I walked home from work a few nights ago, half an hour after the clock had struck 2014. The temperature was well below -20 degrees and a fresh layer of snow covered the sidewalks, so my boots made that satisfying soft crunch as I trekked home.
The streets were dead - not at all unusual for an Ottawa night in a bougie area, but a bit unexpected for New Years. But as I rounded the corner to my street, a few people were leaving houses, waving goodbye at the door and shouting final "Happy New Year!"s as they climbed over piles of snow to their cars and into cabs.
I hate New Years. I have since I can remember. I wasn't very good at staying up late when I was young, and when junior high/high school hit, I hated the pressure of having to find something to do. I hated the inevitable discussion of "well, this year we won't dress up! Just PJs and junk food and TV!", always said with the unspoken knowledge that we really should be trying harder to have a fancy New Years. When I went to university, I was that person. You know, the one who lamented "I don't even know why we celebrate the changing of a day! New months come every 28-31 days! And why do we need the new year to make changes in our lives? Shouldn't we be striving to be better every day?".
This was my first time working on New Years Eve. I expected it to be mundane and boring and uneventful, which it by and large was. But I noticed that (almost) every customer who came through the doors had a grin and wished me a jubilant "Happy New Year!" as they stamped snow from their boots - a far cry from the nasty glares and heavy sighs and exaggerated eye rolls from the Christmas shoppers just a few weeks earlier. Customers asked me how late we were open, and expressed genuine sympathy (however unnecessary) that I had to work until 12:00am.
2013 was an incredible year for me. In fact, I think it might have been my best year ever. I've had a lot of personal and professional successes this year, ranging from the relatively insignificant to anyone but me (comedian and actor David Mitchell reading my blog and tweeting about it, for example) to the bigger deals (writing for What Culture and having my articles viewed by over 40,000 people). I survived the most difficult semester of my 9-year post-secondary run, and produced some academic work that I am quite proud of in the process. I started a job where I get to talk about makeup and people trust my opinion, and I've started to carve out a small corner for myself in the online book review world.
But even more than all that humble brag stuff (sorrynotsorry), this year has been so great because I have been so happy. I remember waking up in my month-old apartment at the end of May, sunlight streaming through my window because I didn't yet have curtains, and thinking, This can't continue forever. Having this much fun and being this happy is not sustainable for much longer. And I was, surprisingly, very wrong.
I've been trying to place my finger on what's made me so consistently content this year. Obviously I live in a city I really like, surrounded by really fantastic friends who are smart and funny and whose company I genuinely enjoy all of the time. I love my apartment, and my roommate is fun and shares her clothes with me and sometimes even makes me breakfast. I even have regular access to a cat.
But I don't think these things are enough. I mean, they are. But I've had good people and a nice home and lived in beautiful cities before and it hasn't made me as happy as I am now.
I was at my friends' J & A's house about a month and a half ago. I was eating toast and snuggled under a blanket, watching Top Chef and providing colour commentary while J iced a cake and A prepared for Sunday School. It was mundane and wonderful all at the same time, as these evenings often are.
As I was leaving, J looked at me and, unprompted by anything, said "Jill, you are really great, you know. I mean it. You are a wonderful person. You are funny and smart and pretty and just so lovely."
It took everything in me not to break down into tears in her porch. Her words really struck me, more than anything nice anyone had ever said to me before. And I realized later that it wasn't just the generous gesture of saying kind things that made me feel overwhelmed; it was that, for the first time ever, I actually believed them.
And it's not that I've always hated myself, or thought I was an awful person. There are a lot of things I really like about myself: I'm very open and honest, friendly, smart, funny, generous, empathetic. But I also know that I am aggressive, impulsive, unrefined, not a great listener, obsessive, gossipy, and a little bit weird. And for so long, I just thought that all the bad things cancelled out the good things, so that I was always in a state of neutrality. It just had never occurred to me that when the bad things are bad, the good things are still good. My personality, my worth, is not a zero sum game.
And that is what I will take away from 2013: this is the year that I not only truly learned what it means to like myself, but also that I am somebody worth liking.
And as I walked home in the first minutes of 2014, I thought about how much discovery comes from reflection, and how much hope the promise of new beginnings brings. The chorus of "Happy New Year" ringing through the street didn't sound cliche or forced, but truly joyful. Almost, even, uplifting.
Happy New Year.