New Years’ Resolution… or Every Day Revolution?

Janus, the Roman god with two faces, was able to look into the past as well as ahead to the future.  He’s the reason why the first month of our calendar year, January, is named the way it is.  January marks the closing of the last year and the start of the new one – in this case, 2014.  Like the Ancient Romans, the Babylonians, and numerous religious groups around the world have for thousands of years, you can bet loads of people are making “New Year’s Resolutions” to honor this temporal transition to January.  But, while Janus was omniscient and powerful, wasn’t he also just an old, obsolete, two-faced guy?

The truth is, making a “New Year’s Resolution” is a passé routine for spineless conformists – and it can bring the two-facedness out of people that lack enduring willpower.  “But it’s self-improvement!”, you say?  Tell me how “self-improved” you are by the time spring comes and you need Lent – or your Lent-practicing Christian peers – to remind you of self-discipline and how you didn’t lose twenty pounds but in fact gained them.  But that’s just it – all of these “self-disciplinary” routines are just diluted remnants of past cultures where sacrificing first-born children was your socially acceptable ticket to heaven.  In other words, “New Year’s Resolutions” hundreds to thousands of years ago were not much different than Lenten traditions: sacrifice and self-improvement for the sake of Christianity.  So today… where does that leave us today in a very diverse America?

If only the devout spiritualists of those bygone times could observe the things that motivate people in modern American society.  Did you know the top resolutions in recent years include losing weight, exercising, eating healthier, drinking less alcohol, and better managing money?  In a snapshot perspective, these resolutions make America seem gluttonous, lazy, alcoholic, and greedy.  Oh – actually that seems pretty accurate.  To those of you who actually partake in making resolutions as a way of internal self-improvement, kudos to you for adhering to the original tradition as closely as possible.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand that some of us eat too much, exercise too little, and the like… but isn’t that something you should be self-improving constantly?  Even internal self-improvement: Does it really take the flip of the Gregorian calendar – an artificial point in time along the elliptical path the Earth follows around the Sun, a revolution – for you to say, ‘Oh, gee, I should get serious about this now!’ ? Because, if that’s how you think, you’re not going to resolve anything.  To really improve a problem, there is no “I’ll start on that day” because then you can always just say “I’ll start tomorrow…the next tomorrow”.  It should just be, “I need to fix this…so I’m going to fix it.  Now.”  Forget a New Year’s Resolution – that is part of an Every Day Revolution.

So, because I choose neither to sacrifice babies to an ancient god nor to put any real faith in labeling time through our calendar system (which, by the way, vastly differs between cultures), I am not going to be making neo-traditional New Year’s resolutions.  Instead, I’m going to resolve – as I do every day, June 1st or January 1st – to keep doing what I do.  And what do I do?  I land myself in the middle of third-world countries with too little cash, tour new cities by brewery, kick back with Sylvia Plath and my cats and no friends because I have none, and tell myself that one day I will save the world with engineering…as soon as I learn how to engineer.

Happy It’s-Just-Another-Day (but drink champagne and eat Hoppin’ John with collard greens anyway)!

Fear and Starting.

One thing that has got me wrapped up a lot in thoughts lately is committing to something, to starting. I write and will continue to write a lot about change, about fear, and about decisions. But what about when you combine change, fear, and decisions into a single moment? What does that become? Well, it may not seem obvious, but doesn’t it just become a new beginning?

Starting over, starting fresh, starting anew – that all sounds fantastic. But starting one thing often means replacing or ending another, if not simply stressing yourself out and spreading yourself too thin. Starting can mean a lot of unknown territory. Therefore, starting involves a lot of change, put into effect by cue of a decision, and constantly provoked by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of having made that wrong choice. Fear of the consequences of that change.

So “starting” is deeply rooted in fear, no matter how wonderful and ambitious starting something might feel. I think what I fear the most about starting is my inability to endure and the probability (or sometimes inevitable reality) that I will fail. If I’m starting a new crocheting project, failure seems habitual. (If only you realized how many times I’ve forgotten a project, or set it aside and lost count of my stitches, or even left it somewhere for my cats to half-unravel. What’s worse is when I try to knit because, no matter how rectangular my piece should be, it always turns into a 45-45-90 triangle… ineptitude FTW!) If I’m starting a book, failure seems unlikely but not at all dangerous (bookmarks are easily forgotten and books re-shelved). But what if that failure involves other people?

I’m always fearful of starting anything involving another person. And I don’t just mean a friendship or relationship; I mean anything that might come with it an unspoken expectancy of consistency and repetition. I’m terrified of letting people down and being remembered for it. I’m also fearful of starting any kind of group or inspirational movement. It’s a silly fear, because my goal in life is to make a change in the world that will last longer than I will. You have to jump to kick-start such strides. But what if I jump and there was nowhere I could’ve gone? Something I missed? No one to follow me? What if everyone will stand at the top and just laugh at me and not help me back up?

It’s really easy to be frustrated by a friend who can’t pull himself away from the things he has grown to know best. He doesn’t want to abandon his old ring of friends, his family, his hometown, his high school memories. He wants to replay, relive, and continue to stay in the life he has always known. With me becoming such a reckless wanderer over the past year who invites nothing but chaos and unknowns as a way to get through the rough times, I tend to forget that he hasn’t experienced any new personal growth in a while. He doesn’t understand the inspiration in starting a new path.

It’s really hard to see that and then to step back and realize I can’t blame him for not taking that leap. I might not see leaving home or friends or an old relationship as a challenge the way it was two years ago, but I am afraid to speak my mind at times when I know he would stand up for himself. Those times are the latter of which I was speaking, the times that involve other people to start a movement. My friend is eager to get people onboard, to provoke their minds and create his own bandwagon. I, however, am afraid to do that; and it’s what I want to do the most.

That is when I got a fortune cookie that changed me: “Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid.”

When I got back from Colorado at the start of November, I sent out a survey to a lot of people whom I knew and didn’t know so well. It was a survey asking for feedback on the movement I wish to begin in my community. It was outlandish in ways and definitely provoking. I had some hateful responses from people who clearly are not personally involved. As much as I wanted to cave and let them defeat me, I remembered why I was doing this for the first place and realized it was not for me but for the people I care about. That’s when I started to let the positive feedback sink in and I realized how much praise I was being given.

“You’re an inspiration to me; your ideas are radical, but if they work this will be life-changing for so many people. Even if it doesn’t work, this will still change our lives by your inspiration.”

I’m not in it for the recognition, but that sentiment was exactly what I needed to make me realize this is why I’m here. I can’t sit back and let these desires burn; I’d burn up from anxiety. Instead, I have to let it catch me on fire and just go running off that cliff. I’ve gotten over my fear of changes in work, friends, and hometown, but now I’m going to get through this too and decide that I’ve got to put my armor down. People might hurt me from time to time, but I’ve got to act like a martyr for my cause before I even have a reason to be acknowledged. Confidence is enough to convince people you are not one to be questioned or taken lightly. And so I act boldly. And those forces have come to my aid from unseen places. The ball is rolling.

And that fortune is still sitting next to my stapler.