2016 New Year’s Resolution:
1: Be a better child.
2: Keep getting straight A’s.
3: Make more friends.
4: Be responsible.
5: Do not get into any trouble.
“So I’ve got it all down pat,” I thought as I stuck the Post-It to my bedroom wall.
And as of Sunday, June 19th, 2016, I could say that I had achieved all of these goals.
This was worth celebrating, right?
Hard-headed logic and reason said “yes,” but a voice deep inside me cried out “NO!”
Because somehow, I didn’t feel happier. Nor did I feel more successful. I didn’t even feel proud of myself. And for some reason, I didn’t feel like the constant self-restraint for the last six months had yielded anything of importance. Somehow, I only felt deflated, worn out, empty.
Did I set the wrong goals? Maybe. So I went online and Googled “How to Set Good Goals.” I clicked on the first article I found. Towards the end, there were three examples of “good goals,” two of which I had put down as part of my New Year’s Resolution.
“So they were the right goals, after all,” I thought. “Am I supposed to feel like this?” I wondered. “Or do other people find pleasure in achieving these goals? Is it just me who feels as if I were being cooped up in a chicken pen, a DIY cage?”
I had no answer to my own questions.
I paced around, thinking hard. Then it started to get warm in the room.
I opened my window blinds.
I looked outside.
The night sky was beautiful. The skyscrapers, the lights, the parked cars in the street, the numerous pedestrians that packed the city night.
I opened the window. A gush of cold air hit me, even though it was already June.
Suddenly, I felt the urge to run out into the streets. I had no clue where I would go, what was the final destination, but I still couldn’t resist the urge to take a walk through the night. The coldness didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that I had already put back all of my cold-weather clothes. I just needed to get out of my apartment, to escape from my self-made chicken coop.
I put on the first clothes that I could find and rushed out.
At first, I paced around the entire block. I didn’t dare venture too far from my apartment, lest I get lost in the labyrinth of crooked streets, subway stations, cars parked following curious fashions in the queerest of places, and city skyscrapers.
I walked quickly, looking ahead and down to try to not bump into anything (or anyone) or trip myself over.
But as the minutes passed, I felt a sort of strange relaxation, and my pacing gradually slowed.
After an hour or so of pacing the same block, I began to look around.
I saw the buildings and the people and the cars and the lights and the beautiful, purple night sky.
As a child would, I sucked in every little detail of everything I saw.
And, for the first time, I saw the city where I’ve lived for my entire life. I saw the office buildings in all their vacant glory. I saw the moths hovering around the lights, knowing that they’ll be gone when morning comes. I saw the couple fighting down the street, the woman with dark mascara streaming down her face.
I looked around. This time when I looked, it was not the means to the ends of not falling over and finding my current location.
I kept walking. This time when I walked, it was not the means to the end of getting from Point A to Point B in the shortest time possible.
I began wandering, for the first time since my earliest childhood.
I wandered away from the block where I lived. Then, as if by habit, I suddenly asked myself, “Why am I still walking?” I was not flustered anymore; I was content. So I had reached my original goal. And I was wandering farther and farther away from my block, and by doing so considerably increasing my chances of getting lost with every step I take. And yet, the last thing in the world that I wanted was to turn back, to go home to a place where I was sure of everything. I was aimless, driven by impulse, yet somehow I felt peaceful, content.
I suddenly noticed some extra light coming through the little gaps between the buildings.
Dawn was approaching.
I realized that I had never watched a sunrise before. I decided on the spot to do so right then, disregarding the facts that it was a weekday and that I hadn’t slept all night.
I looked around and found an empty park bench.
I sat there and watched as the day gradually got brighter. My legs and feet were sore from a whole night of walking, and both my hands and feet were freezing from the cold night, but somehow, the pain and the cold didn’t matter for once.
I noticed that there were only a couple of wisps of cloud in the sky. It was the perfect day to watch a sunrise.
So I sat on the bench, and I noticed the beauty of everything around me in the rising sun, now that they were not just obstacles, now that they were not just means to fictitious, empty ends.
I got a little sentimental, a little emotional.
I felt a tear rolling down my cheek. I was crying, for the first time in years.
I cried for all of my lost years before I had begun noticing. I cried for the two or three people that I held closest to my heart, knowing that it will be many years before they notice, knowing that they may never notice. I cried for the people that hurry every day, thinking that they are living well just by achieving something, just by fulfilling their misleading, fictitious goals.
I stopped crying after a while. I wanted to experience every moment of the wonderful sunrise to the fullest.
So I sat on the bench and watched while the blacks and the blues of the night sky eventually gave way to the varying shades of red, pink, and orange of the dawning morn. As the two color palettes clashed, they drove away the last traces of the moon, and, with them, the last light of the stars.
But they also brought in the brighter light of the sun.
It was almost fully daytime now. The birds had begun chirping, and the city cars, as if on cue, became more numerous. Soon, the city was an infinite maze, full of constantly-honking cars headed in crazy directions and masses trying to squeeze into crowded subway stations. It was rush hour.
