Small choices can make a big difference.

By Liz Pryor
Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

Feels like every year after the holiday chaos fades, after we clean up, haul out and find our way back to some sense of normal, we catch the New Year staring us in the face. You know, the big, bold opportunity for a new start, the begin-again line, the “OMG seriously, another year already?” line. 

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Some years we seem to let it slip by. Others, we toy around with eating better, drinking less, exercising more. Then, occasionally, we see the New Year as a lifeline, because we’ve just survived a year that threw us some serious curveballs, tested every morsel of who we are and kicked our asses, mercilessly. When a hell year hits hard, your goal for the next year should be to kick hard back. 

No one gets through life without a bad year, and there’s no way to weigh yours against anyone else’s. Yet, it is so common to hear about someone else’s seemingly even worse year and think “I shouldn’t complain.” Wrong. Complain away; you’re allowed. Hate it, shout at it—but remember that you have weathered, endured, prevailed. You battled the beasts and made it to the end. 

I was at lunch the other day with my BFF, when over a Cobb salad she told me this has been one of the worst years of her life: “In this one year, I lost my father, I got divorced and I gained 50 freaking pounds.” And because I’ve known her 30 years, and she’s always had the power to make me laugh at the totally wrong time, she said, “OK, maybe 55 pounds.” Which blew the water I was drinking right out of my mouth. 

The good news is that a hell year pushes us to call upon things inside ourselves that we forget we even have. Like the reserve tank that sits at the bottom of who we all are, in case of a full-on life storm. In it is the strength to ask for help when we need it, and to lean on and vent to the people we love. To go for a run, have a glass of wine, binge-watch Hulu. And to let up on ourselves. Nothing has ever been more true than what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. And strength is permanent—it stays with us forever. 

By December 31st, all hell-year participants should be teed up for a restart. My BFF has reset, starting with small changes in her everyday life. She’s convinced that making the first choices of the day good ones (even something as simple as eating yogurt for breakfast) helps cue better choices as her day goes on. She’s begun journaling, and it has helped her immensely with feeling overwhelmed and out of control. She’s trying like hell to feel less navigated by life and by others—to be the navigator of her own experiences.

Because, yes, it’s our duty to look at our choices—to learn from what’s passed and direct what’s coming. It’s not the easy years that make us who we are; it’s the tough stuff that creates resilience and reminds us we’re more badass than we think.

If this year has knocked you hard, if you’ve lost someone you love, struggled with anxiety, ended a marriage, coped with a teen who won’t listen or a baby with colic—however your life feels hit, know that you can begin again here. Do something you’ve never done; make a change that could truly move your life. Mark it, write it down, say it out loud, stick to it. Most important, reload your hope for what’s ahead. 

Cheers to the bad years and the great ones that have already been and are yet to come. Happy New Year.

About our expert

Liz Pryor is an author, speaker and advice expert. Her books include What Did I Do Wrong? and Look at You Now. Her writings, talks, and advice can be found at LizPryor.com.

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