As a teenager, I used to love the start of the autumn term. I wasn’t plagued by the fear of a new start, a return to school and the hellish routine of a double math’s lesson. Instead I embraced the clean slate, the new beginnings and the unblemished, untouched, perfectly lined new notebooks.
I loved a new notebook. Normally covered in wallpaper (why did we do that?), a new notebook was a symbol of perfection, completely undamaged by my doodles, spelling mistakes and scrawled handwriting. Each term I would promise myself that this year I would keep this notebook perfect. The first time I would write in it, I would ensure my handwriting was neat and precise, a splendid array of perfectly crossed ‘t’s’ and love heart dotted ‘i’s’. Ultimately, this attempt at perfection dwindled by page 2, as I made my first spelling mistake and I would pull out my Tipex and sponge over the imperfections in hope of erasing them, but it was never quite the same. On occasions, I would rip out whole pages until my notepad was only 4 sheets thick and try and start afresh in the last final pages of this dwindled little book. However, by the end of each term, I would be left with a dog eared, doodled and damaged note book and I would promise myself that the next term I would be less of a disappointment.
It dawned on me in 2016, that when I left school, New Year replaced my New Term and I began to pledge each January that this would be the year I was a little bit more perfect, that I would keep my ‘notebook in check’. New year resolutions inspired by perfect Pinterest posts and Instagram idols ensured that I would spend the first 2 weeks of the month online buying kale, juice cleanses and storage solutions. However, by February, broke, starving and a little dog-eared, I would inevitably give up on all of those resolutions and wait patiently for January to swing by again and embrace that fresh start.
Never was this more inevitable than in my attitude to my diet and weight. Each December, I would stare down at the downtrodden and battered (deep fried in extra oil) body, I had acquired over the previous 11 months and resolve that come January the 1st, I would be perfect. I would fill my stomach with ingredients that could only be bought online or in organic greengrocers (where people carried their pets rather than walked them). I would sign up for online personal training and body over hauls that promised to diminish every single abuse I had put my body through the previous year. On the 28th December each year, I would squash one more chocolate into my mouth with promises that this year, I would be perfect. And was I?
Once New Year had come and gone and I still wasn’t perfect, I would wait for Monday, and if that fell by the wayside then the summer, or autumn, or 2 weeks before Christmas for the New Year, New Me diet. Each time I failed to reach perfection I would give up and wait for that ‘fresh start’ to come round again. During each of these periods of giving up I would embrace my failure full heartedly through gorging myself on cakes and doughnuts and 4am kebabs and remind myself, that come the ‘fresh start’ I would be perfect again. I absolved myself of all responsibility, I was working within the ‘fresh start’ impasse and until that clean slate came rolling around again I could fall head first into my failure (which was usually a Victoria Sponge cake).
The problem with seeking perfection, whether it’s perfect handwriting, a perfect diet or a perfect wrapping station (
has a lot to answer for), is that flawlessness is not only ambitious, it is completely inflexible. Once you have one failure, it’s ruined, it’s imperfect, and unless you start over again, it will always be imperfect. Once we fail, we are failures, and then we might as well jump wholeheartedly onto that self-destruction bulldozer and head for ‘hot mess’ mountain. We can spend the weekend wallowing in the ‘waste of space’ waterhole, until it’s time to jump back on that ‘start again’ wagon that always seems due on a Monday, because it could never arrive on a Sunday, could it?
But what if there were no fresh starts, no resolutions and no begin again?
2016 was the year that I had to come face to face with imperfect me. It wasn’t pleasant, because in reality I am a full time resident of ‘hot mess’ mountain. I am pretty sure I have a penthouse apartment there. I have had to come face to face with my imperfections and learn to sit with them even when I have wanted to change them. It’s not to say I’m without hope that I can’t make improvements in some areas of my life, but that there is no such thing as a ‘clean slate’. By not having the option of a reset button, I have learned to accept that I can’t be perfect and that all these promises to myself to be perfection personified only ever really made me feel like a complete failure. This New Year, instead of resolutions to myself to lose weight, get fit or be a better person, my 2017 promise to myself is to be kind to me. To not judge my imperfections, to embrace them and then let them go. If I go to the fridge to get a salad and then come back with a shepherds pie, then that’s ok, and next time I go to the fridge, I will try again for that salad and I won’t wait until 2018 to go and get it.