The new year is an instrument of positive change – make the most of it.
Cover Image Credit: Florian Rohart (Flickr)
I love the holidays. I have been the benefactor of its magic on many occasion, most notably in 2016 when I crossed paths with Julianne at a downtown Vancouver hotel lobby. There is something that’s just in the air that makes the season a joyous one, even for many people who do not have much to be happy about.
Though I am happy when the holidays come to a close. Most are eager to get back to a certain sense of normalcy, where the biggest concerns stem from the near-maxed out credit card bills that are in the mail. My sense of joy comes from a different place: that although arbitrary and, some would even say imaginary, there is something about putting up the new year’s calendar that allows me to do a hard reset on many of my own perspectives about events and the direction of my life.
Someone once said that “the holiday season is a time of reflection, of resolution and of renewal.” I like to think that person was a great orator because I was the one who said it, at a speech in 2003.
For much of my adult life, the holidays have been spent far from family, and when not spending them alone or working, they were spent in the company of a select few. The season provided me with an opportunity to look inward — to think about what went right and what went wrong; to appreciate success and to learn from negative experiences. A few days before the new year, I’d sit down with pen and paper and start writing a letter to myself — a tradition I’ve stayed true to since 2000 — which outlines the things I’d like to accomplish in the year to come. I admit that I’m somewhat embarrassed to go back to the letters of my teen years, because many of the promises made then seem outlandish and unreasonable.
This post is the public part of that letter to myself. The only thing I’ll conceal from public view are the actual resolutions; all eighteen of them, all of them categorized under ten different themes.
The reason I mention a number is because that’s something a reader will immediately dismiss. Usually when I’m asked to discuss my new year resolution system, I’m faced with the same criticisms: “Oh you’re just giving yourself an opportunity to fail,” or “you should just stick to one broad theme and attack it all year.” Sure, if that’s what works for you then great. My experience, my own and those of friends, has been that setting one large goal to be accomplished within the year either ends in failure or in the impossibility to measure progress towards success.
For the moment, I am blessed to live a life free of any major disruption. I know many people who are not so fortunate, and for many of them, their New Year’s resolution might be singular and seemingly insurmountable. If you’re someone battling a life-altering disease, you’re very survival demands that your resolution be to kick cancer’s ass, which is entirely valid. I am fortunate to not be in that position, and can afford myself the luxury of a more balanced approach to goals this year.
Every goal I set needs to be measurable. I need to be able to see what the progress is towards success. Writing a manuscript for a novel, for example, requires a minimum word count of 50,000 words; having a rainy day fund requires me to have a spare $5,000 in an easily-accessible savings account; living a more active lifestyle can be reflected in how many kilometres you run, how many steps you take per day or how much weight you plan on dropping.
Every year, on this very day, I’m destined to re-learn the same lesson I had taken to heart when I was six years old.
My first grade teacher had an entire section on the wall of her classroom dedicated to inspirational quotes. The most prominent one had all of it’s letters individually cut-out on pages of red construction paper and stuck to the wall in a large wave of text. It’s message was:
La clé de votre succès — c’est vous.
It’s French for “The key to your success — it’s you.”
We live in a world and in a time where it might seem that this isn’t true. In Vancouver, for example, young people are being squeezed out of an astronomically-expensive housing market. This is one case where millennial like myself have it worse than the generations that came before us. If home ownership is your goal in 2018 and you live in BC’s Lower Mainland, you might feel as though your success is impeded by circumstances beyond your control, and you’d get no argument from me.
But overall, the lesson rings true for most things. 2017 saw me face a number of unwanted challenges: an irresponsible and dishonest landlord; feelings that people at work were holding me back from more desirable opportunities; a death in the family that led to sudden and unexpected expenditures; challenges that occur naturally with having a relationship with a woman who is still waiting on her documents that allow her to look for work. I’ve managed to overcome all of these challenges last year, whether by speaking out or taking a difficult but principled stand, by asking for help when appropriate and honest communication about how to make things better and easier to manage.
I’ve learned that it’s good to have big goals. Ambition, or better yet, the desire to make a contribution that leaves a lasting, positive difference in the lives of others, is what ultimately motivates me to get out of bed in the morning. The simple truth about big dreams that many procrastinators fail to learn is that the accomplishment of big goals generally prerequires the ability to accomplish small, measurable objectives.
It is in that spirit that I come into this new year with a sense of renewal. Yes, the changing of the calendar is an arbitrary demarcation. People need to strive to be better everyday, and the work of being better does not restart, but continues, every first day of January. There is; however, a natural human condition to evaluate, recalibrate and adapt to change.
A new year is an important instrument of positive change. Let’s make the most of it.