While I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions for years, I have created lists such as 19 Things to do in 2019, or selected words to reflect my focus for the following twelve months. However, with so much uncertainty still surrounding us as we step in 2022, it feels somewhat counterintuitive to make plans or create goals for the year ahead.
For example, I’d love to travel to Italy with my daughter for her 18th birthday later this year, visit my son in the UK, or simply hug my parents who both live interstate. But will any of these become realistic or practical? While they’re not impossible dreams, it seems foolish to pin my hopes on them.
Is it better to make plans and be disappointed, or not to make them in the first place? Is there perhaps a way to have goals but hold them lightly with the flexibility to change them if necessary?
Dealing with Uncertainty
I have often wondered how people dealt with uncertainty in the past, especially during lengthy conflicts such as the Second World War, or previous health crises such as the polio epidemic of the 1950s—one of many questions I wish I’d asked my grandfather before he died in September 2021. He had lived experience of both, yet he managed to live with resilience, hope and openness for the rest of his 98 years.
Probably my greatest period of challenge and uncertainty was the years following my second pregnancy and the subsequent birth of my daughter. I was on long-service leave from teaching and scrambling to finish my first full-length manuscript when our unborn child was diagnosed with severe and complex heart defects. Her length and quality of life was unknown, with specialists giving her a 50/50 chance of reaching adulthood. The uncertainty (and accompanying anxiety) continued for the next two years, until after open-heart surgery corrected (but didn’t cure) the majority of congenital defects. The anxiety would return periodically—whenever she became sick or the date of her annual heart check-up drew near.
[1. My daughter in ICU following open-heart surgery; 2. as a three-year-old on holidays in Singapore and 3. as a teenager.]
There wasn’t one single coping mechanism that stands out from that time, although much of what did help is linked to our connection with others—friends, family, neighbours, church and other HeartKid families. These relationships enabled me to talk, reflect, process and cry; receive practical assistance such as taking our older child to school and providing meals after hospitalisations; and simply to help us fell less alone.
Even though it may seem simplistic, practising gratitude made a difference to how I faced each day too. Some days it was just being thankful for the red rose flowering outside my front door. I didn’t have to be thankful for what we were experiencing, but I could still find moments of joy while enduring it. And volunteering to help others in small ways (such as making a meal for a friend with a newborn) also made a difference because it got me out of my head and into thinking about someone else instead of always focusing on my own situation.
And of course, there were days when none of that worked, when hope evaded me as I sat on the couch in my front room and burst into tears.
More recently, I had a breast lump removed after a routine mammogram revealed an anomaly. The time spent waiting—for an initial biopsy, then an appointment with a surgeon followed by surgery to remove the lump and finally a subsequent biopsy—brought with it the heightened anxiety that accompanies uncertainty. Thankfully I received the all clear just after Christmas, but before that, I found myself in limbo, unable to form plans into the new year in case further medical intervention was required.
Even with that all clear, the continuing uncertainty surrounding the spread of Covid means that any plans for 2022 are perhaps tentative at best. While it appears that the current variant is less severe in most vaccinated people, and therefore should cause less fear, it will not be ‘business as usual’ just yet. At the very least, catching Covid or being a close contact is likely to disrupt immediate plans and work schedules. We also need to be cognisant of those who are more vulnerable because of age, disability or pre-existing medical conditions, and find ways to protect them without inadvertently causing them to bear the brunt of isolation and invisibility yet again (but that’s a discussion for a whole other post).
Permission Not To Be Productive
As the pandemic took hold in early 2020, countless people posted all they were doing in lockdown: making sourdough, creating vegetable patches (guilty), learning new languages and even writing books. However, many writers I know actually found it exceedingly difficult to focus on any substantial projects at the time, and it was a comfort to know I was not the only one. It was okay to accept that this was the case, and it was also okay to give ourselves permission not to be productive while we dealt with what was going on in the world.
I have chosen to create a tentative list of 22 Things to do in 2022. But in doing so, I want to acknowledge that sometimes we need to dispense with being productive at all costs. After my daughter was born, I gave myself permission not to write for at least six months while I focused on mothering a seriously ill child. After my surgery, I took the following week to recover by lying on the couch, reading historical fiction and watching a Turkish drama on Netflix.
Tentative Goals for 2022
So, with an awareness that there is still a high level of uncertainty about the coming year, here are my 22 Things to do in 2022 (in no particular order and with room to adapt as needed):
- Practice gratitude (because this has helped me cope in challenging times in the past).
- Re-establish a regular reflective/spiritual practice.
- Turn up to the page every day.
- Read every day.
- Read 25 books by Australian authors and post recommendations on social media.
- Plant herbs (as these are more likely to survive than vegetables in my garden).
- Plant Australian native plants in my front garden to attract more birds.
- Sit in my garden and listen to the birds.
- Complete the first draft of my memoir.
- Write and submit two pieces of short fiction or memoir for publication.
- Continue researching the life of Great Aunt Doris.
- Learn 22 Noongar words and their Yolngu equivalents.
- Write 10 letters or cards and post or deliver them.
- Retreat south once a month to write.
- Book an overall health check-up.
- Book a colonoscopy (family history of bowel cancer).
- Book a follow-up mammogram (get your boobs checked people!).
- Practice piano at least three times a week.
- Hug my parents (they both live interstate).
- Establish a regular sabbath (a day with permission to be unproductive).
- Re-establish a swimming routine.
- Change any or all of the above if the list becomes overwhelming, anxiety-inducing or no longer feels life-giving.
Over to You
How do you deal with uncertainty? How have you navigated times of uncertainty in the past? How might those strategies hinder or help you in the present or the future?
What goals can you make this year regardless of your external environment?
How do you know when you need to step away from being productive and instead give yourself permission to reflect, process or simply be?