The Depth Year; or Why Bigger isn’t Always Better

A girl snorkelling in the ocean as seen from below
Going (not very) deep in Maui’s blue waters

We are now well into the new year, a quarter of the way in fact and perhaps it’s time to take a pause. Did you set goals or resolutions or make promises to begin 2019? Have you been able to keep them, or are you already feeling the struggle of forming new habits? Maybe you gave up months ago because life has a tendency to just get in the way of…itself?

I’m one of those people who loves a new year simply because it feels like a universal clean slate. It took me a while after I graduated from my Master’s degree to accept January instead of September as a new year, and even still my Moleskine planners operate on a September start. For all I care, you can start your new year according to the income tax season. Or wedding season. YOU DO YOU.

Anyways, my point is – I’d been reading a lot about habits (James Clear wuddup) and productivity as I laid out my Top 10 Goals for the Year Ahead. I’ve done this for the last couple of years, and while I don’t always make as much headway on some of the list items as I’d like, even being able to check off a few list items brings my little Type A heart joy.

If you were to steal my journal and look back at the list items for previous years (note: please don’t), you’d see travel as a dominant theme, committing to better sustainability & environmental practices, and photography. Namely, improving my photography skills. Currently, my skills involve being able to identify things I think would make good photographs, and using my camera’s Auto mode in order to capture them. This has worked surprisingly well for 29 years. But I (and my camera) are capable of more, I just haven’t taken the steps necessary in order to DO more.

It’s possible that you, looking at my stolen journal, might perceive this lack of movement on the arts front a failure. At the end of 2017, I probably would have agreed with that assessment. However, I happened to stumble across an interesting new perspective (by way of because OF COURSE I read that daily): The Depth Year.

The concept of the Depth Year is this:

“what if, for a whole year, you stopped acquiring new things or taking on new pursuits. Instead, you return to abandoned projects, stalled hobbies, unread books and other neglected intentions, and go deeper with them than you ever have before.”

Huh. I had accidentally bumped into this notion when I pledged to read all the unread books on my shelf in 2018 (which I did not do, thanks for asking), and the idea made perfect sense to me. We get caught up in the all the hype of the New Year New You thing, but what if we chose to focus instead on enhancing the things that make us who we already are? I’ve written before about Mastery, and I think the Depth Year really ties into that concept.

Building mastery builds not only our confidence, but our resilience – to failure, to difficulty, to obstacles, to the self-imposed limitations that tell us “no, you can’t do that.” What if we dug deeper into things we expressed curiosity about and then gave up when we realized we weren’t inherently gifted prodigies? You don’t become a writer overnight, just as you don’t become a professional athlete in a weekend, nor do you become a quilter when the impulse strikes you. There are hours and hours of work, learning, mistakes, successes and failures that go into these things but it all starts with a spark of curiosity or passion (and if you’re lucky a smidge of natural ability).

So no, I did nothing more than buy a few “Read This if You Want to Take Better Photographs” books in 2018. I continued to move the Sign Up for Photography Class item further and further down the list until it got lost in some kind of Bermuda Triangle type situation. I’m sure Amelia Earhart is enjoying learning how to use a DSLR though. HOWEVER. I’m refusing to accept this as a failure, and instead I’m framing this as a baby step, a confirmation of my continued interest in photography. I got a promo code from a photographer I follow in Instagram and wound up with two months of Skillshare Premium for free. I made a line item in my habit tracker to make sure I was actually WATCHING the class videos. I take notes. I read the owner’s manual for my camera. This won’t be an overnight success, but I’m committed to doing the work and learning that magical results will be a long time coming.

This is the beauty of the depth year though. Instead of setting lofty new goals for myself, I’m choosing to really focus on the hobbies and activities that have remained a constant in my life because these are clearly where my heart wants to be. It’s a matter of shifting priorities I guess, and accepting that even if I still don’t eat kale, at least I will one day be able to take moody still life photos of it.

TL;DR: Read About the Depth Year via

Why the Depth Year Was My Best Year