December 30th, 2015
Dear Jeremy and Ayla,
As the year is coming to a close it is the season of people making both private and public promises to better themselves. This is generally a good idea–setting goals for the betterment of oneself. The New Year is a natural (well, socially constructed) breaking point for reflection on past events and actions. It doesn’t really matter which New Year is being celebrated–such reflection can come at the end of any time span. For example, students often look at new school years as a time to remedy their scholarly shortcomings. Others promise to read more books. Take cooking lessons. Call their grandma more often. The list is endless. We are flawed as a people and flawed as people. To err, as the cliche goes, is human.
The idea of self-reflection and betterment is an utterly beneficial and positive practice for your relationships, your professional growth, and your development as an individual. So, why then, have I titled this letter “Why I don’t Do New Year’s Resolutions”?
The answer is not complicated. Betterment and reflection are every day practices. Attempts to use the “New Year” or any other break that comes every so often are probably doomed to failure. Every “New Year’s Resolution” I’ve ever made has ended in failure. The memes circulating social media this year around the subject reflect the same. People start off New Year’s Resolutions strong and then they fade into failure, only to be picked up again at the next New Year. This is a routine of failure, and a failure to use failures to fuel success.
Successes can be defined by failures and persistence to overcome. I don’t need a particular date to make my way back to the gym. This is a routine I’ve ineffectively introduced and failed to embrace many times–the reality is that physical fitness isn’t something I’ve integrated into my lifestyle because other things supersede its importance for me. I hope to someday prioritize my fitness over other less beneficial or trivial matters, but I haven’t yet.
Failure and mistakes are essential components to experience, education, and success. I don’t particularly enjoy the sting of failure or the embarrassment of mistakes but I don’t fear their essence. I know that, when effectively put in perspective, they will inform the route to change or success that I need to better myself. But these changes and these opportunities to succeed come daily.
The reasons that New Year’s Resolutions often don’t hold is simple. If you have to wait for “The New Year” (whatever that means to you) to make a change in the way you live your life, you aren’t really ready for the change. When you want to make a change in your life…you make it. I always compare it to smoking cigarettes. I was a cigarette smoker for eight years. For most of the time I was truly addicted to smoking cigarettes, I knew I should quit. I knew it was bad for my health. I knew it was increasingly irresponsible and that there would be consequences to my actions someday.
But, I didn’t want to quit. Sometimes, I wished I wanted to quit–I wanted to want to quit. But I didn’t want to quit. Then, one day I just stopped. I’ve not had a cigarette since August 1st, 2010 and I won’t ever have another. I was ready to make a change and I did it. I didn’t stop smoking because it was August or because it was summer or I was on vacation. I stopped smoking because it was past time to stop smoking (I should have never started). I was ready to make that change in my life.
Sometimes, there are problems that are deep seeded, easier buried, and none-the-less toxic that are painful and difficult to come to terms with. They aren’t always easy to “cold turkey” either. But change isn’t entirely about success–the workout snowbirds aren’t bad people for missing their days at the gym. They are, however, at fault for not going back (and I’ll include myself in that group). Sometimes you must find the resolve to repair some truly difficult habit, or a bad routine, or a relationship. Some are easier to embrace than others, and it entirely depends on your willingness to accept failure, reflect, overcome difficulties, and repeat until your reach your successful moment.
Relationships can be especially difficult to navigate because they are two-way street. Finding a flaw in yourself is easier (but by no means easy) because you are only accountable to yourself in making the change. When there are others involved it becomes difficult–and this is true of all relationships: friend, family, romance, professional, whatever. You might be more than willing to change and your counterpart may not be able to see the necessity or agree with your new direction. They may not accede that a routine is poisonous. Sometimes the change comes at a great cost and the relationship cannot be salvaged. Other times it can or is revived, renewed, rehabilitated, or recreated. People are finicky and difficult to predict in the face of change. But whether or not we choose to we do change and we can either take an active role in our evolution and development or a passive role. We can allow these changes to be negative or we can take the reigns and ensure that we are aligning ourselves to a positive trajectory. This is true of our relationships and of ourselves.
The endeavor of betterment is a daily practice. The same is true for reflection. Every day is an opportunity to do justice to yourself and, if you ask me, waiting for some arbitrary date is just evidence that you aren’t ready to make that change happen. Which is okay most of the time. There are times when you’ll never be ready to make a change–you can’t see it, you’re afraid, or its painful–and you need a swift kick in the ass to get in motion (this is, without a doubt your Mother’s speciality! Thank goodness for her swift boot to my posterior). Change is messy and not often as binary as “smokes/doesn’t smoke”. There aren’t many dummy variables in life but there are transitions and spectrums. When you’re ready, you’re ready. And if you aren’t ready, you’re still ready. Change is always coming and so is tomorrow–every day is a New Year and every choice is a resolution.
So, I don’t do “New Year’s Resolutions” because I try to live my life reflectively, making choices that are about perpetual growth and betterment. There’s no reason to waste time waiting for 1/365th of the year to show up to make yourself stronger, healthier, smarter, better.
Do or do not. Fail then do again. Succeed in always doing again until you get it right.
Maybe be the time I’m 50 and Jeremy is 25 I’ll have gotten it right and I’ll be perfect, but good God I hope not. How boring would it be to be right and perfect every time? Where’s the excitement in that?
P.S.- In the intervening time since my last letter I’ve completed my first semester of doctoral study at Hofstra, Jeremy has gone through about half of his Kindergarten year, and Ayla has had a birthday and has become an emerging reader. It is amazing to track our developments together. As you are both developing number sense and travel at your own paces through phonemic awareness and literacy I am slowly becoming more comfortable with the title of scientist and learning the language of research and research design. You grow spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically by leaps and bounds. You are caring for each other and thick as thieves while at the same time at each other’s throats in a way that is beautifully everything your Mother and I ever hoped for our sibling children. I’ve also learned to braid Ayla’s hair and hopefully organize all your toys. The latter is a development that will hopefully serve us well once our basement renovations are complete. It is always our joy to watch you grow, and cautiously let you fall on your faces so we can help you pick yourselves back up again.