Like many of us, I’ve often started the New Year with at least one promise to myself. I’ve determined to kick old habits, to take the stairs instead of riding the escalator with the rest of the slugs, to speak my mind instead of holding my tongue, to bust those 100 sit-ups while watching the local news, to get on the floor more and play make-believe with my kid.
By a few days into the year, I’d usually forget about that earnest promise. And a week or so later, with a silent reprimand of “girl, you’ll never get it together,” I’d whip my car back onto the highway with those reckless folks zipping along with no traditional goal.
Many of us are on that road. A week into 2002, one friend said she was still deciding what her resolution would be. If that’s not a reason to let it go, I don’t know what is. Another said that this would be her year for losing those 20 pounds. Last year was her year too. For some of us, our solemn promises came in the heartbreaking days after Sept. 11th. As this year approached, and brought with it the end of one that tried our souls, I thought about what resolutions really mean to me. Then decided to do away with them altogether.
A new year is an arbitrary time to change your life. And a “Resolution” can be intimidating. Worse, we often announce it to our friends, and we owe them explanations too. Extraordinary changes, like getting serious about your money, or jump-starting a flagging career or junking junk food, come not because the clock strikes but because someone or something has jarred us into tackling an area of life that we’d neglected. Like when you realize you’re still low woman on the office totem pole. Or your doctor tells you that if you keep your diet up, it will kill you. Or you get an outrageous tax bill. Life happens, and then we act.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have a game plan for getting ahead and finding joy. But we shouldn’t make false promises to ourselves. We need to do what feels right at the time. Who says I don’t have it together? I’m the once-single sister who started saving from each paycheck for a trip to Paris a year in advance. Oui, oui. Paid cash much of the way. It wasn’t a big resolution, but little revolutions that got me there. If my girl who wants to drop those 20 pounds saw it that way, she’d start by aiming for two or three.
Back in the day, actually about 4,000 years ago, according to the Web site Ask Jeeves, early Babylonians started this resolution tradition. Their most popular one: promising to return borrowed farm equipment. These days, the most popular resolutions include exercising, making more money, “getting a life” and quitting cigarettes. Call that progress? I call it pressure.
From now on, I’m going to spend each new year taking stock. For me, 2001 was when I wore a bikini — O.K. a tank-ini — for the first time since I was pregnant. And I finished a book proposal that had been collecting dust. My family moved into a home that we had scrimped and saved to buy in 1999—and then spent a year and a half renovating. I can’t even remember last year’s resolution, but it had nothing to do with bikinis or houses or books. I’m in a different, and better, place today, and it’s not because of some pronouncement at the beginning of the year. It’s because of those revolutions: doing what really matters, one day at a time. I still ride the escalator, but you can also find me playing make-believe with my kid.
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