Two steps forward, one step back

Sometimes, to get to where you want to be, you have to do some reversing.

Two steps forward, one step back
o hai

As many people do, I had high hopes for the start of the year. I was on top of the yard work, I'd just finished listening to Arnold Schwarzenegger's audiobook, I had a painting just about finished, and I'd finally been managing to get to the gym regularly for more than one month running. I seemed to have finally achieved some degree of consistency, and the weights were going up.

Then I got back from a much-anticipated holiday up north with family with a case of strep throat. A course of antibiotics cleared it up, but it left me lifting less than I had in pre-strep gym sessions and feeling like all the effort had been for nothing.

A few weeks later, I felt like I was on top of the house work and the day job, I'd just finished an excellent book, I'd finally made it to the beach, and I was at last back at the gym with the weights almost back to where they were in the halcyon days of Before Strep and – of course – my son brought a gastro bug home, and gave it to his mum, who gave it to me.

And then once I was over that I picked up some sort of cold virus and... look, you know how the story goes by now.

I went back to the gym, expecting to feel defeated and downcast by the fact I wasn't capable of lifting the weights I was immediately before getting sick, and – in a break with tradition – did not.

Because I'm still well ahead of where I was when I started.

Sure, it's been a step back. But there have been a lot more steps forward. Not only can I still lift more than I could when I started, my form is a lot better than it was. When I'm lifting it feels much less like my spine is about to implode under the pressure of the loaded barbell, which is nice.

The metaphor carries across to this newsletter, which quietly had its one year anniversary last month. It's worth looking back on what I achieved over a year of attempting various self-improvement things, and to be honest, a lot of what I did was circle around a given topic while remaining carefully equidistant. That said: I achieved a lot! I got back in the gym and started lifting. I quit doing a bunch of stuff that was getting in the way of doing other stuff. I took a cold shower every day for more than a year and, surprisingly, liked it. I spent my 40th birthday looking at birds. I did more art – despite difficult circumstances – than I'd ever done before, and (painfully) learned how to do photorealistic paintings. Thrillingly, I even made my bed every day, just like the climate change denying transphobe told me to. (I haven't written about it yet, so stay tuned for this tell-all episode.)

Did I manage to write with the consistency I set out to achieve? Not even slightly. But the number of posts I did write was also much greater than zero. Perhaps obviously, there were no subscribers starting out; now there are – somehow, for some reason – over 2000 of you. That's a lot of people! Online subscription metrics are a strange space that's easy to get lost in; a YouTuber with under a million subs is often seen as just starting out. But 2000 real live people is a huge, ridiculous number. Think about it in terms of real people filling a physical space and the size becomes clear: it's more than many convention centres can carry. It's also intimidating. Knowing that I've got a couple thousand people counting along with how many pull-ups I can do is kind of freaky.

(On writing that bit, I wondered: how many pull-ups can I do, in a row? So went to the gym and found out. The answer depends on what you think a good pull up is. I can do eight "strict" pull-ups in a row, where you start from a dead hang and try not to use any momentum to assist you. I can do a couple more if I add in a "kip" which is using your knees to give you a bit more momentum. Crossfitters get taught to do pull-ups with kipping, while other schools of fitness thought seem to think it's cheating. Either way, it might not be much in the scheme of things, but I don't care; ten pull-ups of variable quality is nine more than I could do when I started this thing.)

Fitness and self-improvement stuff aside, I've managed to make time for and finish some of the Weird Things that you have, for whatever reason, signed up to know more about. To that end, I:

A painting of a Bored Ape, surrounded by used art materials.
I hated painting this Bored Ape, but I like the painting. Go figure.

Most absurdly, I wrote and published a 10,000+ word Harry Potter fanfic called The Department of Biological Determinism. Given that most of my close friends reacted to this news with (actual quotes) "oh GOD" and "whyyyyy???" I am sure you have questions. They're probably good ones, like "but why would you write a Harry Potter fanfic when, well, have you seen what the author of Harry Potter has been up to lately?" Unfortunately, this and many other questions are best answered by reading the fanfic. I'll say this: if you ever liked Harry Potter, or counted yourself a fan of J K Rowling, and have since stopped doing either of these things... you might enjoy it.

I mention all this because older I get the more I realise that indulging the harmless things that make you weird isn't really optional, if you want to enjoy life. If that isn't self-improvement, I don't know what is.

Lastly: in the interests of improving this newsletter over last year's iteration, I've mapped out an entire year of posts, starting next week. There's a bunch of catastrophically bad books I can't wait to review, a thousand new bizarre self-improvement trends I can turn myself into a guinea pig for, and so much more that I want to write about. So thanks for sticking with me so far. It's been fun, and if you've enjoyed it, I hope you'll hang around for Season Two of The Cynic's Guide to Self-Improvement.

If you're keen to join in on this belated year-in-review thing, feel free to let me know what you self-improved on over the last 12 months or so in the comments! And if you're keen to support whatever this is, a paid subscription is nice (yet entirely unnecessary, as everything I do for this newsletter goes out for free.)