It's the new year… and in the pressure of doing a 2023 reflection, I want to write about how that year began with me starting a new job only to get laid off for the first time in my life, 2 months later. I want to describe how I cried for 3 days straight until my eyes looked like tiny lips. I want to write about how I met with my therapist with the hope of getting a bandage to slap on this wound in my heart, and all she told me to do was sit with my sadness. That felt brutal, and I was even angrier. I didn't spend my potentially last therapy session that insurance would cover for someone to tell me to sit with my misery. It reminds me of a video I came across of a man who lost his mother, and he said the best advice he received when he felt like he was losing his mind was this: Go crazy if you need to, but come back when you're ready.
It is a new year… and the pressure of writing a defined 2024 resolution as I have done for most of my conscious years is here again. I want to write about how I want to make X and do Y and how they must all be done this year. However, the deep reflections I was forced to do last year made me conclude confidently that one of my first failures with resolutions was my lack of honesty that they didn't work for me. When I trace back to the first pressures of creating a New Year’s resolution, I remember church. As a Nigerian Christian, it has always been the norm to go to church on the 25th and sing the Christmas carol songs we sang the last year and the previous. It is the norm to attend "Crossover night" on December 31st to cast the devil off the new year. It is tradition that on the first Sunday, the pastor will preach about setting goals and ask you to submit the top 5 things you want God to do for the year. They will also tell you in conviction that God said this is our year of XYZ!
My irritation with these experiences increased because of their predictability in contrast with life’s shocking unpredictability. The year of the pandemic, 2021, was when this disdain hit me the most. There is a saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. That year, two good relationships I had fell apart, and three people I knew in close proximity died. I gained almost 15lbs in less than 3 months. I didn't attend the glorious NYU graduation I worked hard and dreamt of. Slowly, the clothes I ordered for the graduation could no longer zip up by the summer when I tried to do a make-shift photo shoot at home. I spent 5 months applying to 275 jobs to secure my first full-time position. Once, I slept off past the time for an interview just out of sheer exhaustion from the many others I showed up for. And when I got into the real adult world with my first full time job, the depression of not being in a constant reward-driven phase of my life, like being a college student, hit. And I drowned myself with more ice cream and food. Because, What's the point?
That was the year I lost my shame and fear of asking God, What's the point? Because I wanted answers. My new slogan in my relationship with God was and is – If you wanna talk to me, talk to me direct; don’t go through corners. I stopped praying cute prayers, and I got more comfortable talking to God in and out of prayer and giggling when I got the whiff of His answers while reading the bible, listening to a song or an audiobook, reading a quote, or chatting with a person who unknowingly says something that answers my questions to God. And God be throwing shade sometimes when he answers me. The return of the world in 2022 to its normal state soon made me forget that life could turn upside down at any point until last year happened, and it hit me again: What's the point? What's the point of hoping, dreaming, or looking forward to things? I realized that not hoping, not dreaming, and not looking forward to things wasn't as much of a bad idea as I had learned to believe. Not being present to enjoy the beauty of what is and who I am in the moment was even much worse. So, I switched things up.
I started a spreadsheet where with different tabs – Ps. I’m a Google sheets junkie. One for mantras, another to capture my highlights for each month, another to capture my silliest fantasies of life – not in a way that demanded they must happen but in a way that made my heart wild. In 2023, I let life happen to me more. I bought a few flight tickets at the last minute and traveled far from home till I started losing count of all the places I had been - #Ajalathetraveller. I realized how much of a bliss and joy life was when I didn't try to fit it all into 5 goals for the year. And at the end of the year, when I opened that spreadsheet to read the tab of my monthly highlights, I had more than 25 great and significantly memorable things to be grateful for. I learned how to strike a balance in letting the world happen to me as I happened to it.
There is a Yoruba saying, Eni to ba monu ro, a mope da, which means whoever knows how to think will know how to be grateful. In hindsight, when I think of all the years I scrunched my nose at the church's end-of-the-year Testimony Time, it was because of the realization that those who seemed to have the best year to brag about were merely people who knew how to reflect. There are so many guides on how to set goals, how to start the new year right, what to do and what not to do, but there are fewer guides on how to reflect. There are several good quotes on reflection, but one of my favorites is by Claude Monet, who said, "It's on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So, we must dig and delve unceasingly."
As a younger adult and Nigerian Christian, I used to have no shame in judging and distancing myself from people who didn't care to set New Year resolutions or close the year in the traditional ways I had been familiar with. However, in later curiosity, I wondered why life still worked perfectly and sometimes even better for them. And I nailed it from several conversations with two good friends – it was their art of reflection. It was a very simple humility and openness to God doing to, for, and with them his intentions without their permission or constraint. It was also the wisdom that you could not box the goodness or teachable moments of God with a list of resolutions. Bible verses like Jeremiah 1:5, one of my favorites, now hit differently. God says, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I sanctified you; and I ordained you a prophet to the nations." I saw how, ultimately, all one must do, believe, and become should be to God’s glory; that was the ultimate resolution every single year.
