By the time we reach adulthood, we measure our lives in years, sometimes a handful of years, like the years we were in medical school, the few years after Hurricane Sandy, the years during the pandemic. The first year of my daughter’s life was measured by weeks, and then months. Every week felt like a victory, every month felt like a decade, and I have no idea how we ended up here, on the other side, just one month shy of her first birthday.
Those who know me know that I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I hardly believe in the new year as an arbitrary assignment of an annum’s passing, when numerous other cultures have their own calendars that follow the moon cycle, or the seasons, or the tide. I believe that every day is another chance to better yourself, and there’s no need to wait till Jan. 1 to make some huge declarations. Yet, this year feels a little bit different. Maybe because the year, and its dumpster fires, seems to have flown by, maybe because I have a child now, maybe because I have a child who was born on Dec. 31, 59 minutes before midnight. I don’t want to say things like, lose 20 pounds or make more money or eat more vegetables. But this year I may make some resolutions, at least some vague generalizations, of rules to live by, and rules that I’d want my daughter to inherit. Maybe these rules can help you too.
1) Let people surprise you.
We were at Disney World just before Thanksgiving and we had gone to the resort next door for dinner. As we were about to leave, it started pouring rain, so hard that we couldn’t see our own hands, much less the path around the lake. An Uber would take 20 minutes and we didn’t have our car seat, anyway. Getting a little desperate because we were cold and wet and it was my daughter’s bedtime and we were moments from a meltdown, I walked up to the bellhop, pushing my daughter in her stroller, trying to stay in the eaves to stay dry. I asked him if there was a shuttle bus to the resort just next door, and he said there was not. It was too close. There was a shuttle that stopped at the next resort. I asked how far the walk was from that stop to our resort. “We’re just trying to stay out of the rain.” I gestured (what must’ve been pitifully) toward my baby. He took one look at us and nodded at the driver who was coming out of the back office. “I’m sure he’ll take ya,” he said. Within minutes, the driver had ushered us into our own private shuttle bus to drive us back to our hotel. We were so grateful, so surprised, we tipped him. We talked about it for days. How nice they were! How amazing!
2) The energy you give, is the energy you get.
In Chinese, there’s a saying that good people get good returns. Not just as a matter of course, but because people can sense a good thing. Whatever you call it — energy, vibe, chill, mood, aura — people around you can see it and feel it. Put bad vibes into the world and that’s what you get back. So put more good energy in the world and that’s what you’ll get back. The energy you give, is the energy you get.
3) Get excited.
I asked my nephew, “Are you excited to be going on the cruise?” And he was like, “Not really.” In that moment, I really looked at him, a tall kid of just 15, already too cool to show excitement about anything. I nudged him a little bit and said, “Oh, come on. You’re not even a little excited? Your first cruise?” To which he gave a little smile and said, “Maybe a little.” And proceeded to tell me what he had studied about every Disney cruise ship, the route, and pointed out the opening drawbridge in the distance. I honestly think, what is even the point if you don’t let yourself get excited about things? The world is wonderful and wondrous. It’s OK to get excited. More than OK. Do it. Get excited.
4) Keep on living.
This one is from my grandmother, your great-grandmother, who is practical, bordering on pragmatic. When I asked her once, “Don’t you get lonely at night, now that Grandpa’s gone?” She said, “What good would loneliness do?” (And then, in her typical no-nonsense fashion, she said, “It’s not like I would just lay down and die.”) Plus, she rather liked living alone and not having to cook for anyone. She would just keep on going. She had the same sentiment after a fall that broke her arm and a fall that broke her hip, even through moving in with my uncle, which she never wanted to do. Keep on living. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.
5) Let it in.
I was watching the news about the war in Ukraine, the children in Gaza, the shooting in midtown. Once upon a time, I thought there was utility in shutting down my feelings. Especially as a surgeon, in training, when bad things happened. Death, suffering, loss. I thought the only way was to let it go. As I sat on the couch with the TV on, you sleeping soundly on my lap, I wondered if sometimes, more times than not, it was better to let it in. Let everything in: sadness, sorrow, sunlight. Maybe then we can transform it and beam it back out.
6) Take your moment.
I finished writing my book at 3:58 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, and still had other work to do, bags to pack, breast milk to pump, and a flight to catch. In a world where people say pipe down, stay down, stay humble, I say take your moment. Practice giving yourself a pat on the back, give yourself two minutes reprieve, post a picture of your unbridled pride on social media. Take your moment!
I don’t know if any of these are anything new, or just different ways of saying what’s been said before. But it felt like I had to come up with something better than a shabby chic wooden sign saying, “Do unto others, etc.” What I’m surprised by is that none of these have anything to do with career, or money, or success. They’re all about settling into who you are and being intentional in your actions.
I wanted to add one more thing. This is a hard one, a controversial one, because there are exceptions. The family you’re born into may not be the family you want, or the family you need. But family should get unlimited second chances. There is no one who has known you longer and loved you more. I was so angry growing up about some perceived trespasses, only to see, now that I am a parent, that it is really hard to be a parent, to do everything right all the time. Family forgives, families forgive. You’ll understand when you’re older.
What rules do you plan to live by next year? Share in the comments.
Dr. Carmen Fong is a writer, artist, and double board-certified general and colorectal surgeon who moved from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia, with her wife and two cats. They recently welcomed a baby daughter. She is the author of Constipation Nation (Rowman & Littlefield, forthcoming 2024), and is currently in private practice as Co-Director of Hemorrhoid Centers of America. She was a Stony Brook Children’s Literature Fellow and is currently a Doximity Op-Med Fellow. Her work has been published online in KevinMD.com, The Apothecary, The Bookends Review, the polyphony, The GoatPol, and BaselineMed.com. She can be found on social media, mostly on Instagram @drcarmenfong, on Substack @hongkongfong, and on Twitter @Carmen_FongMD. When she is not writing or working, she enjoys cooking, drawing cartoons, and reading about the mysteries of the universe. Dr. Fong was a 2022–2023 Doximity Op-Med Fellow, and continues as a 2023–2024 Doximity Op-Med Fellow.
Image by Nuthawut Somsuk / Getty