I stood up and stretched, my sunrise-observing session being over.
I leaned over and squinted, trying to make out the time marked on a large clock across the road.
Great. I had more than two hours before my first class. Wait; was I free first period? What was the day again? Oh, right. Monday. I was free first period.
I looked for my wallet, and, luckily enough, I found it in the pocket of my windbreaker.
I hurried into the nearest subway station. I took out my MetroCard.
I took a ride back to my apartment to freshen myself up and pack my things for the day. It turned out to be a short ride home, lasting only about fifteen minutes: I hadn’t gone too far the previous night.
But that was enough for me to notice all the people in the subway station, headed towards their own destinations.
Some were talking. Some were reading. Others were asleep. Yet others were staring fixedly at the screens in their laps, be them smartphones or tablets or even laptops. But for the most part, the subway-riders were standing and staring straight ahead, at nothing in particular, and yet subconsciously watching the light on the subway map in the ceiling, in wait for it to shine on the station that they were to get off at.
And yet the one thing that united us all was the undivided attention that we gave to the voice in the speaker that announced the next station.
So I got off the subway train.
I walked to my apartment building, shielding my eyes from the sudden direct sunlight.
I unshielded my eyes and went up the stairs to my apartment.
I woke my thirteen-dollar Nokia dumbphone up. 3 Unread Messages. 2 Missed Calls. The digital clock on it read 6:58. I probably had time to answer them, but I simply didn’t want to.
So I clicked them away, at least for the time being.
I brushed my teeth.
I got into new clothes.
I put on makeup.
I turned around, and I saw the six-month-old Post-It.
I contemplated what to do with it. I had planned to check everything on the list, because, after all, I had been a better child, I had ended my school year with flying colors, I had made new friends, I had been considered a more responsible person, and I hadn’t gotten into any trouble.
But suddenly, I felt the urge to tear the little piece of sticky paper up.
I felt an uncontrollable urge to destroy the little sheet that imprisoned me for six months, the little sticky note that haunted me with constant reminders of empty goals, meaningless ambitions.
I took one last look at my DIY jailer.
Then, I tore it up.
I was excited and tired from all the sleeplessness and hunger and thrill of last night, but nevertheless, I packed my textbook, pencil case, laptop, and, as an afterthought, I threw in an energy bar.
As I walked out, I remembered to grab my phone.
When I was in the subway again, I checked it. It registered 7:54. I read my three messages. They were all from the same person, namely, my boss.
The first text asked me to meet up with some other people to discuss product strategy from 4:30 to anywhere from 6:30 to 7:00 that afternoon.
The second text was “Please reply ASAP.”
The third text was “PLEASE REPLY ASAP!”
“Sorry for not texting back; I lost my phone last night,” I wrote. I had decided to keep my adventures that night a secret.
Then, I sent another text, agreeing to be there at the meeting, even though Mondays were my days off from work, along with Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.
That accomplished, I looked at my two missed calls. Both of them were also from my boss.
“No need to call back now,” I thought.
I went to my summer college courses, and the day passed splendidly. In the two-hour Writing block, I rewrote my article about Freedom. I didn’t know at the time, but the rewritten piece ended up being published in a newspaper a week later.
Summer passed quickly. I wrote more pieces, made more paintings, sat through more classes, and survived more haranguing “meetings.”
And, as I anticipated, soon after I began noticing, and soon after I tore up the sticky note, I began to enjoy my daily life.
I no longer lived solely for the few and far-between moments.
Visiting my family was not a chore anymore. In fact, I began enjoying the visits, and the gifts that I occasionally brought, though they were fewer and farther-between, became better-thought-out, and, from the faces of surprise and happiness, more satisfying and personal.
As for grades, I got a 4.0 for my summer’s work in college courses.
My friends, however, were a different story. I gradually grew distanced away from the friends that I had, and I even lost most of the friends that I made as a result of my New Year’s Resolution. But, on the brighter side, I made a new friend. My new friend was one who I grew extremely close to, close enough to be more than just a friend.
Sure, I became less responsible, at least in the traditional sense. But as soon as I began to occasionally leave things where they shouldn’t be left, I also began to occasionally lend money to friends and family in sudden need. Towards the end of summer, I even gave some change to a homeless person.
And luckily enough, I didn’t get into (too much) trouble. True, I got caught for speeding and was given a warning by the Walmart staff after my boyfriend crashed me in a cart into a mountain of Velveeta Mac-‘n-Cheese. But other than that, I managed to keep a clean record.
Ah, and my summer job. I went from being a marketing intern to being a product designer. After seeing my sketchbooks, my boss decided on the spot that 1) I was interning in the wrong department, and 2) I deserved a contract for a full year, with a flexible schedule so that I could continue my college studies.
So, I was landed with a creative job where I could draw my own concepts and turn my imagined fancies into reality.
I was in love with going to work every day. My heart was finally in it.
In fact, my heart was in everything I said and did, and I was a genuinely happy person for the first time in a very long time. Though this is the hard truth, it still surprises me to think that all this was for noticing, that all this was for being aimless.