It's a New Year! Here's What I Did Instead of the "Decade Challenge"

Animated gif - a yellow background with the text "happy new year" and small explosions that look like fireworks

Tomorrow's a NEW YEAR and a NEW DECADE!

If you are on Twitter, you may have seen the “Decade Challenge” floating around in November: “There’s only ONE MONTH left in the whole decade! What have you accomplished?”

It’s garnering retweets and replies listing a whole host of accomplishments: everything from book deals to graduations to babies. It’s even spawned a theoretically-lower-key-but-actually-more-stressful response calling for shares of “one thing” from your life now that 2010 you would lose their mind over. I don’t know about you, but anytime I need to think of one incredible thing I can think of zero things that are even remotely interesting.

I am going to be blunt: I do not like this challenge. And not just because it says there’s only a month left of the decade when it started circulating in mid-November, decidedly more than 30 days before the end of the year. (If we are going to pressure ourselves to greatness, could we not at least get the time frame right?)

Sure, tallying up my accomplishments from the past decade might feel good. I would probably be surprised to see how much I have actually done, remind myself that I am capable of wonderful things, and be able to express gratitude to everyone who helped me along the way. That’s the nice part of accomplishments: they make us feel good about ourselves and our place in the world and even sometimes get us some much-needed affirmation.

Accomplishments are not, however, a justification for ten years of existence, and so any activity that reinforces this kind of belief should be treated as suspect. Participating in this conversation might feel good, but it will also open up the door to the mistake of thinking my value comes from the things that I have done, as well as second-guessing whether they are even enough, and worse yet, comparing myself to others (comparison is, after all, the evil destroyer of souls).

If the prospect of tallying up your accomplishments from the past decade to prove you deserve to move forward into the next makes you feel like an elastic band connecting the back of your throat and your stomach has suddenly pulled tight, I have an offering: instead of trying to decide what counts as an “accomplishment” so you can write it down and post it on the internet, simply take a moment to paint a picture of where you were ten years ago.

What was your life like? Where did you live? Who were your friends? What were you working on? What made life hard? What made it wonderful? What did you not even realize was beginning or ending? What questions were you trying to answer? What gave you hope?

For example, ten years ago today I had just started a job that would become a meaningful career, but at that time was 20 hours a week and paid so little I was living off mashed potatoes and sneaking onto the bus. I was living in a basement suite with a ceiling so low it skimmed the top of my head and a shower drain that grew mushrooms. I made a large, fantastical tree out of cardboard and fabric to decorate the main wall in my bedroom and was pretty into the idea of feng shui. I was writing and producing my own plays and in the beginning stages of friendships that became some of the most important in my life. I still thought I wanted to be an actress (thank heaven that changed). My first relationship ever had just ended and I was about to start to learn that I could actually like myself as a person (a mind-blowing revelation). I was able to throw a big New Year’s party and have all my friends actually show up because they didn’t have to plan their whole lives around a child's bedtime.

There was a lot of struggle ten years ago, as well as a lot of beauty. I’m pretty sure that’s a constant through every stage of life, with only the circumstances changing from age to age. Mine were pretty classic for someone in their mid-twenties trying to figure out how to work in the arts.

Looking back on this picture of ten-years-younger me leads to a perspective that is much more holistic, compassionate, and hopeful than piling my accomplishments one on top of the other and hoping the pile is high enough--whatever “enough” might be at the moment.

Instead, I can appreciate who I was then and give my younger self a mental hug. I can see the mammoth changes that have happened in my life over the past ten years and be grateful for everything Past Andrea went through so that Current Andrea could have the particular struggles and beauty she lives with now. I can see the gains and losses and know that I am okay.

Most of all, I can look ahead to the next ten years with hope and wonder. So many of the changes that came over the past ten years I would have never anticipated. What mysteries await?

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