You say goodbye (2023) and I say hello (2024). Here I am again, with my qualitative reflections, learnings, and ravings about the year that was. Due to this years’ accomplishments, there is a strange and buoyant finality about reaching the end of 2023. Something is sizzling in the air, accompanied by the sound of summer’s cicadas , that heralds in the end of an era. That assessment feels indulgently dramatic, but I think that it’s fair given that some fairly momentous projects have come to a close.
I appreciate this grounding and clarifying practice of new-yearly self-reflection – it was initially inspired by James Clear’s Annual Reviews, and guides me to take stock of what the year held for me – particularly in regards to how I was able to live in alignment with my values, move towards goals, live with intention and stagger about in this dizziness of freedom (that’s a Kierkegaard ref – I quote philosophy now, keep up). Let’s get to it.
2023 In Three Words
What Went Well This Year?
Went well/went badly (but who’s grading and what’s the rubric?) In a conversation with JB recently, he mentioned that I view parenting as a project to execute with precision rather than an experience to be lived into. Rude and accurate, as per usual. This paradox packages my sentiments nicely, it really is the best most awful job. I find myself with many challenging and mixed feelings about motherhood, and at times, I feel disconnected from the prevailing narrative of what motherhood is. It is also a moral battlefield beyond what I had ever imagined, where everyone has their own impassioned take on what is right for their kid and how to be the best mum you can be, etc. It is easy to take any maternal discrepancies as testament that you’ve made the wrong choice or lack the requisite amount of presence/discipline/gentleness/selflessness. I think I need to heed the wisdom of my partner here and relinquish the need to take a critically evaluative, performance-based approach to parenting. One’s success as a mum rests more on one’s ability to both gracefully endure and consciously defy the pressures, norms and pleasures of parenting. In this way, it’s more like a work of abstract art than a mathematical equation.
In the year coming… I’d love to relinquish the expectation that parenting needs to feel some kind of way to signal when you’re doing it right. I’d like to take more photos together, create more art together, play games, watch movies, see music, cook, learn and laugh together. In short, I’d like parenting to be better integrated into the joyful moments of life and not experiences as just another job to be done on the side.
This year, I continued my part-time role at Support Act, where I was appointed the Mental Health & Wellbeing Content and Programs Lead (what a professional-sounding mouthful). As I eased into my second year with the organisation, I was able to be a part of some awesome music events and contribute to a bunch of important projects. Here are a few memorable bits…
- I took part in a number of industry events and conferences, including Bigsound, WAMCON, Tropical Fiesta, and SXSW Sydney. I facilitated Sound Minds & Creative Minds live events in a bunch of major cities, and manned the stall backstage at SITG.
- I finished putting together our Financial Wellbeing digital workshop – Money Moves (due to be released next year) and we launched the Mentally Healthy Workplaces Program, which we’ve started to roll out across a range of music industry orgs.
- I’ve gotten to travel to a bunch of new cities across the country, and I am proud of our ongoing efforts to promote wellbeing, safety and community across the wider music industry.
In the year coming… I would like to do more keynotes and workshops, network across industries, finesse our existing resources and programming, and work on more exciting and engaging activations at festivals and conferences. I’m keen to be a part of our 2024 research project and get that research published. I’d also like to work more closely with our team of presenters and mental health practitioners, nurturing the great team we have and grow it further.
Well well well. I’m so glad that I can shift this up to the ‘What Went Well’ section this year – as it’s been historically relegated to the ‘What Challenged Me’ section. Not that it wasn’t without its challenges. But I have made it to the end of my PhD candidature relatively unscathed. For the most part, I deeply enjoyed the experience. I loved the deep immersion in my topics of interest, going down the research rabbit holes and furiously highlighting a bunch of interesting books. I appreciated stoking a greater love of philosophy and developing deeper conceptual understandings of the self. l loved improving my research skills, fumbling through data analysis, and developing my academic writing skills. Having a body of work come together in this way, complete with stats and data, is something that – at times – I did not believe I was capable of. But here we are. We can do hard things, etc. I also had a blast taking (and losing) my poster to LA to present at the Psychology of Technology Conference at USC. A true academic highlight!
In the year coming… I would like to fully submit my thesis, complete with emendations, so I can graduate early next year. I want to write up some articles from my research and submit them for publication. I also want to present at some academic conferences next year and see how I might stay connected to the academic scene, in the realms of teaching support, lecturing or research.
Friends, Family & Community
The people in my life are embodied treasure. There is nothing that brings greater joy or greater hope than the relationships that nurture, inspire, support and guide me. I have had moments of lightness, joy and laughter with friends and family this year, but also moments of collapse, vulnerability, and the sharing and holding of deep sorrows, struggles and hardships. Being with people is not always easy, but being without them is impossible. I am dramatically grateful for the people who make up the web of my social universe, and am thankful for every hug, text message, shared bottle of wine, park hang, dinner date and book recommendation. May we always show up for each other in the ways we most need it.
I also continued connecting with folks in the mental health and research community, and what a joy it has been! Our quarterly SHRNKS sessions have been genuine highlights, and I’m grateful for the friendships and working relationships that have deepened and expanded as a result (including our wonderful book club).
