Happy New Year everyone! Now that the calendar has turned to 2012, we can all partake in the great American pastime of remaking ourselves. Every media outlet celebrates this holiday as a chance to make resolutions: to stop overeating, overspending, watching too much TV, and ignoring your dog. If you’re really progressive, your resolution might even be to stop beating up on yourself for not keeping resolutions. But doesn’t this all miss the point?
While I like the idea of getting a second chance or a new beginning, how does New Year’s offer us this? Who really looks back on their life and says, “I was lazy and selfish until New Year’s Day 2012, and then I was different.” In other words, nothing changes on New Year’s Day. We’re in a new calendar year, but we’re still the same people with the same problems, still trying to be different. But we fail.
I’m really not trying to be negative. But I don’t think any substantive change is possible till we recognize that it takes more than a disco ball and a few bars of “Auld Lang Syne” to transform our brokenness. The truth is, if we had our lives to do over again, we’d do exactly the same thing, because that is who we are.
So what can New Year’s offer us? The main thing New Year’s offers us is a chance to look back, to take stock of who we are and where we’re going. The calendar year is a great tool for tracking failures and accomplishments within a specific timeframe, and therefore a chance to see what we wish were different about our lives. But it’s what we do with that information that matters.
I stopped making resolutions years ago, mainly because I hated failing. It felt hypocritical to say I was going to do something and then lack the willpower to follow through. But that doesn’t mean I stopped trying to change. Now, instead of resolutions, I have goals. It may seem like a meaningless distinction, but pursuing goals instead of making resolutions freed me up to fail. A goal is something we work toward with the expectation that we will fail numerous times along the way. And that’s okay. Change takes commitment. It requires relentless pursuit of a goal. And if we give up the first time we fail, we will never achieve our goals.
Aside from the actual achievement of our goals, this process offers us the opportunity for personal growth. We learn to accept ourselves as we are, and we learn the discipline to keep working toward something in the face of adversity. And isn’t discipline at the heart of most of our resolutions anyway? It’s this discipline that allows us to achieve our goals.
It should be noted that some goals are not totally within our power to achieve. For example, landing a dream job or getting married. We can do things to make them more likely, but we can’t guarantee it. And again, it’s how we handle this adversity that matters. Learning to deal with pain and disappointment is an accomplishment well worth recognizing, though few would make it a goal of theirs.
So when the ball drops this year, don’t expect a fitter, more responsible you to take over, but do take stock of your failures and accomplishments for the year. And if you are ready, set a goal that you are willing to commit to, failures and all.