The Rhythms of the Year

Posted on September 12, 2019

I always have a “back to school” feeling at the start of September even though it has been more than ten years since the end of my formal education. I thought that as my school and university days disappeared into the past that there would be a switch and I’d get a “new year, new me” feeling in January instead.

This hasn’t happened and, after this length of time, I’m kind of doubtful it ever will. I don’t have kids, neither me nor my wife work in a school and it isn’t like we live in a university town either.

So what is it about September that fills me with optimism for the coming twelve months - especially compared to January?

First, let’s look at the reasons January sucks:

  1. It is very dark. I live around 55.5 degrees North and at the start of January there is only seven hours between sunrise and sunset. And, perhaps more importantly, there will have been less than eight hours between sunrise and sunset since the 22nd November. Although the days will be getting longer I’ll have been living in a dark fug for so long that it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is not a good mindset for embracing new possibilities and dreaming of the next twelve months.
  2. The weather. Like the previous point, but also unreliable. And especially in contrast with September when there is often an Indian Summer.
  3. Post Christmas. For me, Christmas always feels like quite a busy time with work and then there are always social and family occasions to attend both in the December runup and between Christmas and New Year. After all this, it feels like I’ve just finished something big and need time to decompress before starting something new. Compare this with September where I’ll usually have been on holiday during August and will be feeling more rested and ready.

In some ways, I expect to be in “survival mode” in January - just trying to get through the darkest time of the year and make it all the way to Spring. I don’t really see this changing either (at least not in the medium term - perhaps if I lived further South with more daylight…).

The darkness and short days seems to be a really big part of this - something I didn’t anticipate having such a large role when I first started to write this. I knew that I sometimes get a bit SAD in winter but listing out reasons why January is a struggle has still surprised me.

There are also more positive reasons that I feel optimistic and hopeful in September - the reasons for me still getting the “back to school” feeling aren’t just because January is a bit grim.

As mentioned above, I’ve usually been on holiday in July or August. And so have most of my clients and prospective clients. This means two things:

  1. Holidays are a good time to reflect, have a bit of thinking space and to come up with ideas and priorities for when you return. This makes it sound like I’m always thinking about work when I’m away which is (mostly) not true. But I do spend time thinking about “not work” which, in some ways, is defined by the gaps between working so having a clearer idea of the “not work” stuff also helps clarify the work stuff too. So I come back from holiday with new ideas that tend to be a bit more longer term in scope than the kind of ideas I come up with during my regular working schedule. For example, a few years ago I decided to commit to moving away from PPC and towards data science; I’d been thinking “this might not be going anywhere” with my PPC work for a while but it took a holiday for me to step back and see the bigger picture.
  2. Because a lot of people are on holiday at similar times it is difficult to get new things started during August. People come back from their holidays with creative energy and new ideas but they often can’t get started until everyone else is done with their holidays too. This leads to a kind of pent up energy and anticipation which is ready to be released in September.

So I come back from holiday with new ideas, clients come back from holiday with new ideas and all of it feels like it is waiting for September to kick off.

The final reason is that sport is an important part of my life at the moment and the rowing training season starts in September. For most club rowers (myself included) the “season” is about ten months long and runs from September when training starts through to Henley Royal Regatta and the start of July.

I don’t completely stop rowing through July and August - these are often the months with the nicest weather when it can be a real pleasure to be out on the river - but training is more informal; there are no competitions and fewer other people at the club. I don’t row as far or as often and the intensity of the sessions is always low.

We started our season off last Sunday with some time trials over 3000 and 1000 meters and I am disappointed with how I performed. But it is September, it feels like there is plenty of time to build fitness and improve my technique and, for now at least, I can enjoy my dreams and ambitions for the year before I actually have to do the hard work to achieve them.