Things I Failed at in 2017

Everyone writes about how great the holidays are, and as you continue to be bombarded with photos of champagne bubbles and aesthetically pleasing Christmas trees and kisses in the snow, I am here to tell you what about this year did not work out for me.

It’s easy to slip into an imagined nostalgia, an almost-state of delusion where you tell yourself it was all for the better and you’re on to bigger and brighter things, and time heals all, etc. [insert additional romanticised platitudes here.] While this is true, and I am a cheesy, motivational quote champion, I also think it is important to heal yourself, to grow yourself, to focus on what you can actively, consciously, deliberately do to build a better tomorrow, and in this case, a better 2018.

photo from loaalpha.com

My first New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is exactly that: Do not let your circumstances happen to you, Zainab. [it helps if you say this in Mr. Rogers’s kindly voice. If you don’t know who he is, watch this.]

So let’s get started, shall we? I know — heck, we all know — what we were good at. The human brain seems to be wired so that we remember our achievements, and magnify them. But what did I truly and utterly fail at this year (or just minor-ly suck at)?

January

I was lucky enough to be traveling through Europe with my best friend, a gem of a person who has always been there for me. She has never done anything even the slightest bit spiteful or nasty to me. We went to Amsterdam, The Hague, Germany, a tiny town I can no longer name and couldn’t even pronounce then, and Rome. She accidentally misread directions and we missed a thing we had planned, and I didn’t handle it well. I was irritated, tired, and not gracious. Though she was an angel and put up with me, and though, after my inevitable apology we hug-cried it out in an empty Roma subway station in the middle of the night, I should have been more understanding. I should have been more chill, more patient with someone I truly love. My second 2018 Resolution: Love the people you love.

In our most natural states — taking selfies and napping — on the canals of Amsterdam.

April

I was in New York City, and my interest in photography and videography had slowly been developing for a few months. I was keen on buying a semi-professional camera and had finally put together enough money to start looking seriously into it. I went to the shop and my eyes glazed over with the wonder of smooth black camera bodies and shiny display cases. I made an impulse decision, despite thinking I should give it a moment. Read reviews, my inner voice said, make sure you are getting the best bang for my buck. But i ignored that voice, and ended up buying a camera that, while lovely, was not perfect for what I needed. Eventually, I returned to the shop and sold this camera back to them for a not insignificant loss, and had to chip in more money to buy the one truly suited to my needs. Lesson learned, and 3rd resolution firmly in place: Take your time. Think things through.

July

I have just moved to a developing country. My body isn’t suited to the warmer temperature anymore. It’s as if the cells in my skin have forgotten how to be Pakistani. (A lesson it took me a good while to learn. Read it here.) I am sweating ALL the time, and my family wears sweaters as I turn the ceiling fans on. I miss Amazon Prime, and I miss jazz shows and my trenta strawberry acai chiller from Starbucks. I spend many hours building a self pity palace. I am ungrateful. 2017 was undoubtedly, from any angle you look at it, one of the best years of my life, and here I was, sulking and unappreciative. I failed to be grateful for not only all the incredible experiences I had had before July, but for the warm welcome and constant support I received then. So resolution #4: Every time you want to whine about something, count your blessings. You have an abundance of them, after all.

October

I am in a crowded marketplace and someone says something unkind. It is uncalled for. The accusation is inaccurate, the sentiment over-exaggerated. My first instinct is to apologise, even though I am not at fault. If I apologise, I think, this will go away. The screaming will stop. It’s fine, Zainab. Just apologise. I did. That time, and the next time, and the next time. But that was wrong. I failed to recognise how badly it affected me to take on the burden of mistakes that weren’t mine. My self-confidence suffered, my happiness suffered, and how can I dream of building a better future for myself if I am going to let people bring me down?

But I am not confrontational by nature. I dislike being harsh or unkind. How to go about it then? I came across an article that gave me the answer.

Resolution #5: Replace ‘sorry’ with ‘thank you’. So instead of: “I am sorry for this mistake I did not make. I will accept the burden of a responsibility that was not mine. I will allow you to punish me for something that is not my fault,”

I learned to say, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts and concerns. Thank you for noticing this mistake. How can we work on making it better together? What can we do as a team to prevent this from happening in the future?”

December

And now it’s December, and I am reading an article (in the backseat of my Uber on my way to work) about how great 2017 was for the writer, and how he hopes 2018 is the same, and I think, no. I don’t want 2018 to be the same. I want it to be better, and since I control the narrative of my life, I think, how can I make it better? What can I do differently? What should I do the same? And the idea for this article was born. 2017 is the year I will leave behind the expression that’s just how things work.

I will instead try to focus on building, growing, trying, and probably, failing, but maybe also achieving.

And I hope you do too.