I used to never understand the fuss around Christmas. The music, the decorations, the cookies. It all seemed like too much for a curmudgeon like myself. After all, there’s more important work to be done besides fretting over which Christmas dinner we’d be attending, right?
Nowadays, I see things a bit differently. While I don’t understand the purpose of sending out mass-printed Christmas cards, I do see the need to rest and refocus on what’s most important — especially during the cold dark days of winter.
This became evident the first Christmas after leaving my full-time job. My small collection of freelancing clients was dwindling. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do anymore. I felt…aimless.
Every winter since I’ve hit a similar pattern: work slows down, I panic about my own usefulness in the world, and I make grand and rash decisions for the coming year to compensate.
I’ve slowly grown accustomed to this unfortunate seasonal crisis so much so that I’ve learned how to wade through the aimlessness and come out on top.
You’ve heard of the traditional swim against the tide approach before, but I find that’s the quickest way to drowning. Instead, I offer the unconventional advice of drifting in a current of aimlessness and see where the tide takes you.
First signs of aimlessness
It would be helpful to first cover some of the signs and symptoms of aimlessness. It’s a slow progression, not an immediate realization. For me, it’s seasonal. Every December I slow down. I read more than I write. I eat more than I exercise. My creative ambitions seem to evaporate into nothing.
In years past I’ve panicked. When I suddenly felt I was wandering instead of going through life with a purpose, I hastily made up projects to give myself something to hold onto.
The first year after leaving my full-time job, as I mentioned before, I jumped into the audacious project of creating a daily vlog starting on my 28th birthday. The goal was to vlog for 365 straight days. I made it to 280.
It’s an impressive streak and I’m quite proud of the project. I captured some of my most cherished memories. However, I sacrificed a lot for that project, and for what? For 40 weeks I passed on other opportunities, I held onto this idea that I needed to be somebody. Even if that somebody was a less achievable YouTube star.
I failed to see I was already somebody. This is the first sign of aimlessness. When that tightness in your chest makes you question who you are and what you’re meant to be doing, don’t panic.
It’s time to remind yourself of who you are.
The problem? We tie our self-worth to the wrong things
Money. Attention. Ambitions. If we don’t have enough of these things then certainly we aren’t enough, right?
You might be shaking your head in disagreement. But deep down we’ve all had bouts of envy over others who seem to have more than us, and thus must be worth more to the world. I know I’ve had these thoughts, just this morning actually.
What do I prescribe when this happens? Good ol’ self-care. Yes, I’m talking about simple things like exercising, eating well, getting enough sleep, reading, reconnecting with loved ones. When aimlessness strikes it’s best to combat it with a healthy dose of me-time.
Why? You need reminding of your self-worth and importance. Your body and mind are irreplaceable. There is only one you, inhabiting your one body, thinking only your thoughts. Show a little love to yourself.
I know a lot of my aimlessness stems from me comparing myself to others. It’s pointless. They aren’t me and I’m not them.
That’s why I’ve given into the fussy celebrations this time of year. I use it as an excuse to focus on myself and remind myself what’s truly important: my health, my family, my happiness.
What to do next?
Eventually, something will pique your interest. Instead of rashly jumping into a new project for a distraction, you’ve deliberately assessed this one and it ticks all the boxes. What do you do?
Ease into it. Start small, give yourself a month. I’m going to do this one thing for a month and see how it fits. After a month, set a longer timeline. Setting a time limit staves off boredom, it also forces you to stay patient as projects usually take time to get off the ground. Who knows how many projects I’ve abandoned before they took off.
Last year, about this time when the aimlessness creeps up, I settled on one project: writing. I would write online for a year and see what happens. What happened was I ended up writing a book. I ended up rediscovering a love of mine.
As soon as this year’s aimlessness struck, I shrugged it off and plopped myself in front of a keyboard. For once I knew exactly what to do.
Sink or swim?
In Boy Scouts, I learned how to use one’s pants as a floatation device in such a situation. It involved removing one’s shoes and pants, tying the pant legs together, diving underwater and inflating the pants, then wearing it as a sort of life vest.
It was a silly exercise, but it worked. Earlier, I used swimming as an allegory to describe what it feels like when we’re engulfed in aimlessness. All too often we’re told to swim, to fight, to take action when what we really need is to pause and float. Water is never still, it ebbs and flows and carries us to new locations.
It’s not a perfect allegory because eventually, you do have to swim to find land again. But at least you’ll have a clear and level head instead of swimming in circles.
Now if you don’t mind, I have some aimless meanderings to get back to.