THERE ARE many ways to measure time—by years and by minutes, by months and by days. Perhaps with each falling second, in the small everyday moments as they unfold. Or the big once-in-a-lifetime events of grand importance. Perhaps time is marked by a first kiss, or the first time you knew you loved someone; or the anniversary of an important milestone, maybe even with that person. The day you began writing your first book, or learned a new language. The day you moved somewhere you had always wanted to go, tasting the food and culture of a previously unknown place. As humans, we have a million ways to mark time, sometimes impatient for it to arrive, othertimes wistful that it’s over all too soon.
2023. What can be said about this troubled year? Earthquakes and cyclones brought on by climate change; coupes, and conflicts; continuing wars, occupations, and political unrest. Ozempic. The internet a mess: Twitter fell apart, social media is finally over and IG abandoned for blogs and Pinterest; the end of Google Search; and AI is still taking over everything, still heralded as both the thing that will save us and lead to our demise.
As the year draws to a close, a stillness descends, and the busy-ness of the year quiets to retrospection. I find perspective in the space between frantic motion and fresh starts, reflecting on the changes witness, endured, enacted over the past twelve months⏤moments that marked time. Loss and happiness, upheaval and growth. The evolution of self and the insights into my own complexities. The shedding of limiting beliefs, the claiming of a new determination. Qualities to carry forward to meet the new year. The past year’s gifts lie not in tangible gains but in what I absorbed of the human experience—the failures that taught, the small steps that emboldened, rejecting old habits of harsh judgement, making room for the potential I now know lives within. As I prepare myself for the year ahead, I reflect on the one left behind. All crossed thresholds expand our vision if we allow ourselves to see. I will walk into the coming days with clear eyes, an open heart, and wisdom forged in the time gone by. The future awaits, rich with promise.
Wishing you and those who love you happiness & health in 2024.
Prioritise human connections
There is a Swahili saying: Rafiki ni dhamana ya moyo wako—”A friend is the guardian of your heart.” This year, I hope to honour that wisdom by making time for people who matter. To prioritise meaningful relationships, build deeper bonds with those I love, and create a supportive social circle. During the pandemic, quick video calls connected me to my sister and many texts and Telegrams brought old friends, French cousins and other family members closer. But as life resumed its busyness, I let those virtual ties fray. Upkeep of relationships often falls by the wayside when I’m overwhelmed. My once-yearly tradition of sending newsy emails filled with photos and stories about what we’d been up to in the past year stopped short. Since then, I confess I’ve been lax at outreach—sporadic texts instead of real connection. This year, I aim to change, as human connection, somehow lately, has been feeling more important than ever. Like the Swahili saying, I’m realising my friends guard my heart. By reviving neglected relationships, I hope to rediscover the warmth of mutual understanding. A message, a call, a shared moment—little bridges built back to those who matter most.
The joy of missing out
Sylvia Plath’s words resonate deeply: “I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.” This quote encapsulates my relentless FOMO—fear of missing out. That persistent feeling of life passing me by while I scramble to experience it all. P knows this anxious pattern all too well and is quick to reassure when he sees that look on my face, “You’re not missing anything.” But this year, I aim to embrace JOMO—the joy of missing out. To find contentment in the moment at hand, not what lies just out of reach. By setting boundaries on digital noise and distraction, I hope to clear space for meaningful connections and self-reflection. Space to resurrect neglected passions, like writing the novel that fills my daydreams. JOMO is the art of presence, concentrating fully on the beauty this life provides, rather than grasping for more. Trading FOMO’s exhausting hyper-vigilance for JOMO’s tranquil contentment. As Herman Hesse wrote, “Most people…are like a falling leaf that drifts and turns in the air, flutters, and falls to the ground. But a few others are like stars which travel one defined path: no wind reaches them, they have within themselves their guide and path.” This year, rather drifting off course, I will follow my inner compass like a star, focused on each moment of life’s journey as I go.
Not everything has to be perfect
My tendency to idealise things stems from the same vivid imagination that makes everything seem better in my head. Birthdays, films, creative projects, holidays, purchases—my mind embellishes them all, creating elaborate fantasies no reality can fulfill. Like gravitating to the fanciest menu item only to be disappointed when it arrives. More than once, someone has told me I see life through rose-coloured glasses. Recently came across some wisdom from a successful businessman (whose name regrettably eludes me) who essentially advised: “If you want to be happy in life, lower your expectations. If your expectations are too high, you will always be miserable.” I’ve pondered that idea a lot lately—this habit of perceiving things in an overly optimistic light. The skill I need to cultivate is managing expectations—replacing unrealistic assumptions with a more balanced, pragmatic outlook. Another helpful approach could be focusing less singularly on the outcome and more on appreciating the process and journey. Finding fulfillment in efforts made and progress achieved, even if the end result falls short of initial expectations. It’s about striking that elusive balance between optimism and realism. As ChatGPT suggested, I should examine whether my expectations are grounded in realistic standards, or coloured by outside pressures, societal ideals, or perfectionism. Then adjust them to align with what is achievable and meaningful for me. Good advice.
Equanimity—defined as calm composure, especially in difficult situations—is the very antithesis of my passionate nature. I am a person of intense emotions, far from even-keeled (I’ve been known to cry at past work places and even in public). But this year, I aim to become someone who’s cool under pressure, collected in crisis, poised when presented with challenges. The concept of maintaining composure through life’s highs and lows has roots in ancient philosophies. The Stoic philosopher Seneca once said, “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.” Buddhist teachings encourage responding to all experience with mindfulness and balance, while modern psychology reinforces the benefits of equanimity—keeping emotions in check and avoiding extremes. Research shows our overall happiness depends more on the frequency of positive emotions versus intensity. A key skill is self-regulation, that is, managing reactions skillfully regardless of circumstances. Eckhart Tolle maintains that we can develop the capacity to remain unshaken by cultivating presence—keeping attention rooted in the now rather than getting swept up in mental dramas over past and future. Poet David Whyte aptly describes equanimity as “walking with both beauty and sadness at the same time, knowing both blessings and sorrows.” This year, I aim to foster an even-keeled calm to navigate life’s uncertainties with poise. By practicing mindful acceptance in each moment, I hope to discover the tranquil joy that lies between elation and despair.
The art of saying no
Declining invitations has never come easily, though I long for the poise to politely demur. Extricating myself from uncomfortable situations does not come naturally, for setting boundaries and declining commitments requires courage I often lack. My tendency to say yes springs from a desire to please, and often leaves me overextended, overwhelmed. But this year, if I hope to maintain composure amid life’s uncertainties, I must embrace the art of saying no. Existential philosophers such as Sartre and Camus championed authenticity—living by your own ideals, not external pressures. Saying no to preserve integrity reflects this commitment to a life lived genuinely and the quiet courage of conviction. Ancient Stoic philosophy saw wisdom in restraint, and prized temperance and discernment—distinguishing what is within your control. Declining unnecessary commitments focuses energy on what is essential. This more stoic mindset enhances resilience, keeping expectations in check. Perhaps there is freedom in not only pursuing new horizons, but also in retreat. In the space created by judicious refusal, I may find stillness to hear my own voice more clearly and protect time for what matters most.