One of my favorite shows as a child was The Magic School Bus. Ms. Frizzle, a charismatic teacher, would get her students to visit the concepts they were studying—we stan a participatory pedagogue! One time the magic school bus shrunk and got baked into a cake. Another time, they shrunk and explored the parts of a plant. Ms. Frizzle would always say to her students, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” To which the timid Arnold would always respond, “Oh no, I knew I should have stayed home today.”
As a child, I couldn’t imagine why Arnold would turn down an adventure. After all, Ms. Frizzle was trustworthy, fun, and reliable. She never steered them wrong. Every trip was worthwhile. As an adult, I absolutely get why Arnold was afraid. Adventure is risky. No matter how many inspirational memes you repost to your Instagram stories, starting a new thing is scary.
A new year always puts me in my feels. I start out so optimistic, but by week five I’m ready to start over. Whether you decide to be intentional about a new meditation practice, to get that idea out of your head and into real life, to embark on a reading challenge, or to budget better in 2020, know this one thing: You will fail on your way to winning.
For the new year, the creation story (Genesis 2:4-7) gives us a helpful framework for understanding just how difficult a new thing can be. If the pressure of keeping up with “new year, new me” is giving you hives, here are some words of encouragement. I’m rooting for you!
Take notice of what already exists and what habits you already have.
In this story, we’re shown a world where there was nothing yet formed. The first step to doing something new is surveying what’s already in place. For example, your goal may be to open a community center. What resources exist in the neighborhood already? If you want to budget better, what are your current saving and spending habits? If you want to read more, what books do you already have? Pay attention to where your time, energy, and money already goes. You’ll set yourself up for a quick defeat if you don’t take the time to observe and assess. We can’t make a plan for doing better if we aren’t honest about where we are now.
Give yourself space to get messy.
As the story goes, God formed humanity out of dirt. And if making humans is anything like making mud pies, God got dirty with us. If God fashioned humans from dirt, there must be evidence of the first backyard experiment somewhere on God’s hands. To put it another way, all the best food I’ve ever had was made by someone who had a little barbecue sauce here and a little flour over there. All this to say: never trust a cook with a clean apron. Sadly, we live in a world where the line between slick-talking charlatan and trusted, experienced expert is blurring. Anyone with a high follower count can get awards, even if the work is questionable. So you need to find a community of practice that will hold you accountable to your goals. Whether that’s a group text, a reading club or a faith community, you need space to process your ideas and fears.
Use your dirt to help someone else.
We are obsessed with appearing perfect, even when it’s completely normal and healthy to just be human. Don’t believe me? When Beyonce gave us the gift of Homecoming, many of us cheered her on and screamed that she was the snapback queen. But why did we want her to get back to work like she didn’t just give birth to twins? Why did we obsess over “how good she looks?” We put so much pressure on ourselves to hide what we have come from. We have been bamboozled into believing that our dirt makes us unworthy, but dirt is where things grow. We let shame keep us from admitting that we have had addictions, wrestled with family trauma, and struggled through self-esteem disorders. But we know for a fact that talking about our own journeys will help someone else. This is why group therapy works for many people. It matters that we share our stories with folks in a well-facilitated environment. Opening up helps us to help others. Pretending as though we’re fine—especially when we’re not—won’t help anyone.
So in 2020, let’s get dirty.
Take the cooking class. Apply for the program. Go for the promotion. Test out that new idea you’ve been working on. Shoot your shot and see if that person will collaborate with you. See what’s real and what’s not. Find out how you feel and struggle through it, knowing that you are a work in process.
Otherwise, this year will pass you by, and in December 2020 you’ll be setting the same goals and wondering when you’ll have the courage to live the life you’ve always wanted. You will absolutely fail on the way to your goals. That’s okay! Dust yourself off and try again. Above all, remember that creating new habits (ones that you get to define for yourself) can be difficult. You are not a failure just because you fail a few times. You deserve grace even as you work on yourself. You got this!
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister, and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. She invites others into that philosophy at www.fishsandwichheaven.com.