This will be the first New Year’s I’ve celebrated as a bona fide adult — full-time job, Manhattan apartment with no dorm-room furniture, bills to pay and things to save for. I’ve enjoyed the transition to focusing on my career, and there’s something calming about being able to concentrate, finally, on one specialized area, steep though the learning curve may be. I feel more together, I have an imminent life plan, I’m doing adult things like cooking at home and making budget spreadsheets. This stability comes with some sacrifices, though. While I was in college, and to some extent throughout law school, I filled every spare moment with extracurricular activities and social events. Now, my routine now doesn’t allow for that — when I do have downtime, my instinct is to spend it huddled on the sofa with Netflix and a glass of wine. However, I’ve recently been thinking more about why I feel so reluctant to engage with my hobbies and cultural interests — things I previously took very seriously — in the little free time I have. Ultimately, it comes down to a long-ingrained “all or nothing” mentality: if I can’t spend at least 7-10 hours a week practising piano and getting my pieces to a level I’m happy with, I’d rather not practise at all and risk the inevitable frustration. If I’m not able to run a 10k anymore, why start again from scratch? It’s this mentality I need to address — and change — if I have any hope of creating a routine that allows me to feel fulfilled without placing undue pressure on myself. To date, I’ve tried to attack the problem in fits and spurts — I experience bursts of energy where I manage to motivate myself on a given week or weekend, working with the level of intensity I’m used to, but these eventually fizzle out when I realise that I don’t have an overall plan, or a motivating end goal, to work towards. Most importantly, I’ve had to realize that the kind of intensity I’m used to when it comes to certain interests just isn’t sustainable in the long term.
With that in mind, here are my goals for 2014: the key is in moderating my expectations and setting ambitions that are challenging but realistic. (And which still allow for several evenings spent with Netflix and a glass of wine). Hopefully this time around, I’ll be able to achieve the happy balance I’ve been seeking.
1. Exercise and early mornings
I live 20 minutes from the office (and routinely roll out of bed at 8:45 am), so have very little excuse not to wake up 30 minutes earlier and fit in a quick workout before tackling the day. I’d like to do this 3-4 times a week — whether that means squeezing in a three mile run or working on weights in my apartment. If I stick to this plan, combined with a longer workout on one or both weekend days, it shouldn’t be difficult to run 5-6 miles comfortably by February. Not to mention that I’m always, always, always more productive at work if I’ve woken up early, had a green smoothie (delicious, I promise), gone for a run, caffeinated, and read the news before showing up at the office. It won’t happen every day — but it’s a start.
2. Unwind from the office with an hour of piano.
Again, if I hold myself to impossible standards, I’m going to end up kicking myself for letting my piano technique go down the tubes when I could easily maintain some proficiency on just a couple of hours a week. I’d like to fit in 45 minutes of piano after work on two weeknights, and 1-2 hours on the weekend. (That’s just one episode less of Revenge per day). In addition, chamber music is a great way to motivate towards a common goal — I have a few open opportunities to play music with other talented instrumentalists, and I’ll be following up on these in the New Year.
3. Read more for fun.
As above, I usually think the perfect way to unwind after work is to curl up on the couch and see what’s on my DVR. That’s true, sometimes. But in recent months, the most relaxing evenings have been those where I wrapped up early, got into bed, and read myself to sleep. I have a reading list that’s fallen by the wayside this fall; I’d like to get through at least one new book a month this year. If I can revive my dormant book club to discuss them (or join a new one), so much the better. If I get really ambitious, I might join a German language book club to keep my language skills alive – the Goethe institute offers one that’s supposedly fantastic and welcoming of newcomers.
4. Attend more cultural events in the city.
I live steps away from Lincoln Center, and am a quick crosstown bus ride away from most of New York’s most cherished museums. While in Law School, I attended at least two concerts a month, and was always on top of the latest modern art exhibitions. Though that kind of commitment isn’t possible anymore, this year, I’m planning to get back into the habit of subscribing to NY Phil events and rush alerts, as well as staying tuned to what’s on at the Met. I’d like to make a winter trip to Bargemusic (a fantastic floating chamber-music series held on a boat in DUMBO) as well as make long-overdue follow-up trips to the Frick and the Morgan, my two favourite NYC museums. If I get really ambitious, I might find some good culture podcasts to listen to on my way to work, rather than playing my running music on repeat.
5. Make time for family and friends.
My first few months in a new job have taken some getting used to — and it’s been difficult to fit in a social life around my new, more stringent routine. However, seeing my friends and family has always been a source of strength for me, and now more than ever, it’s important for me to maintain that support network. I’m lucky to have a number of people in my life, all of whom, in their own ways, help me stay sane. I don’t plan to forget it — or let them forget it — anytime soon. I’m hopeful that this is going to be a great year.