Ugh. I hate myself.
No, that's not your inner monologue speaking, as you crack your paper on New Year's Day: It's me, your friendly neighbourhood advice columnist. Obviously, I'm writing this in advance, but I can already tell you that's how I'll be feeling as you read this. How?
For those of us imbued with (un)healthy doses of self-loathing and self-doubt, New Year's Day is the holiest of high holidays.
It's the one day we can console ourselves with the illusion all our faults and failings are in the rear-view mirror. We're going to make some changes, baby! Starting … now.
Statistically, we're kidding ourselves. Most people abandon their resolutions before the end of the month. But let's hold hands and pretend that this year, we're going to stick to them. This time for sure! And just in case you haven't come up with any of your own, please allow me to make a few (gentle) suggestions (starting with: Stop procrastinating and leaving everything to the last minute, pal!) for both you and me. These are based on life, questions we received at Damage Control HQ in 2015 and on the news. I'm going to skip the "make more money/lose weight/hit gym/quit smoking" type resolutions – those are all a given. Let's cut to the chase:
1. MATTERS MARITAL
I used to think I wanted to write a book called Manners for Marriages until I realized I could sum up everything I have to say on the topic in two words: "Be nice." So many people in my world are splitting up, and you think it's going to be for a welter/nexus of complex, subtle reasons. But then one member of the split-up couple will come over and after the application of several doses of the truth serum "chardonnay," the beans are spilled, and they're always the same beans: "He/she was mean to me."
So: "Be nice." Or, better: "Be kind." Look, you may still split up, for any number of other reasons (boredom, infidelity, loss of sexual interest), but at least you won't have being mean on your conscience.
My bona fides to pontificate on this topic are clear to anyone who's ever met my wife, Pam. I punched out of my weight class, for sure – so spectacularly that people will roll up and, faces all full of "sociological inquiry," ask: "Pam, when you first started going out with Dave, what did you see in him, exactly? No offence, Dave."
I just shrug. People are unbelievable. Pam always uses the opportunity to ascend her bully pulpit and issue a blanket statement to bachelors everywhere: "There were a lot of things I liked about Dave back then, but one thing I loved was how open he was. I was never in doubt about how he felt about me."
I went strong to the hoop, in other words, and she liked it. And that's what I urge upon you, gentle, single readers: You see someone you like, pin your heart on your sleeve, and cha-a-a-rge! I'm especially looking at you, millennials. It's enough already with the "hanging out" and "hooking up." Shower the people you love with love, to quote a song written long, long before you were born: You can't lose.
I mentioned self-doubt before. At one point it crippled me. I spent two years writing the first five pages of my first book. Why? I'd get to a certain point and the nattering nabobs of negativity in my noggin would kick in: "This sucks, this is terrible, you're off on the wrong foot." And I'd hit "delete." Over and over and over… Finally Pam came along, and I don't know where I'd be right now if she hadn't. (Yes, I do: in a cot in a room with a hundred other guys, the air thick with flatulence and foot odour, clutching my wallet – or maybe a knife! – under my pillow.) She encouraged me to write five pages a day and show them to her. She would say one of three things: 1) "I like it;" 2) "I don't like it;" 3) "I love it." I kept straining for the "I love it" tape, and before I knew it I was done! True story, the moral of which is twofold: 1) Shake off self-doubt and do your thing; 2) Find a good mentor-type figure, someone you trust, listen to that person and tune everything else out.
While I'm on the topic of work: This year, let's not get involved in backstabbing office politics, running people down in the misguided notion it'll make us look better. Get really good at what you do and you won't have to do any of that. And don't be envious of others. Fortunes ebb and flow. You do you.
4. SPEAK UP
I think the column I wrote in 2015 that got the biggest response was in answer to someone who wrote in to say "I'm an atheist and all my friends are religious and I'm afraid to speak up about my true beliefs." I answered: "Huh, that's weird, it's the opposite for me, I secretly believe in God but hardly mention it in my downtown, hipster-choked, Tesla-driving milieu." And entered into a pact with the reader: You speak your truth, loud and proud, even if it's unpopular – and I'll do the same.
And so I have, even if it means piping up in the middle of a long discussion in which everyone is affirming and agreeing with one another: "You know, I don't agree with anything any of you have said all night." The reactions have ranged from awkward silences to outrage, but I don't care. It's been liberating and empowering. Who wants to live in a world where everyone agrees with each other's softie opinions? I just hope the reader who wrote in kept her end of the bargain!
5. SOCIAL LIFE VS. SOCIAL MEDIA
Speaking of unpopular opinions, I'm probably metaphorically urinating upwind here, but I'll say my piece anyway: This year, let's spend more time with actual each other, and less online. In her tremendous book The Village Effect, Montreal shrink Susan Pinker argues non-online, face-to-face contact can actually make you healthier, smarter and avoid some afflictions such as cancer and Alzheimer's.
(She went to a village where men were living way longer than average and kept trying to get them alone to interview them about their diet, habits, etc., but it was hard because they were never alone – and she slowly concluded that was the true secret to their longevity.)
When I see y'all pinned to your phones (walking into telephone poles, fountains, traffic, ignoring people who are actually talking to you in the hazy non-online netherworld known as "reality"), I know that's probably not going to happen. So how about this? I reiterate/repurpose my marital advice: "Be nice." No more flaming, shaming and judgmentalism online in 2016, okay? Don't post or tweet anything you wouldn't say to someone if you ran into them in the street or a coffee shop.
6. OWN UP TO YOUR MISTAKES
Wouldn't be a Damage Control without this one, would it? As I write this there's a great story in the news. A woman, dubbed "Grinch," was caught on a home security camera boldly walking onto someone's porch and stealing their wreath. The homeowner posted the video online, and it went viral, natch. The female "Grinch" thought it over and, encouraged by her family, went back to the homeowner to sincerely apologize. Now they're friends! Isn't that a beautiful thing? Just goes to show, if you're honest, human and have the cojones to admit your misdeeds, they can be turned around and made into a bonus/blessing. Just saying.
7. BE GRATEFUL
My main one. I started off this piece talking about self-loathing, but it doesn't mean I don't count my blessings. Be grateful for all the people and things in your life, however imperfect – because they could be taken away, and then you'd miss them. Every morning, after looking in the mirror and doing my daily de-affirmations ("You suck, you're fat," etc) I always follow up by counting my blessings: "God (who as I say I believe in) thank you for this, thank you for that, thank you for him and her and them – and P.S., nice day today! Those clouds are brushed in with a maestro's touch!"
I've done that every day, year in, year out, but I'm updating it for 2016. We've always had refugees among us, but they're more "top of mind," lately, I think – and now, before I complain about something, I think: "How would my complaint seem to a refugee?" If I could imagine a refugee rolling his/her eyes at my "problem," I inhale, exhale and let it go.
So, to sum up: Be nice, do you, quash self-doubt, go strong to the hoop, count your blessings, own up to your mistakes and when you're tempted to complain about something, imagine a refugee rolling his eyes at you. Do all these things, and I have a feeling it'll be a great year for you, friends. Rock it hard!