It is early morning on Christmas Eve and as I sit surrounded by reams of articles & chapters for an essay I have yet to start, my natural tendency for avoidance strikes again. I’m writing this from the cold exile of the spare room, the annual holiday tradition of handing over my room to visiting relatives for the Christmas period well and truly revived. As a result of all this festive nostalgia, it’s got me thinking about the past year and everything that’s come to pass. It’s maybe a week early for a retrospective but since I intend on being oblivious between the dates of the 30th and the 2nd of January, I feel this is my only shot. It’s been a long year 2012 and an odd one at that. But of all the post-2000s, I feel like finally I’ve had a really solid year.
You see, by comparison the latter half of 2011 was really difficult. When I moved back home after university pre-graduation, I wasn’t exactly in the best state. My anxiety was hitting critical mass, my self-esteem had taken various academic knocks (almost all entirely my own fault) and I was primarily existing in crisis mode. I’d like to think I put on a pretty good show of seeming on top of it but in reality I was ever so quietly freefalling. Would I ever get a job, would I ever figure out what I was going to do with my life, would my grandparents ever stop making pointed comments about my love life? Whilst the latter two still remain relatively unresolved, against all the odds, I got a job. And with that the tide began to change, little by little. By the time New Year’s Eve rolled around things were getting to an even keel. I also made myself an idle, unofficial promise: to love myself just a bit more.
At the risk of sounding vain or self-involved, I have always liked myself, both for my physical and personality attributes. I’ve always considered myself ‘alright’, nothing spectacular but generally positive. But I’ve never been hugely confident about any aspect of myself. For me, 2012 has really been about a good year for my confidence.
I’d like to state here that as a person with an immense amount of privilege on the body front, I am probably making mountains out of molehills but, I learned to like my face without make-up on. This sounds so small but this tiny revolution made a quiet difference to me this year. It happened mainly by accident. I’ve never been a person who’s worn a lot of make-up (and I am incapable of wearing foundation) but in the six years since I first discovered the metallic treasure trove of the 17 collection at Boots, I had roughly a month’s worth of appearing outside my home bare-faced. This isn’t by any means unusual: learning to wield a mascara wand or a kohl pencil is considered a rite of passage that comes with teenage girlhood. What it did leave me with was the overwhelming assumption that I needed it, that I would always feel (and look) worse without it.
Until the day I ran late for work because I overslept and there wasn’t time for liner or shadow or lipstick. The world didn’t end, no-one made a comment at all – not even the more vicious Year 9s. As the weeks went by and I favoured sleep over the extra fifteen minutes it would take for application, I stopped caring that I looked a little more tired, that my eyes weren’t defined. My gel liner dried up and I forgot to replace it. I rubbed my eyes at work and didn’t panic about kohl smeared across my face. It sounds silly but I’d forgotten that make-up (at least on me) is at its best when it enhances what you have naturally. Of course my eyes look bigger if I wear eye shadow, my lashes curl if I use mascara, but I will still definitely look human without it on. At some point during my adolescence I think I had forgotten that. I still wear make-up though not every day and if I do it’s an even more pared down routine than before but I enjoy it more than I used to. It’s not something I’m putting on because I feel I have to, it’s something I do because I feel like doing it. I will always have freckles and dark circles and eyelashes that refuse to curl without aid but that’s okay. I may be fighting a never ending battle with my hair but my face and I? We’ve reached an accord.
(Consequently I have learned that earrings and painted nails somehow make you look professional when you’re bare-faced.)
Somewhat more importantly though, this is the year in which I’ve successfully held down a job that I have only grown to love more the longer I’ve done it. I might complain about teenagers, teachers and the general air of desperation and pettiness that pervades a secondary school setting but I really love what I do. I honestly came into this job knowing very little about what it would ask of me; I did it for the (frankly massively underpaid) salary. It has ended up teaching me a lot about myself. Before this job I would never have described myself as patient, calm, good at dealing with confrontation, good with teenagers. According to my annual review, I am.
Knowing that I am good at what I do, at helping and reaching kids that are often shrugged off as aggressive, not worthwhile or unpleasant makes me feel useful. It has given me self-confidence in the oddest of ways. If you told me a year ago that could confidently talk down a fifteen year old boy from making a stupid mistake with a teacher or getting through to a fourteen year old girl whose life I will never understand, or stand in front of a class of thirty fifteen year olds and make them get on with the work, I would have laughed. This job has brought out more of me than I ever expected. It has forced me to care about other people, about a system that is overworked and under-rewarded, about a section of schooling that is misunderstood and unfairly maligned. I have really learned the difference between good teaching and bad, between help and hindrance, between what constitutes a level playing field and what is leaving kids by the wayside. It is demanding and tiring no matter the snide comments from relatives about the holidays you get or the hours you work. It is difficult and it is important.
Maybe I’ll never write a book or work in television or be creative the way I thought I’d always be when I was younger, but maybe at least one of those kids I talk to on a daily basis will remember me (though probably not by name). Maybe one of them will get through college with better grades than they thought they were capable of. Perhaps I will have made a difference. Not a big one, not a loud one, but a difference none the less.
Overall then, this year has been one of positivity. I may have been out of the country for the Summer Olympics in London (a fact I regret more and more every day) but a little bit of that fierce optimism and pride took root in me. It’s not because of a sporting event, of course not. It’s not even about my face or my job. It’s about me. I’m getting better at being me. I’m a bit more outgoing, a little less hesitant, a lot more open to taking chances and meeting people and getting out of my comfort zone. I would hesitate to call myself an optimist, but my outlook isn’t quite so bleak.
So thank you 2012, you’ve worked wonders.