Over a month ago, I celebrated a birthday. It wasn’t what most would consider a monumental one, but for me, every birthday is. I use my birthday as a marker for my personal new year. I celebrate, perform rituals, and have habits I keep leading up to, and shortly after the first of January, like many others. Then, nearly six months later, during my birthday season (yes, if done right, it feels like a season) I do an inventory on what the last year, for me, has meant. I set new goals and make plans for my new year. I check in to see what I want to continue, tighten up, grow, or incorporate for the remaining six months.

My Birthday, My New Year

I explained this, “birthday as my personal new year,” to someone recently and they laughed at first. It sounded like another Maya-ism. When I broke down that this helped me stay on track of goals and helped me set more thoughtful intentions, she understood. I don’t compartmentalize my life in decades—teens, 20s, 30s. My life feels more nuanced and complex. How could I possibly track it in 10-year increments? I can better organize my life into where I lived, who I dated, where I worked, undergrad, or post-grad.

There are definitely patterns that come with certain age groups. I distinctly remember being absurdly broke in my 20s. I know at this age, I don’t have the patience or the temperament to live that way now. I also know, within my 20s, there were at least three standout phases: the toxic relationships I was in throughout the decade, meeting (separately) two people who I would share a long-lasting friendship with for years to come, and working awful jobs. It was also in my late 20s that I started feeling a shift within. My college and high school friend groups no longer felt comfortable. Constant parties, lounges and “events” became tiresome. My true self, an introvert, started feeling more drawn to art gallery openings and museum exhibits. My friends were older and felt more mature. I was on a new wave.

I was experiencing growing pains — ushering in another phase that can’t be tied to a specific age range. I had no idea why I felt and seemed so out of order. Now I know the feeling exactly. When I start becoming restless within, I step back from the crowd and lean more into myself. I interrogate myself: what am I feeling? What triggered this? Who triggered this? I can’t plan my life around that. I have to tune in and listen.

The Benefits of a Personal New Year

Even if your birthday lands on or near the first of the year, I recommend, checking in with yourself. What are you working on? What do you want to accomplish? How do you want to live? What do you want your life to feel like? Your personal new year sets a tone that is completely separate from everyone else’s resolutions and the collective stress of trying to be your best self in the first few months of the new year. Nothing outside of you can ever be tailor-made for you. Only you can do that.

So here I am at the beginning of my personal new year and things look okay. I am a woman, so of course there are always questions from the outside, and sometimes the inside too if I’m honest, about when I’ll settle down and get married, have children. Just yesterday, a beloved family member reminded me, “you don’t have much time.” I love her, so no hard feelings. She means well. Also, that’s reason number 923 to set your own goals, to survey your own life, and to mark your milestones based on what they mean to you. My personal new year allows me the space to step away from what I should have done the previous year and what must happen this year, into a more organic engagement with myself on what is right for me and me alone.

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash
Each year, writer Maya James marks her birthday as a second personal New Year. Here's how the practice keeps her on track to set thoughtful intentions.