Focusing on the better memories

Photos: Getty Images
Photos: Getty Images
Jan Aitken says it's been one of the toughest years of her life. So why is she celebrating?

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken
Woohoo, I’ve made it through another year. I’m alive, I have work I love, safe warm accommodation and three good meals a day. I have a fabulous group of friends and a lovely bunch of nutty family. I am a "stronger" person than I was a year ago. That is reason enough, for me, to wholeheartedly celebrate 2019. 


I don’t care that I haven’t won Lotto, I’m not able to retire (and probably won’t be for many years past the official retirement age). I don’t have a brand-new Lamborghini (insert whatever luxury toy you wish) or house of my own.

I’d rather focus on what I do have; on the positive. It just feels better, it’s a healthier more sustainable focus to maintain.

I could list a few of the completely awful things that have happened this year and focus on those. There have been some life changing, challenging events that I hope I never have to encounter again nor any of my friends and family.

But let’s be clear: I’m not simply being "Pollyanna" about 2019, the tough stuff, those challenging events, have not been ignored. On the contrary, they have been foremost in my consciousness for the year. Sometimes those crappy events have been all I have thought about in a day. At times they have been all-consuming and overwhelming. I spent some days simply getting through it in 15-minute blocks.

Some days, it seemed like all that happened was my face kept getting slammed back down into the dirt every time I lifted my head up to try to take a breath.

On reflection, it’s been one of the toughest years of my life.

So what the heck am I celebrating? Why am I celebrating a year that in many ways has patently sucked?

Well, the ugly events have helped me to refocus and really nail down my values, my standards of behaviour and my boundaries. I’ve learned that I can be resilient and I have choices about how to respond to the curve balls that life throws my way. I may not like the choices that I have had in front of me but actively choosing one option over another has given me an element of control over my life and that has felt good. Much of what I have written about in this column this year has incorporated the things I have contemplated and thought about. I have figured out what’s important to me on a very basic level, recreating and tidying up my own personal foundation — a foundation that no-one can take away from me no matter what’s happening.

The important stuff is not about material goods and superficial relationships. It’s not about what others are doing or have or even how others behave. I’ve learned I can’t control how others treat me, but I’ve learned I have a choice about how much I take their words and actions on board and how I respond.

I know now that in order to grow I have to be vulnerable and trusting even if it means I risk getting my face slammed back down into the dirt on occasion — building walls to keep people and "bad" things at bay is very limiting. It cuts us off from the very things we are wired for — social connection.

Living "in the arena", as Rising Strong author Brene Brown calls it, is darn scary and takes some getting used to, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take more days than not. Hopefully it’ll become a natural way of being.

I had the pleasure of working with a very wise man this year. He challenged me to think about what memories I wanted to create every day. That really got me thinking! I had to think about how that question influences my decisions and actions on a daily basis and, therefore, my outcomes.

So I’m celebrating both the good and the ugly of 2019 and I want the enduring memory of 2019 to be a memory about growth and resilience, about being brave enough to stand up again on wobbly legs and put one foot in front of the other. I want this year’s memories to be about good social connections: the people who have helped to catch me and dust me off when I fell. I want it to be about the fun times and care my friends and family have shared with me. I want the overarching memory to be one of contentment with who I am and where I’m heading.

What’s the enduring memory you want to have for 2019?

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach. For more go to



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