These Are a Few of My Ill-Favored Things

I don’t know a single person who has ever kept a new year’s resolution, including me. But that never stops us from making them. Like always, the day after Christmas, after all the toys and electronic gizmos were taken down, displays of workout gear and other doo dads that promise to slim one part of our anatomy or another were put up in their place. Commercials for Nutri-System (now starring Janet Jackson oddly enough), Weight Watchers, and Alli started airing before Christmas dinner had been given a chance to properly digest. (And if you take Alli, I promise you, nothing will digest properly ever again.)

Products that promise to help us quit smoking, get organized, save money, or do anything we’ve put off for most or all of 2011 will renew a desire in us to attack whatever weakness we perceive in ourselves and try to weed it out yet again. We’ve all been in that vicious cycle…the one you begin with every good intention and carry out for weeks or even months of the new year.

Until you quit.

However, most of us restart at least once only to give up again. After that, all that’s left is to hate ourselves and crawl into our dark caves of despair until the sting of failure is nothing but a dull ache somewhere between our third and fourth ribs, easily written off as angina or a pulled muscle.

I didn’t stop making resolutions because I always failed at them (though I did), but because a resolution almost sets a person up for failure. After all, how can we know what 2012 will bring? Maybe the year you swear you’ll lose fifty pounds is the year God has something else in mind. Heck, the year I vowed I’d finish grad school, I went into the hospital and came out with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Grad school simply had to wait until the following winter to be finished. My plans were put on hold for His, and let me tell you His were much better for me in the long run.

Just because you didn’t accomplish what you thought you should during a particular 365 day stretch doesn’t mean that your entire year was in vain. However, we like making lists, checking things off them, and feeling the sense of accomplishment that comes from it. And the thought of doing it when a new year arrives, fresh out of the box and still covered in shiny plastic is just so darned appealing…so symbolic.

As Leigh McLeroy says in her article for In Touch Magazine coming out in March, “We are, all of us, result-oriented people who serve a process-happy God.” I liked that quote when I first read it, so much so that I copied down on a Post-It and hung it on a board in my office already ripe to bursting with them. Sometimes, when I’m between tasks or letting my brain deflate after a particularly strenuous one, I look at that wall, and usually something leads me to find the one I need to read in that moment. But I digress.

What Ms. McLeroy is saying makes perfect sense. We like the concept of a process, having steps to follow, and being rewarded for carrying them out to the letter. However, sad though it is, I think we have been conditioned by Hollywood to think of those processes in montage format. You know–the ones made famous by movies like Rocky or pretty much any Disney moviewhere the hero’s long hours of training, pain, suffering, and growth is condensed into three or four minutes that’s usually paired with a catchy song?

Anyone who has ever truly accomplished something will tell you just how unrealistic it is to expect to gain it overnight. However, we live in a society built on the concept of instant gratification, and that, I think, is why many a resolution takes a dirt nap before the first green shoots of spring force their way up through the thawing soil.

I’m a firm believer in change–both the need for and the possibility of it–but the time of the year shouldn’t be what prompts it. I heard a DJ here in Atlanta say, “You have to have a resolution on January 1…just so you can break it January 2.” Really? To have a resolution only to break it is no resolution at all. I’d rather make it when my moment arrives and see it through to completion. For instance, I made dozens of promises to myself to lose weight, and I failed every time. When I finally made the decision to truly go for it, it was May or June. But my mind and my gumption were ready, and I’m one hundred pounds thinner today. Yes, I lost it and have kept most of it off for two years. It was always possible, but I had to be ready to bring it about rather than being told.

Also, change doesn’t mean you have to throw out everything you are to start over. Think of it like a room makeover. A blank slate to work with may sound appealing, but the work that is involved in stripping it bare is exhausting. And there’s nothing to show at the end of it but that raw, unfinished emptiness. Also, what’s worse is that you may lose tiny details and intricacies that are worth keeping, things that an entirely new version of that room can be built around.

I have to admit that the room metaphor wasn’t originally mine. I got the idea from Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Ellen Goodman who once said, “We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.”

That’s how I’m choosing to think in 2012. For me, 2011 was a pretty great year, and it was a much needed one after six or seven years of struggle on whole host of levels. I want to build on that by continuing to do those things that worked and doing them better. I want to break new ground, too.

Yes, I have many flaws, but I want to take the time to evaluate them and see if they aren’t things that can be reclaimed, refurbished, and (though I loathe to use a word like this) upcycled rather than simply chunked out the door of my soul. Because, as Touchstone says of his virgin daughter in As You Like It, it is “an ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own.”

I won’t call them “resolutions” as they’re more “projects” than anything else, and they won’t be bound by time. However, I will begin 2012 by focusing on three areas where I know I have potential. 

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1. My financial situation was much better in 2011 than it has been in recent years. Therefore, I want to continue to build upon that. My goal is to eventually have $10,000 in the savings account. It may be this year, maybe not, but I can make a good start.

2. Most people I know consider me to be exceedingly well read, but I went through my Goodreads page the other day and was embarrassed at how many of the classics I had never enjoyed either by choice or because my studies never brought me into contact with them. It’s not as terrible now as when I was an English teacher and had to admit I’d never read Moby Dick, but it’s still something I’d like to rectify. I would like 2012 to end with me having read at least three seminal works of English literature that I’ve never read before. I’ll wait to see what mood strikes me before I commit to any one of them.

3. I want to do one thing this year that will benefit me in some way such as teaching me a new skill like painting or cake decorating, something I can actually practice and use. I also want to provide the same experience for another person, but I don’t know who or how just yet!