Thursday, January 03, 2008

The New Year

We place so much faith on the flip of a single page of the calendar. Three hundred and sixty five days come to a close, the earth slowly prepares for another journey around the sun and we tack up on the wall a fresh 12 pages to mark the seemingly sluggish passage of time, sighing to ourselves, much in the way we did last year, that December 31, 2008, seems so far away. But the new year harkens the promises of change, a break from tradition, the mundane repetition that sometimes blankets our lives with the smothering of duplication. Go to work, eat, sleep, go to work. Each day seems to be a mirror of the last and a reflection of the next.

Alas, when the new year comes around, wrapping up so nicely the holiday season with a smart little bow and a cheerful party, typified by a song nobody knows the words to (and those that do don’t know what they mean), we are offered the chance to renew ourselves with a promise of change. We’re going to lose weight. We’re going to work harder. We’re going to be more optimistic (my personal favorite). We’re going to take advantage of every fleeting moment in the hopes and dreams that we can eek out more meaning and more excitement in our lives. We’re going to save money. We’re going to the gym. We’re going to better ourselves in some way that will add pleasure, accomplishment, pride and a sense of significance to our existence.

All of this is leveled down upon us with a pop of a cork and a countdown to midnight, the revelry of friends and family, the enthusiasm for what the new year will bring… the one time we are allowed to look into the future and dream about the possibilities contained within 12 very short months. The change of the calendar brings with it a guilt that we too should change something about ourselves, whether they be lofty goals or trivial particulars, and soon we find that resolutions, though full of good intentions, are also loaded with disappointment and disillusionment. The year changed so easily, why can't you?

Sooner than we can say February, we’re back at it again: eat, sleep, go to work, pining for the weekends and the big plans, the future endeavors that will eventually change everything. The procrastination. The what-ifs. The maybes. The mights. The “everythings” never come because we never want them to; the status quo is such for a reason, and we fear change even the slightest fraction. Complacency is comforting, consistency offers a regular menu of steady predictability, and if the current situation is acceptable—regardless of whatever colored glasses you see it through—then why change it?

The one problem is that resolutions are doomed by their own ambitiousness, as the desire to find a quick salve to simmer your shortcomings and sanctify your all too lofty dreams of perfection becomes your eminent downfall. Setting yourself up for defeat and the depression that usually follows failure is hardly a way to start the year, so you find patronizing excuses to step out from under the guilt.

This becomes February’s argument against December’s promise of improvement. If you lose weight, you’ll have to buy new clothes. If you save money, you won’t have any fun. If you be more optimistic, you’re only hiding from reality (again, my favorite). If you stop and smell the roses, you’ll miss out on the race. Ah, February, you cold temptress, locked still in the shadows of winter, depressed, recoiled, inconsiderate of our dreams of betterment and progress. The last month of winter, the month of the dead, just before spring.

Soon enough, come March, you’re enjoying the routine of November all because you tried to fool yourself into thinking that a party with some champagne, a giant ball on top of a building and Dick Clark’s bland successor Ryan Seacrest in Times Square, is going to change your life… because you merely said it would.

Success does not come from thoughts or promises or resolutions, regardless of how much faith is bundled up with them. Success and change are the results of action. Going to the gym involves getting up off the couch. Saving money means you don’t need that Starbucks, regardless that the commercials say you do. And savoring every moment so you don’t miss out on life can only come if you are out in life making those moments.

Just because your house has a window, it doesn’t mean you have a good view, and just because you told yourself that your life is going to change, that doesn’t mean it automatically will. The only thing that can free you from the bonds of the mundane and the usual this year is yourself.

Imagine if everyone had one resolution they actually stuck with for the rest of their lives, with a new one added each and every year thereafter. What a great world this would be.

Regardless of what you do this year—get poorer, fatter, richer, or better—make it a good year for yourself and those around you.

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