’s a lot. Between company annual planning, personal holiday plans, omicron variant spread, holiday plans in flux due to friends getting or getting exposed to COVID, it’s a lot — even for me, as someone without any real holiday obligations.
I’ve mostly opted out of Christmas altogether — I didn’t really grow up celebrating Christmas, and neither did my partner, and my kids spend Christmas with their dad. Our Christmas dinner last night was nuts, beef jerky, trail mix, and tuna salad mix cobbled together at 7-11 and another gas station shop. Not nutritionally ideal, but it was pretty memorable.
We do participate in some festivities. I hung stockings for the kids, which we’ll open in January, along with our four-person Secret Santa exchange — last year, my 5yo gifted me 25 sheets of poop emoji stickers. I made big batches of furikake Chex mix to give to neighbors and friends — though I didn’t make an exhaustive list, and mostly just gifted to people I crossed paths with. I bought silicone half-sphere molds to make hot chocolate bombs that melt in milk and “explode” with mini marshmallows inside. We decorated a Trader Joe’s gingerbread house kit.
But when I reflect on all the festive things, I enjoyed them because I knew I didn’t have to do them. They came from a place of desire instead of obligation.
Letting go of shoulds
Whether you have (like me) low holiday obligations, or a ton of holiday obligations, it’s been a long year, and you deserve to have some space to do some things you want, rather than what you should.
Maybe that’s ordering pizza instead of cooking a holiday feast. Maybe it’s a night in watching a 49% on Rotten Tomatoes holiday rom-com. It might look like going for a long walk by yourself, or taking a long bath or nap. Or cooking something that takes hours. Or ordering delivery and not cooking at all. It might even look like cancelling plans that you’ve already made.
I had plans last week to meet up with a friend visiting from out of town, and she cancelled last minute, apologizing and saying she was really looking forward to it but wasn’t feeling up for it anymore. I was honestly really happy to read her text, because it let me know she was taking care of herself and not just getting carried away in the current of “shoulds.”
Leading into this trip, even without many holiday obligations, I’ve had a lot of “should” thoughts. I should do a digital detox. I should take on a writing project. I should re-do my website. I should meet up with friends in the area.
Right now, letting go of shoulds feels like buying some simple groceries that we can cook at this Airbnb, but also getting takeout way more that we usually do, having a few hours a day to read or write, and also a few hours outside exploring or hiking, and maybe watching a few holiday rom-coms.
For this trip and this year, I’d like to let go of the expectation to write and create, but to make space for it as well. What I’ve noticed over the years is that when I’m at my most creative (whether that’s writing, cooking, making), it doesn’t come from a place of should. It comes from a place of following my own curiosity, and having the space to do so.
These past two years, our fridge and freezer have been jam-packed, a combination of my natural tendencies, taking on grocery-buying responsibilities, and pandemic-induced food habits. Recently, though, we’ve started working away at freezer foods and cleaning out the fridge — sometimes we even have empty shelves! My partner Naveed is extremely delighted when he sees the empty fridge and freezer space, and he jokes that we now have the space to be open to receiving what life has to give us.
So what “shoulds” do you want to let go of this next week and next year, to make space for things you want, even if you don’t know quite know what those are yet?