“This time of year most of us are busy feeling like shit because a whole year is almost over,” the great Delia Cai wrote on our group wall. “We’re supposed to plan exactly how much better we’ll be the next 365 days, which seems to discount all the amazing things we accomplished in the past 12 months.”
This was back in December when, indeed, I was feeling like garbage for exactly the reasons she’d proffered. Sure, I’d accomplished some of my goals, but others still seemed distant. A whole year had gone by, and I still wasn’t editor in chief of the New Yorker or something. What had I been doing for 12 months? But, because she is a magical form of fairy godmother, here was Delia giving me a chance for redemption:
“The prompt is: List 10 things from this year that you’re proud of. There have to be at least 10 because you guys are impressive no matter what you say.”
Three of those things are NSFW, but here are seven things I did in 2015 that I’m proud of. (And if you’re feeling similarly dejected about your achievements this past year, I recommend writing to this prompt; you’ll impress yourself with your own greatness.)
I kept my cat alive. I own a tiny, furry creature that depends completely upon me for survival. If I don’t come home, she doesn’t eat. If she gets sick, I take her to the vet and subsequently shove little tiny pills down her little tiny throat. There’s no safety net; I’m solely responsible for her happiness and her well-being.
I figured out what networking is. My dad (a businessman) used to nag me about networking. He’d tell me to play the system—to spin things in my favor as much as possible. I’d push back: “What’s wrong with just submitting an application and letting it go? That’s what everyone else does; I’m just following the rules.” But I wasn’t—I was making things harder for myself. I’ve come to understand that networking isn’t leeching off other people or being manipulative; it’s asking for small favors and connections and always always offering something in return.
I accepted my own face. For so long I carried around a false image of myself that most closely resembled Twiggy. Then, when I glimpsed myself in some reflective surface like a spoon or a dark window, I’d be profoundly disappointed. This year I took a hard look at my actual face: big nose, thin lips, big eyes, butt chin. I came to terms with what I actually look like, so much so that I also chopped all my hair off. This is my final form. If you don’t like it, leave.
I wrote a lot, and I wrote long. This year I wrote two 3,000-word features, one for Vulture and one for Slate. Both were about pop culture, both took months of reporting and re-structuring, and both were widely shared. I’m proud of that kind of work. I’m also proud of the sheer number of stories I’ve produced this year—not just few-paragraph write-ups but actual worthwhile pieces with analysis and insight.
I went to Israel. One day in mid-November I got a text from my sister that read, “Come to Israel with me!” My immediate response was, “That sounds like a terrible idea.” “It’s free,” she replied, which swayed me a little, but I still though it was too dangerous and too last-minute, not to mention I’d be hanging out with a bunch of college kids for 10 days in a foreign country. But she called and begged and I paid the deposit and boarded the plane. The “bunch of college kids” (albeit the older ones) ended up being some of my closest friends. I fell almost as much in love with Israel as I am with New York. I saw dozens of Israeli cities and landmarks, slept in a tent, rode a camel, floated Buddha-style in the Dead Sea, climbed some mountains, drank cheap wine, and did not sleep. I miss it already. (More to come on the trip itself.) Going was completely out of character for me and also one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I cooked. These past few months were some of the busiest of my life, which made it difficult to resist buying lunch every day or eating out all the time. Nevertheless I can honestly say that I consistently brought lunch to work and dinner to my night classes. I’m not saying I cooked a wide variety of things (my repertoire consists of things like lentil soup, chili, hard-boiled eggs, banana bread, a few casseroles, and spinach salad), but I did cook consistently and consume my creations, however inadvisable.
I finished graduate school. With good grades even, although let’s face it: no one cares about your grades in grad school. I also realized that I’ve been working full-time this semester while taking two of the most difficult courses of my graduate career (yes, there are only two, but they’re both four hours long). I’m proud of myself for dragging my exhausted, battered corpse over the finish line.