In the year coming… I would like to have more fun with friends. More holidays away. More spontaneous expressions of gratitude, love and joy. I would like to continue to show up for my family, friends and community in ways that are supportive, useful and genuine. More home-cooked meals. More layered cakes. More listening parties, art dates and book launches. More connecting and revelling over art and music and being here on this weird, spinning rock at precisely the same time.
Healthy Habits & Committments
I knew that I would have to be diligent with committing to rejuvenating and restorative habits this year if I was going to make it through my final PhD year, with frequent work travel, JB on time-consuming shoots and international tours, and a toddler sucking up my lifeforce like a tiny, feral vampire. I was pleased to continue committing to regular practices, such as reading and my daily German, whilst also powering up my yoga practice this year which was, quite honestly, a lifesaver.
My DuoLingo “German” streak is now at 1310. There’s something deeply gratifying in the small but mindful stakeout of time for this daily practice. More than being just a useful tool for language-learning, it’s a regular moment for me to honour my love of learning.
Yoga has been something that I have practiced diligently and reverently for most of this year, logging in over 93 classes (which is me coming good on my 2022 pledge). I have attended classes at The Yoga Factory in Annandale and received a great deal of guidance and support from the passionate and committed teachers. Whilst my more formal meditation practice has lagged a little this year, I have been able to practice mindfulness and breathwork as part of my yoga classes, and have also seen my strength, stability and flexibility increase too. I attended a 108 Sun Salutations class, where I surprised myself with my endurance, and also when I started ~sobbing~ at the end when One by U2 came on. It was a moment.
Art is always close to my heart but has always been low on my list of priorities. Fortunately, my time with my kiddo has provided the opportunity to rekindle my love of art, as we learn about various works of art via the At The Gallery art card deck, and recreate them together. This is not without it’s frustrations – but then, the practice of art never is! This year, we’ve explored work by Matisse, Sidney Nolan, Louise Bourgeous, Hokuzai, Keith Haring and more.
Writing was one of my goals for this year and write I did. 88,908 words written, in fact (I’m talking it up, a lot of those words were part of the Reference section). My regular commitment to simply get it done was honoured, and I also tracked the days I worked on my writing and research, which was a useful accountability tool that allowed me to visually take-in how I was regularly showing up.
I read 44 books. This has been a mammoth year for reading – these books are in addition to the jumbo list of articles and chapter excerpts I’ve read for PhD study. It’s testament to how energising and fulfilling I find reading to be. Some particular joys in the realms of books this year included reading books written by friends, and attending their book launches, and kicking off a bookclub with some SHRNKS friends.
Plenty of psych non-fictions on the list, a few more philosophical reads this year, and also turns out that I don’t go in for anthropology (as per a few of my DNF’s). Good to know.
- The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin
- Awe – Dacher Keltner
- The Pisces – Melissa Broder
- A Field Guide to Lies & Statistics – Daniel Levitin
- To Have or to Be – Eric Fromm
- The Good Life – Robert Waldinger & Marc Shulz
- The Psychology of Money – Morgan Housel
- Sedated – James Davies
- Civilized to Death – Christopher Ryan
- The Rulebook – Chris Cheers
- The Perfectionists Guide to Losing Control – Katherine Morgan Schafler
- I Have Some Questions for You – Rebecca Makkai
- Enchantment – Katherine May
- The Art of Choosing – Sheena Iyengar
- What Got You Here Wont Get You There – Marshall Goldsmith
- The Communication Book – Mikael Krogerus & Roman Tschappler
- Psych – Paul Bloom
- The Resilience Project – Hugh Van Cuylenburg
- The Influencer Industry – Emily Hund
- The Art of Gathering – Priya Parker
- Romantic Comedy – Curtis Sittenfeld
- The Empathy Diaries – Sherry Turkle
- One Simple Thing – Eddie Stern
- Donald Horne: Life in the Lucky Country – Ryan Cropp
- The Experience Machine – Andy Clark
- The Luminous Solution – Charlotte Wood
- Diagnosis Normal – Emma Jane
- The Philosophy Gym – Stephen Law
- Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
- Piranesi – Susanna Clarke
- Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite – Robert Kurzban
- Contagious – Jonah Berger
- The Secret Life of Secrets – Michael Slepian
- If You Should Fail – Joe Moran
- Meaning in Life and Why It Matters – Susan Wolf
- A Real Piece of Work – Erin Riley
- Talk Like TED – Carmine Gallo
- The Curse of the Self – Mark Leary
- Touring & Mental Health – Tamsin Embleton
- Wild Problems – Russ Roberts
- Nightbitch – Rachel Yoder
- Exhalation – Ted Chiang
- Letters to a Young Poet – Rilke
- Chatter – Ethan Cross
- Reclaiming Conversation – Sherry Turkle (DNF)
- The 48 Laws of Power – Robert Greene (DNF)
- Guns, Germs & Steel – Jared Diamond (DNF)
- The Dawn of Everything – David Graeber & David Wengrow (DNF)
In the year coming… I would like to recommit to these practices, with a greater immersion in them, particularly in the art realm, with more journalling, life drawing, photography and art classes. I’d like to do more writing and graphic design. I’d like to borrow more books from the library (saving space/money, etc.) and am excited to read more books by friends. And I’d like to watch more movies and see more live shows & live music. I’d also like to ease into my witchy era, learning more about tarot reading, the moon and stars, manifestation practices, and the natural world. It’s kinda nice to try on a different paradigm.
