Whenever I’m home for the holidays and have access to cable TV again, I binge-watch HGTV. My favorite shows focus on home renovations and redecorating. You can watch an outdated kitchen become a sparkling culinary oasis with the latest trimmings in under a half an hour. There’s something satisfying about seeing a positive change so quickly.
These shows are part of our current obsession with quick transformations. Lose weight in just days. Learn a new language in only a few weeks. Find a boyfriend or girlfriend online during a one-month trial membership. It all seems so easy, but is it?
New Year’s is a time that can suffer from our desire to become a new person, seemingly overnight. We might ask ourselves what’s wrong with us when we can’t learn a language in just a few weeks, or lose weight quickly, or find forever love in a month. We not only have an idea of who we want to become in our head but also the timeframe in which we must become that person. The image of our better self is not necessarily a bad thing: It’s the vision that we have in mind, and, some days, it might be what keeps us going. The emphasis on a quick fix, however, can set us up for disappointment, guilt, feelings of failure, or prematurely giving up on our goal.
Change is incremental, especially the loftier goals we make for ourselves at the beginning of a new year. We make progress, then face setbacks. We do great one day, and then fall apart the next. It’s all part of the process. Throughout it all, we must remember to be kind to ourselves.
Last fall, I finished walking the Camino de Santiago. When I came home, many well-meaning friends and family eagerly asked me how I had changed as a result of my trip. The hard part was I didn’t know what to say. I was different, yes, but I couldn’t begin to articulate how or why. Did I do the Camino wrong? I asked myself. While I said I didn’t have any expectations for my walk before I left, I later realized I did: To come back a different person and to have sorted out all the complicated and painful parts of my life that existed before I started the Camino. Looking back, that was entirely unreasonable and it resulted in a lot of self-doubt and feelings of failure.
Eventually, I just replied, “I’m not sure how I’ve changed. I’m still figuring that out.” There was no judgment from my friends, and eventually, there was no judgment from myself, either. Change takes time. Sometimes we simply sow the seeds of change or put into motion actions that will one day arrive at the better self we have in mind. And that is worthy and good.
This year, when setting and working to achieve personal goals, we must examine how much we’ve bought into the idea that we can become something new or vastly different overnight. The challenge is to keep in mind the vision of our best selves, who God created us to be, while simultaneously making peace with our very human nature of progress and setbacks, triumphs and disappointments. There’s a reason that shows on HGTV are for entertainment purposes: They are meant to wow and amaze. But we are human. The fact that we keep at our goals, despite our many flaws, is what is truly amazing.