Does anybody still feel excited for these posts? I’m all for a good introspective ramble, or a sharp rush of motivation that makes the future feel like a friend again, but how is it best to discuss new year intentions when avoiding both “positive vibes only” and absolute depression? Let’s try and find that balance…
Play the file above for an audio version of this post (read by me!).
Accepting what we’re not
Letting go is hard. But often it’s just the thing we need in order to have a “new” year in any sense that feels real. Anyone with a fluctuating health condition knows this cycle of grief and hope all too well. As a kid, I always imagined I’d be relatively able-bodied as an adult, and my list of desired careers reflected that.
Asking a young Sakara what she wanted to do as an adult would’ve resulted in the recital of a list so long it’s surprising how accurate it managed to be. It seemed impossible, as a teenager, to condense “singer, author, scientist, fashion designer, psychologist, actor,” and the rest into a single lifetime, let alone a logical career path. School’s inaccessibility and my eventual isolation closed my mind to the creative options, and constant neglect of my mental health brought “psychologist” to the forefront. A few years and a near-failed psychology A level later, the artist is back.
Academic study is hard for me, for various reasons including cognitive difficulties connected to my chronic illnesses. As someone who always foregrounded academic success as an aim, with creativity approached as an outlet, hobby, or side-job prospect, this is still hard for me to let go of. I hope someday I’ll have a passion for it again. I love learning, but formal education is what caused me to forget that. Some university courses are reported to be more inclusive than earlier education, but that’s not a claim I’m ready to test for myself.
The more something meant to you, the harder it is to imagine life differently. But part of why I struggle to imagine a life where I value my own creative abilities rather than being disappointed in myself, is because of how good that makes my world seem. Unbelievably so. It scares me, the idea of changing these patterns. But I will try.
So, you’ve let go of some old patterns. Now into the bright and promising future! …Right?
Eh, maybe. It’s not as straight forward as the “believe in yourself and everything else will follow” quotes make it sound; there’s trial and error, learning new skills, realising how much you don’t know and why you avoided these learning curves in the first place. As well as coming up against unavoidable obstacle which are beyond your control, and never covered by those graphically pleasing quotes.
For me, building up my social media presence seemed a good first step to the future. But, hate to break it to you, I’m no content creator. And besides, slashing a line through psychology and science leaves a lot of lanes open. I submitted writing to magazines (rejected), I tried to blog once a week (we’re now at once a month), I sent self-tapes to castings (after which I was excited, exhausted, and ultimately not chosen), I spent 2 weeks “focusing on my Instagram” and in that short time, my mental health spiralled down faster than my followers have ever gone up.
All this is to say, following a creative path isn’t as sleepwalkerishly-easy as it might seem from the outside when you’re liking yet another photo of a minimalist painted canvas on that hot artist’s Instagram.
Chatting with my content creator friend about whether to edit some background details out of a photo for my feed today, I realised I’m allowing this to be my focus, as though content creation is my end goal. When it’s not. The only way I can manage social media sustainably is if I frame it as a side-line, a way to present what I would be doing anyway to the world in the most effective way. But it’s so easy for sharing a cute outfit to turn into 2 hours deciding which photo of said outfit will “do best” online, editing the brightness and correcting colours, researching hashtags… And I hate it. But, there are always parts of your job you won’t enjoy. I love styling the outfits, I love chatting to people about them online. I hate the bit in the middle.
It’s hard to keep social media admin in the “necessary evil” zone without it spilling out and taking over more of my life. It’s also tempting because I know how to do it; I might not control whether people follow me or if I earn money, but I know how WordPress works and who to call if it fails on me. It’s a process I’ve been through before. Making an album? Not so much. But it still helps to assert what I’m not: I’m not aiming to be an influencer, it’s not my happy-place art form. But it is an excellent way to connect with people and share the art I do genuinely love.
Social media, disability and mental health is a whole other blog post, but what I’m trying to say here is that a new year will never be free of old awkwardness and irritations. That doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Things do change. But sometimes we still feel the same. I will still get a headache from Instagram, I will still take hours to get anything organised, arriving bang on time when I need to be a half hour early to settle in. Some things don’t change, especially when we put mental or physical health conditions into the mix, but that doesn’t mean nothing changes.
