As we limp towards the end of the decade, there is no shortage of opportunity for everyone to reflect on who we have been for the past 10 years, and who we might become in the next 10. Each day a new wrap up story or best-of list, the dwindling decade providing the perfect opportunity for us to indulge in two of our favourite collective pastimes: reminiscing on the past, speculating on the future.
I've done my absolute best to avoid any of this introspection, knowing that in 2020 I will almost certainly be the same person. Only slightly older and – pending a couple of risky cryptocurrency ventures – slightly poorer.
So imagine my surprise when all my hard work was undone by a family Kris Kringle. Like most families, we have abandoned buying individual presents for one another, and instead opted for a Kris Kringle setup. It makes a lot of sense, this way the panic-purchasing is limited to one gift and we can all focus on the true meaning of Christmas: seeing how long the ham will last.
Wrapped in expectation
But even with this joyless system in place, there has been a long track record of lacklustre-gift-giving. The monetary limit is $100 so last Christmas, my uncle, gave me two Office Works vouchers worth $50 each. Merry Shitmas.
With the lack of trust between family members at an all-time high, this year, we used DrawNames, which allows you to create a gift wishlist. You're essentially picking a present and getting someone else to pay for it. Everybody wins.
When it came time to direct my Kris Kringle to a gift of my choice, it was a no brainer: 1 x New Yorker subscription, please. About an hour later, my phone buzzed with a text message from my fiancee, Kate. "Why don't you put down something you'll actually use?"
Playing the Grinch
I was mortified, and furiously drafted a long text about how I'd subscribed to the New Yorker for the past three years! And it's one of my favourite things to read...when I get the chance! I just don't get the chance...our lives are busy! And what do you even mean actually use? I use it all the time!
Sure I didn't read the last issue or the one before that...but I'm saving it for the Christmas break!
With each angry exclamation point, I could feel my argument losing legs. Sitting at my kitchen table, I was surrounded by unopened issues of the New Yorker, many of them still in their protective plastic sleeves.
Your authentic self
For the past three years, I had optimistically renewed my subscription, confident that this time would be different. And now, in the aftermath of this Kris Kringle present debacle, a long avoided truth was finally being unwrapped.
Inside all of us, there is a version of ourselves that we like to believe exists. One that reads the New Yorker from cover to cover, pretends to understand wine or lies about enjoying The Irishman. While these might seem like trivial things, the more the lines blur between what we like and what we lie about liking, the further away we get from being *cue eye roll* our authentic selves.
Unsurprisingly, many of us have cultivated this faux-self after being raised to pursue betterment relentlessly. In the age of self-improvement, if you're not growing, you're slowing (trademark that), which creates a pressure that manifests itself in the most unusual ways.
But what I really want is...
While there is nothing terrible about aspiring to be better, at what point does the fixation with fooling yourself become wrong. When does self-improvement give way to delusion? Probably around the third year of your useless New Yorker subscription, I'd imagine.
If I'm brutally honest, I covet the magazine because it represents things I value – social and cultural credibility. And the version of myself who reads it is the best version of myself in my head.
But if there was ever a time to embrace the version of myself that exists, it's at the dawn of a new decade. So I've taken to the Kris Kringle list and swapped the subscription for a pair all-white Reeboks and an electric toothbrush.
In what might be the juiciest case of irony (this decade!), I will leave you with these wise words from the author, Will Storr, as quoted in the New Yorker article, Improving Ourselves to Death:
"Once you realise that [the optimised self] is all just an act of coercion, that it's your culture trying to turn you into someone you can't really be, you can begin to free yourself from your demands."
In 2020, I'm free to be me, whoever that may be.
After continually being told to "use his words" as a young boy, Thomas Mitchell took that advice on board and never looked back. Since then his words appeared all over the place, including in the Sydney Morning Herald, Time Out, The Huffington Post and GQ. Thomas spends his days observing the unique behaviour of the Australian male, while trying not to overstay his welcome at the local cafe.
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