Joe and Belle had their first day of school yesterday after a nice, long holiday break, and Joe came home with a list of New Year’s Resolutions which his teacher had apparently asked the kids to formulate on their first day back.
For his family, Joe’s resolution was “doing all my chors.” For his teacher, he resolved to “do good work in shcool” (which would include, presumably, his learning to spell “school.”). For his friends, his resolution was to “give them help.”
I’m glad Joe was asked to spend some time thinking about what he would like to accomplish in the next 12 months and I think everyone one of his ambitions is absolutely worthwhile. But what’s ten times more important is that I think he and all the other kids in his first-grade class might actually have some chance of achieving their goals, unlike the rest of us.
I just visited a website that lists the Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions we Americans have for ourselves, and it’s exactly what you’d expect. A lot of it is health-related: lose weight, start an exercise program, stop smoking. A lot of it is money-related: spend less, save more, get out of debt. And some of it is about things we want to start doing rather than stop doing: learning a new skill such as a musical instrument or a foreign language.
But are we accomplishing the things we say, year after year, that we want to accomplish? Americans aren’t losing weight at all; we’re fatter than ever so apparently it’s just the opposite. Consumer debt, according to the economists, continues to rise unabated – in fact we’re mortgaged to the hilt. And as far as learning an exciting new skill goes, I’m not sure there’s a lot of reason for optimism there, either. The very first item on the Top Ten List of New Year’s Resolutions was to “spend more time with family and friends” so it appears that people are already too busy to do the things they really care about; I can see how learning to play the mandolin might have a hard time squeezing itself in there.
But it’s different if you’re six. You can quite suddenly, and with no explanation or warning to your mother, go from loving spaghetti squash to actually retching at the sight of it. You can have one best friend this week and another next week, with very little in the way of hard feelings. You can say your favorite color is hot pink and then when presented with a hot pink sweater a month later, be seriously aggrieved. “But pink is for babies!” you’ll say.
In other words, if you’re six, you can change.
Glory hallelujah, what would that be like? I don’t mean what would it be like to just act on a whim, or simply be fickle, but what would it be like to allow yourself to make a substantive change, only because you’d made up your mind to? The very idea of that – of not being in a rut and not having the slightest allegiance to old habits – is so intellectually freeing that it’s almost difficult to fathom.
Rather than eating because you always eat at some particular hour, you could ask yourself whether or not you were truly hungry. Rather than whipping out your credit card just because something was on sale, you could ask yourself if you really wanted to own it. Rather than agreeing to do something just because people expected you to, you could surprise everyone by gracefully bowing out.
So my own New Year’s Resolution this time around is not to lose weight, stop spending, or learn Cantonese; it’s broader than that. It’s to be more like my little son and daughter, to allow myself to make changes in my life, whatever they might be. Even if they’re – yes – losing weight, spending less, or mastering an exciting new skill. I think the first step – and if there’s any magic in it, the magic step – might be simply embracing the idea of change. It might be mentally just allowing yourself to be different today than you were yesterday. It might be as simple as letting go.
So that’s my New Year’s Resolution. I’d sure love to hear yours, too, if I had the time . . . but I’m afraid I’ve got to get to the gym.