A Focus Statement for 2016
In Canda we have an idea of "making a new year's resolution," which is stating a way you would like to improve something (usually your own behaviour) in the upcoming year. I have a feeling that few people make serious new year's resolutions, with a realistic plan to realize them. One typical joke is that someone will buy a gym membership to encourage themselves to exercise more, but they stop going after January. Some commitment if you give up after only one month!
I don't usually even try to make a new year's resolution. But 2015 has been an adventurous year, and by all accounts it seems that 2016 will be filled with even more adventure (and I mean that in both a positive and negative way). I didn't plan to do anything at all, but through the last days of 2015 I discovered the greatness of a-MEI, a legendary pop star from Taiwan. Her 2014 album, "Faces of Paranoia (Only the Paranoid Survive)" is dark and sometimes bitter, and I think it's amazing. a-MEI's age and experience give her the position to speak knowingly (and the artistic licence to release an album that would probably be career-ending for younger mandopop stars). The first song, 都对也都错, is one of the very few songs that I liked the first time I heard it. It was part-way through the first chorus, the first time I heard the song, that I literally thought to myself "this is an amazing song!"
I looked up the words and, indeed, it is an amazing song! So I decided to adopt the first line of the chorus as my focus statement for 2016: a phrase to contemplate periodically so it may guide my thinking through the year ahead.
The Statement and Its abstract Meaning
The statement and my poetic translation.
We are all entirely wrong and entirely right. Everyone unknowingly makes mistakes.
It's the idea that everything you do is just as likely wrong as it is right. You can't know in advance how it will turn out--you just have to do things. Moreover, don't think about your successes and failures for too long. It's good to acknowledge what happened and how you feel about it, and to try learning from your actions so you can do better (or just as well) next time. However, the success or failure of an event is determined by so many factors outside your control, and it's so difficult to understand the complexities of the factors you do control, that thinking too much is only harmful.
So this is partly about moving to forgive myself for bad things that happen. It's partly about staying humble about my successes when good things happen. And it's partly about accepting that most things will have both positive and negative consequences, and that I should embrace this multivalent complexity, because I sure can't prevent it!
What This Means for Me
This lesson is not new to me, but there was a moment of lucidity when I found it crystallized in a song lyric. I'll consider two events, one which seemed positive but turned out to be mostly negative, and one which seemed negative but turned out to be largely positive, and both of which took me considerable emotional effort to deal with.
Of course, this is basically to help me continue dealing with the events, but it's my website so I can do whatever I want. (And if you're reading, it's your time, so you can stop whenever you want!)
Leaving Montréal in December 2014. When I decided to do it in August 2014, this seemed like a great idea. My time at McGill felt like it was naturally drawing to a close, and I'd regained confidence in myself such that I was happy again for the first time in well over two years. I was about to embark on a music education project with someone back in Toronto, and I was excited about the prospects of moving to this city, rekindling my friendships from high school and my undergraduate degree, and finding a romantic partner.
Things started to unravel even before I left: I started a romantic relationship with a Montrealer only two weeks prior. By early October 2015, the music education project had been on hiatus for several months, my high school and undergraduate friends have largely moved on (which is good--why shouldn't they? We're all different people now), my romantic relationship had ended, and after working at home since January I was lonely and miserable. Clearly it was a mistake to leave Montréal when I did.
But here's the thing: it wasn't a mistake, at the time I made the decision, and even when I did move. Only in retrospect was it a mistake. If I had decided to stay in Montréal, that would have been the mistake, to not take advantage of the opportunity for a shift in my life. It's as the song says: 都不想犯错. We are all unknowingly making mistakes.
Breaking up with my then-partner in March 2013, after dating for five years. This was during a period of my life where few positive things were happening. At some point I realized that there had been a fundamental shift in our relationship several months earlier, and we were still dating out of habit, not because we were still in love. The relationship had become a burden for us, and its continuity caused problems in other areas of my life too. It was time to give up and focus my attention elsewhere. (I didn't know at the time that "elsewhere" was about to get a lot worse, but that's another story).
At first this seems like a bad event. In fact, because of how it happened, I do still think of this as a personal failing--after this and the related cluster of events, I no longer think of myself as "a good person." But again, that would be a simplistic view of the situation. At the time, both my ex-partner and I did the best that we could.
But since then, because of this break-up (and its related events) I've become a better and stronger person, and I've learned about myself and what I need from relationships. In fact, it was only because of this break-up that I was able to date the person I "found" in late 2014, who fundamentally changed the way I think about romantic relationships and what I want from one. I hope my ex-partner has also realized something similar--I know they've found a new long-term relationship, and I sincerely hope their new partner is a better match for them than I was.
Returning to the song: 都对也都错. Entirely right and entirely wrong. There were so many small things happening at the time, so many "right" things, so many "wrong" things, and taken together it seemed like a "wrong" thing. In retrospect, different things stick out as right and wrong, many of them have changed from right to wrong or vice versa. If I hadn't done some of the negative things that I did at the time, if that particular situation had been easier to get through, would it have made the overall situation much worse? It's hard to know.
Drawing Everything Together
And I never will know. In life you don't get to both do something and not do it, then find out which is better and choose only that path. Instead, you and everyone, we are all just doing our best, all just choosing one path and living it. The decisions we make are both right and wrong. There are positive and negative consequences to everything. And just as much as we're constantly making mistakes without knowing it, we're also constantly making good decisions without knowing it.
So why should I dwell on my problems? I'm here in Toronto, it didn't work out as I planned, and I'm still working through the consequences of that. But that's fine--it seemed like the right thing, and nobody could have known better, so why bother worrying?
Instead, where can I take myself in 2016? What opportunities will become available? Who will I meet, and who will influence me? I have some big plans already, and based on the past several years, one thing I'm already quite sure of is that there will be lots to write home about!