Accepting what we are
If this is going to work, you can’t just let go of things and talk about what you’re not. We need to be open with ourselves about everything we already are.
As for me, I’m young. It’s weird. I often feel like I gave that status up a long time ago. Youthful ambition feels alien to me. Scary even. Like something that will push me into a health crash and topple all the carefully crafted ‘slow living’ safety nets which used to keep me sane.
“Used to”, though. My false sense of security timed out and now I want more.
Wanting more opens us up to disappointment. But nothing is as disappointing to me as feeling like I chose not to try.
So, bring on the Instagram posts with 37 likes when the last one got 200. Bring on the casting tapes demanded with 12hrs notice when I’m in a heap on the floor but send it in anyway. Bring on more days of sitting with a microphone in my face trying to keep track of 3 things at once to make a song I’ve played 10 times live sound right recorded. Bring on crying over how unfair the benefits system is, how hard it is to scrape together some sense of independence. It’s all happening. And I’m so glad I’m young and have the luxury of believing life might not always feel like this, even though it probably will.
Unwell. Mentally, physically. I’m sick. It’s my pain, it’s my inspiration, my community, my quicksand. It’s me.
More powerful than I think I am. And more successful, I list all my rejections in this post but make no mention of the people and publications who’ve supported me and my art, of my increased sense of my own identity and the formulating of plans, the action growing from my old dreams.
A writer, just you try and stop me blogging through the entire process of my album’s creation.
All the things in my ‘jobs’ list. I’m intellectually curious, it comes across in my art just as much as it would any academic work.
I’m my own stylist, my own producer (for now) and my own eternal nuisance. Not every aspect of my being has to be monetized and declared a “career path”. It’s just my path.
Finding that magic thread
Everybody needs something to keep them going. I’ve lost my direction and my passions enough times to know how empty life can feel without them.
It dawned on me recently that music the magic thread holding my string of imagined careers together as they meander through my dreams. psychology is a massive part of music, thinking about people, playing into different emotions. A song can tell a story just as much as any conventionally authored book, my inner fashion designer is in their element planning what to wear for photo shoots and music videos, and what to print on the merch. And acting can be as much or as little a part of the performance as each musician wants it to be.
Not everybody’s magic thread will be found in work, most jobs are done to pay for the things we’d really choose to live for. Though I’ve noticed in my family that wherever you work, the sense of community there can make a massive difference as to whether you’re happy or not.
In my case, you’ll remember that academia and science got the boot from my list. But that’s never going to stop me absorbing every documentary and podcast the BBC can persuade Brian Cox to present. Especially since I never used to have the cognitive ability to enjoy that sort of thing. Find something you love. Whether that’s evening cat cuddles or taking over the publishing industry. From fluffy socks to academic journals, find something that makes you feel like you have a home in this world. Cause without that, it can be a kinda scary place. We are all more than a job title (or lack of one).
So, what is this 21 year old thinking as we approach 2022?
I’ve seen a couple of different people talking about the downside of advice to chase dreams and passions, how it can make necessary hard work and learning curves feel like signs that this isn’t truly what you’re ‘meant’ to be doing. I feel like that sometimes. Right now, I can’t imagine any of my plans for 2022 coming together. They’ve been other-worldly dreams for so long. I probably have a point, as I’m unsure how realistic some of my targets are. But this mess, this sea of applications and learning lessons and rejections and the testing of limits, it will never have been for nothing.
I want the coming year to be filled with creations, friends and freedom. I want to let go of some of my tension and pass that energy over into art. I want to let myself be the person I know I can be, but am scared to believe in.
I’m 21, heading into 2022 with lots of ideas I should probably get a manager and an accountant for (but I’m highly unlikely to hire the former, it’s more fun when I’m the only one making a mess of my planner).
Who knows what could happen?
Aside from me spending my album budget in record shops.
Tracy Chapman and Jeff Wayne made me do it.
On that note,
I’ll see you next year.