As per my comment from last year, I gave myself space this year to invest time in dr-me – which required a great deal of unpaid study. As a result, this meant that I wasn’t able to hustle much for additional paid work. Still, regular savings and investments have been going steady. I also have gained greater clarity of regular outgoings, and developed an understanding of how much I’d need to be earning to live a rich life.
In the year coming… I would like to pick up more paid work, in order to make substantial contributions to our savings, and move closer to the goal of purchasing our first home. I’d like to be more accountable for my recreational spending, and eliminate unnecessary costs and subscriptions.
What Challenged Me This Year?
Life is a rollercoaster just gotta ride it. I love actual roller coasters. Emotional ones, not so much. I go through periods of feeling very balanced, stable, accomplished and energised and then, sometimes without catalyst, the bottom falls out and things get…hard. In these times, life feels like an agonising slog, my self-care practices offer little in the way of returns and it feels almost impossible holding things together. Since I was a teenager, I’ve experienced this variability and over the course of my life, it’s been easy enough to attribute changes in moods to a natural response to challenging/unfulfilling/draining things in my life. My deep dive into positive psychology practices has offered me a great deal, but these practices unfortunately haven’t been able to touch the sides when it comes to regulating or abating my moods.
In the year coming… I’m going to be more proactive in tracking and managing my moods and looking for new ways I might be able to make life easier for myself during these heavy periods.
The Great & Impossible Balancing Act
We’re told to understand what it is we need and then to advocate for it – but sometimes the challenge lies in knowing what is reasonable to demand and which needs need to be surrendered. Maintaining my self-sustaining practices, remaining connected to my social sphere, writing a phd, working, having fun, raising a kid, making time for my partner and stepping up when he is working long days or on tour – this stuff is always in flux and getting the ideal balance is simply unsustainable.
In the year coming… I need to be more communicative of my capacity and have regular check-ins with the people around me with how things are impacting me. We can then work collaboratively on how to support one another better, whilst also ensuring we’re doing what we need to do to get our work done and take care of ourselves.
Existing Ethically & Giving Back
I have lived quite small in my little bubble over the past year and I haven’t given much consideration to how I might contribute positively to the world around me. I am grateful to contribute meaningfully with the work I do. And I am proud that I’ve made the shift to purchasing more second-hand fashion, giving fast fashion the flick. But there is much more to be done, and I’d like to try to do better and do more.
In the year coming… I’d like to donate more money to charity, with more regularity. I’d like to be more conscious about my meat and fish consumption, and perhaps explore mentoring or supporting the arts in different and helpful ways.
Drainers / Sustainers?
Reflecting on the things that drained and sustained me, I can better understand how to limit my exposure to, or support myself around the things that challenge and drain me. I can also understand what helps nourish me and sustain me!
|Mental Wellness Platitudes
|Clean Uncluttered Spaces
|Consecutive Solo Parent am’s & pm’s
|Getting Dressed Up
|Thinking What To Cook
|Sickness & Sinus Problems
|Chaotic Kids Events
|Bad Nights’ Sleep
|Internet Moral Posturing
|Long, Drawn-Out Bedtimes
|Singing & Dancing
What did I learn from this year?
Continuous commitment can yield great rewards
The vast, looming task of completing my PhD by the end of this year was daunting. I had not worked on it regularly and diligently over the preceding years, so there was a lot left to be done. When I sat with that reality, I felt almost frozen with the immensity of time, effort, motivation and focus that completing it undoubtedly required. But I did what the productivity guru’s fap on about – I broke the task down into consumable chunks, and I made a commitment to visually track my PhD-progress days to ensure I wasn’t letting too many days pass without getting some work done on it. Little by little, this chipping away left me with a finished product that, while far from perfect, is something I’m proud of. It’s lived-experience-proof of what is possible, when you make an ongoing commitment to something important. In light of this, I can reflect on what other ongoing committments I want to pledge myself to in the coming months and years.
The mental health & wellbeing movement routinely simplifies the complex reality of living a full life
During my PhD research, I found myself exploring philosophical ideas surrounding the self and identity, authenticity and morality, via fascinating podcasts, books and papers. After being so firmly entrenched in the colour-by-numbers approach to mental health & wellbeing for the last 5-ish years, these refreshing, confronting and in-depth philosophical examinations of life and the human condition offered more representation to the moral, social and existential contradictions that we all reckon with through the course of our lives. They were free of platitudes, full of paradoxes and offered opportunities to think deeply about the nature of the self, the nature of goodness & morality, and the meaning of existence (you know, all that lighthearted stuff). I’m hoping to bring some of these deeper reflections into the ways I live and talk about life, relationships, well-being and creativity.