Raven Smith on the reinventive powers of September

An illustration of a man playing hula hoop with various limbs.

Our resident columnist muses this month’s reputation for new beginnings, and explores if making changes to benefit others should come before personal growth

By Raven Smith   Above illustration by Elena Xausa    Thursday 3 September, 2020   Short read 

Ah summer, you were great in your own way. A break from the peaking anxiety of early 2020 and the masked crusades of spring. Summer was a cultural reset; a light seasonal lobotomy while we forgot the horrors of lockdown. Now we’re sluggish from the high season, exhausted from the weeks of skinny-dipped breaststroke and manically distanced alfresco lunches. We’re miles out from autumn’s brown leaves and holiday-season socialising. As the sun sets on flesh-baring climes, our swimmers dry and our tans fade, it’s natural to want to turn to the future and its implicit promise of change. September is a time of reinvention, after all, like the first day of sixth form when you wander into class with your nose pierced. It’s in these dying embers of a hot heat that we embrace the new. Now we’ve rested, we have the energy to regroup. 
Change needn’t be massive, though. We’re all conditioned to think bigger, with dreams that loom larger than life. Make an impact, we’re told. Reach for the stars. Get a hurricane named after you. Or a high school. Be the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. Hit the road like Thelma and Louise. Be richer than Midas. Or Bonnie and Clyde. Notoriety is essential. If all else fails, join a cult of holistic devotion on the other side of the planet. Never settle for the mundane. 
But there’s smaller ways to modify our lives and change for the better. Goals don’t have to divert the course of history. Ruts come in all shapes and sizes, whether they’re teensy divots to step across or grand canyons to abseil down – and de-rutting needn’t be an extreme endeavour. You don’t have to dynamite your life to feel the benefit of your tectonic plates shifting. The goal is a little more edge; a touch taller. You can crawl out of a rut with new shoes or by not ordering your usual at the bar. 
After the planet locked down, we naturally turned inwards. COVID was a time of extreme personal makeovers, seeing us at home with shaggy hair kissing our necks or dazzlingly blonde selfies. Some of us festered, a life spent on the sofa suddenly visible on our hips. Some of us hardened, with Brad Pitt Fight Club bodies emerging behind closed doors. Whether big or small, we all changed – but the focus was on ourselves. We all chase growth. We’re little cress seeds on wet cotton wool, sprouting and leaning towards the sun. But personal growth is intrinsically narcissistic, a game with one player and several own goals. As summer closes, perhaps this is the season of others? The season to move beyond self-development and to start rethinking the functions of our global villages.

Where COVID was the never-ending season of self, community is now our future. What better time to look beyond ourselves and towards the people around us? The family and friends whose own interior worlds shifted over the summer. It’s time to listen them. To really hear what’s being said, and act in a way that betters all the lives that cross our paths. This might sound like I’m encouraging societal transition to benevolent Jesus figures, strung up on healing lepers and stopping trade at the temple. But there’s something to be said for moving the conversation away from your own feelings; to focussing outside the ego; to strengthening the twine of the relationships within your grasp. 

Can your resolution this September be to lift everyone up? To make smaller changes that are kinder? Is the best you one that’s set on improving the lives of those you love? We’re all so hung up on ourselves, it’s time to put the phones down. Let’s move forward together. Rather than a total personal reinvention, like Madonna on a new album cycle, I’m curious as to who you’re bringing with us on the ride into autumn. After all, there’s plenty of room. 
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