An Audacious New Year

On New Year’s Eve, I had a dream.

I was at a beautiful watering hole. The water was calm and clear, and the weather was perfect. In the dream, I was not with any friends or family, but there were other people enjoying the lake. It seemed like the perfect place to relax and unwind, so I waded into the water, but almost instantaneously, I was overcome with fear. I was convinced that there was an alligator lurking beneath the surface. I tried to tell myself that the fear was irrational, but ultimately, the fear overcame me, and I had to get out of the water.

The next morning, I immediately interpreted my dream as a metaphor. While I certainly found some humor in the fact that my brain inserted an alligator as a symbol for my anxieties (very Louisiana), the implication that I cannot relax without fear of some terrible consequences wasn’t lost on me. My husband learned years ago that telling me to take a break and relax doesn’t really work. We joke that I don’t know how, but recently, it feels like I just can’t. I feel like if I don’t take advantage of every minute of the day, I’ll never catch up, I’ll never get all the things done that need to be done. Taking time to do nothing or to put myself first is never enjoyable because I always feel like I should be doing something else more important or more productive.

New Year’s Day, as I drank my coffee and mentally planned my day, I scrolled through Facebook and read everyone’s declarations for the New Year, my dream fresh on my mind. Some people made resolutions to be more active or to travel more, and many more declared focus words for the year. They chose words like “present” and “intentional,” words that acknowledge how easy it is to get caught up in the daily grind and miss out on life. I wanted to be inspired by these words, but I felt they implied that people can simply resolve to choose their priorities and didn’t acknowledge that sometimes life just throws things at you. 2023 had done just that and had put me in survival mode. As someone who is a self-confessed control freak, 2023 had left me feeling more out of control than ever before, and suddenly entering a new year didn’t change that feeling.

I decided I needed a word that better reflected what I most needed from 2024, not what I was going to force out of it. What I had most needed from 2023 was time to do all that needed to be done, fewer responsibilities (many of which I had been voluntold for), and for people to actually hear me when I said I was drowning rather than to simply respond “you got this” or “I’m not worried about you.” At first, I thought “less” might be a great word, but I can’t control the “less” right now as so many of the things that have overwhelmed me will remain my responsibility, at least for a little while longer.

Then I thought about my dream. How nice it would have been to be unaffected by the fear of the alligator. How wonderful it could have been to simply enjoy the nice day and float in the water without the anxiety-gator lurking beneath the surface. I thought of the word “bravery,” but that didn’t quite feel right. I didn’t just need to be brave enough to deal with the potential alligator. I’d been down that stream before, and the gator only got bigger because the people and circumstances feeding it saw that I could handle more. Instead, I needed to be willing to swim in the waters despite the fear of the alligator – to let myself unwind despite the overwhelming to-do list, but this has always been so hard because I’ve always worried about the consequences. What happens when I don’t meet the unrealistic expectations that have been imposed on me? What will people think?

In true English teacher fashion, I turned to the thesaurus, looking up the word “brave.” Words like “heroic,” “courageous,” and “strong,” all echoed the same idea that made “brave” so unsuitable. I didn’t want to be “strong” anymore; I wanted permission to be weak, to fail without fear, to set things down for a while and breathe. Then I landed on the word “audacious.” Audacious means willing to take risks, but it also means disrespectful or impertinent.

I need to be audacious enough to stay in the water, to risk the alligator for the sake of peace and rest. And if people (myself included) interpret my break as having the audacity to prioritize myself over the never-ending, humanly impossible to-do list, I’ll just need to remind myself that their definition of the word and mine are different. I’m just going to have to grow comfortable with risking their ire for the sake of my tranquility.

Kelly Vollmer
Kelly first moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, from which she earned a B.S. in Psychology and English and an M.A. in English. She quickly discovered New Orleans was the place where she had always belonged, and her high school sweetheart, Jeff, soon followed her here. They have now been married for 16 years and have two beautiful girls, Emma Jane (11) and Hannah (6), and 4 year-old pup named Ember. Kelly is a lover of all things nerdy, a proud fangirl, and she is a passionate high school English teacher.


  1. Kelly, As a teacher of almost 40 years, I will tell you the tasks never end. I understand your overwhelming responsibility to family, students, and peers, but time passes, and you must take care of yourself so you can care for others. You are a wonderful mother, wife, daughter, teacher, and mentor. Give yourself grace. No one expects what you expect of yourself, but you will burn out. Take a walk, breathe, and kiss your sweet girls. It will all still be there when you get back. Love you all!


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