If I had to write about all the goodness of 2023, I would be here for a while. However, a few highlights for the year were seeing my best friends in-person, one I hadn't seen in over 10 years since we finished high school and another whom I met online over 7 years ago. I helped plan a friend's proposal to his now fiancé – my first time doing such! I finished my thesis manuscript, which will be a work in progress until published. I gained more clarity about the next steps in my entrepreneurial journey. I sat more inside my house and enjoyed my introversion in peace. Oh, and I got an even more fulfilling job where I learned important and applicable things for my career.
Closing that chapter, I realized that if I reflected on the year based on some 5 goals I had written at the beginning of it and under pressure, I would deem myself a failure. However, the more I stepped back till that list was invincible, the more my life felt glorious, meaningful, fulfilling, and beautiful; the more the math is mathing as Gen Zs will say. Sometimes life is like looking into the mirror; if you have your nose right on it, you will see yourself disfigured, but if you step back, your appearance and form will make sense. As a way to close up the year, in deep reflection and while talking to my therapist, I thanked her for making me sit with my sadness and not run away from it like I have managed to do in the past years. I was grateful that in my most hurting moment, I didn’t have pretend about how I felt to myself, to others, and to God. When I gave it some room and warmth, I realized that a downfall or several more didn’t make me a failure and instead allowed me to see life’s bigger picture better.
It is no longer my business if anyone casts the devil on the crossover night, nor is it my mission to compel people to set goals if that's not a system that works for them. Regardless of how you choose to start or continue this new year, I hope you can improve your approach to reflection with a little bit more compassion and faith in what God has destined for you
Growing up and sticking my curious nose in places it didn’t belong, I observed this happen a few times… someone achieving a great thing and disappearing from the public eye – not necessarily for a negative reason but the loss of desire to be seen and noticed. When aunties or older relatives would mention someone and say, “O to jo meta ti a ti ri Lagbaja,” meaning it has been a while since we saw so and so, I knew there was a gist about someone who pulled a Houdini on them. If it wasn’t marriage, it was childbirth, relocation to a different country, pursuing a higher degree – something worth congratulating that raised alarm about their disappearance. It was almost as though the better people’s lives became, the higher the expectation of visibility by people who know them. Even some of our favorite musicians like Sade and Lagbaja have done this so masterfully and refused to return to the spotlight despite our nostalgia.
The first time I experienced this happen to a peer was at church – a very noticeable young lady who got engaged. Of course, the natural shenanigans of recording and posting a beautiful video of the proposal on all social media platforms happened. Then she got married and went quiet; her social media handles eventually disappeared. She is still alive and well, but that sudden erasure terrified me because of how much we value online presence and correlate it to being alive and doing well. Worse, the former feminist in my head imagined all sorts of ways this had to be a women’s issue until I experienced a male friend do the same.
Redefining happiness and fulfillment
When setting resolutions at the beginning of every year, I swear this is the year I’ll write. This is the year I’ll write almost every day as if my life depends on it. But by February, I often start failing on that promise as God and life take over. At first, I feel a deep sense of guilt that I have been unable to write for those waiting to read my works and, worse, that I am a disappointment to myself. And soon, I forget that I am not even writing. And the year ends, and another starts, and I promise again with pretentious forgetfulness that the new year is my year.
Whenever I introduce myself as an MFA – Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing student, one of the following questions I often get is, “What are your writing goals?” Unlike other clear goals I have set, I am sometimes embarrassed to admit that I am unsure of what I am chasing as a writer for myself. I can name a thousand things that I do for others in regard to writing but fall short when I talk about writing for me.
When I started sharing my works online over 10 years ago, I wanted fame and to be seen. Then, my writing wasn’t as good or unique enough that if you walked into a bookstore and picked a book without looking at the author’s name, you’ll know it was mine. I was obsessed with Instagram, especially in 2015, because I had surpassed 1,200 followers. And in April 2015, I boldly decided to delete that account. However, before deleting it, I took screenshots of all my posts and the comments hoping to reflect in a few years when my writing was much more improved and I had more maturity to control my use of social media. I opened a new account at the end of that year and started afresh.
Around that time, I made some really good friends online. Someone much older did the same around 2020. He even had more followers who engaged heavily with his wise words. When I discussed with him soon afterward, he shared his decision not to write or publish and just focus on enjoying life and having a good job… I tried urging him to return sincerely because I missed his writings. In the past two years, I can point to more people, some, who are my age mates, that followed the same path… either erasing themselves from social media or rebranding themselves to their profession rather than their talent and leaving thousands of followers hanging without looking back. I admire their bravery. Don’t worry, I am too cowardly to commit such crime.