For many people this is a loaded question, apt to inspire feelings of guilt, panic, and apathy. We live in a society where doing, doing, doing is presented the bedrock of productive citizenship, where activity is lauded as the path to a happy life, without much critical reflection as to what all that busyness means. Even those of us who look at the ideal askance, like me, can feel ourselves succumbing to its invitation to judge our yearly accomplishments and find them wanting.
I’ve come to believe the very question is no good. For one, our lives are continuously unfolding processes; chopping them up into calendar years should be merely a convenient way of delineating our life histories, rather than a reified benchmark of success. Secondly, the very continuous nature of time means, just as you sometimes have trouble remembering what you had for breakfast, we tend to forget what we’ve done over time. Our accomplishments get papered over by succeeding days, weeks, months and years. Even if it doesn’t seem like you did much in any given day, you did something–and those small actions add up in a big way over the course of a year.
As an example, here is my year’s end log for 2016. In the past year, I:
-Started writing my 5th novel, which is now nearing completion at ~100,000 words;
-Wrote or completed two short stories, and a novella which is being anthologized;
-Moved from Brooklyn to upstate New York;
-Traveled to Okinawa–my first trip out of North America since 2010, and to Japan since 2004.
-Launched a freelance editing business and indie publishing house;
-Wrote my thesis and earned my master’s degree in Humanities and Social Thought from New York University;
-Drove across the Eastern half of the country three times–once from Nebraska to New York, and a round trip from New York to Minnesota and back;
-Helped an indie author launch the first book in her paranormal romance series, Awakening: Bloodline;
-Committed to NaNoWriMo and drafted a total of 50,029 words on the current work in progress;
-Voted for the first woman candidate for president in a general election.
This list isn’t to brag (or not only that). In all likelihood, you have a similar list of achievements, one which time has flattened out and made seem less notable than it is. That’s the nature of memory: the achievements of each day are usually gradual, so we tend to forget their magnitude over the long run.
If you’re one of many feeling like 2016 was a stagnant year, try this exercise: rather than making a list of New Year’s resolutions for 2017, make a list of what you did in the past year. It doesn’t have to be a list of traditional AchievementsTM–it could be as simple as getting out of bed and going to school or work every day. The point is that you probably did more than you think you did. If you’re reading this, you accomplished at least one thing: you’re here. You survived another year, and that itself is a victory.
Readers, I want to hear from you: what are some things you accomplished in 2016?