Jubilee Resolution —
Once again, here we stand at the edge of a terrifying precipice.
No, I’m not talking about that damned fiscal cliff; I’m talking about the dawn of a new year.
For many people, New Year’s Eve is an opportunity to reflect and reassess the past 12 months and decide what direction the next 12 should take.
For some, that’s a terrifying prospect. Look back and recall all the times I fucked up? Look ahead to the uncertainty and unpredictability of it all? <sarcasm>Oh please, give me more of that.</sarcasm>
Two years ago I wrote about my love of New Year’s resolutions, despite the arbitrary nature of the milestone. There’s nothing inherently magical about New Year’s Eve or Day that make resolutions more or less successful than a resolution made on, say, June 23rd. But there is something reassuring to me about the consistency of the tradition and the promise of a fresh start. It’s all an illusion, of course, a trick of the calendar, but a powerful illusion nonetheless.
We can change our goals, our outlook, our resoluteness at any time, but New Year’s Eve, more than any other time of year (except, perhaps our birthday), makes us unavoidably aware of the Circle Game.
Many of us despise the Circle Game because we spent our youth fantasizing about the life that awaited us once we reached adulthood. In fact, it was the previous generation that promised us that we could achieve anything, be anyone, if only we set our minds to it. As a result, many feel as though a lifetime of effort has led them nowhere, or that our parents and our elders gave us empty promises and false hopes that determination could overcome any short-comings.
To put this in perspective, think of how many aspiring professional athletes ever make the majors. What sliver of the ambitious, driven multitudes ever make it to the draft, let alone sign on the dotted line?
It’s disheartening because at some point most people succumb to the realization that not all dreams are within reach; at some point, many of us abandon those childhood dreams for a less ambitious reality. Some call it selling out, some call it settling down, and some call it soul-crushing defeat.
None of this is true.
The idea that anyone can achieve anything with enough determination? Nonsense.
The idea that not reaching your lifetime goal is somehow a personal failure? Bullshit.
Like weight loss ambitions, the rhetoric and the fantasy surrounding Circle Game is institutional. You can’t swing a dead cat without some icon telling you that willpower is the only thing that stands between your fate and theirs. Then, of course, there are the thousands upon thousands of charlatans who try to capitalize on your hope by offering to teach you the secret path to success, whether in life or weight loss.
Ignore them all.
Anybody, anywhere can tell you a success story that inspires you to try, try again. How much of that story is grounded in reality versus fantasy is often obscured by the flash and sparkle of the storyteller. Just think of how many hucksters you’ve encountered in your lifetime, and how many of them take credit when you find success or assign blame when you fail.
Forget their stories. Forget their promises. Forget their “inspiration.”
The reality of success, in both life and health, is grounded in modest and adaptive reason.
Hard work can yield a lot of success in one’s life, yet leave you far short of the promises that inspire that work.
Perhaps you aspire to be a famous actor, which leads you to take every role you can get or attend every class you can afford. Perhaps you spend your entire youth pursuing an acting career, then pack your bags and move to Hollywood at 18. If your ambition tells you that happiness can only be achieved by seeing your name in the big lights, then you may lose the satisfaction that comes from all the “lesser” successes you have seen along the way. And if your feet never touch the red carpet, you may abandon what you really love (acting) for something you’ve been assured is the payoff for your passion (a Hollywood career).
The same goes for weight loss. In the pursuit of the perfect body, you may make all kinds of healthy changes in your life, like eating healthier foods and getting more exercise. Hell, you may even find that you enjoy how those behaviors make you feel. But if you never fit into a size 6, you may abandon what you really love (being healthy and feeling good) for something you’ve been assured is the payoff (being thin).
So forget the promises. Forget the dreams. Forget the payoff and the prize you believe you’re entitled to after working so hard.
In fact, stop thinking of your goals in terms of “working hard.” Doing what you love is not work. Doing what you love is passionate play, and whether that passion pays off or not is unimportant. What matters is how the fulfillment of that passion makes you feel.
All of this can be difficult to accept: that you’ll never have your dream career or your dream body. It may result in you making an annual resolution to recommit to your goals and to strive even harder to achieve success. My advice this year? Don’t.
If you must make a resolution, then don’t make one with an end result in mind.
Challenge yourself to make improvements, but do not dictate where those improvements will lead you.
Life has a funny way of disrupting our prescribed endpoints, yet we all feel cheated when we cannot steer life in the direction we wish. So, forget the endpoints and focus on the improvements that will make you happy, regardless of where you ultimately end up.
In fact, along with whatever resolutions you are planning to make for tomorrow, I encourage you to make one more: the Jubilee resolution.
In Judaism, the Jubilee was announced every 49 years on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, by blowing a ram’s horn called a shofar. According to the book of Leviticus, during the 50th year, the Jubilee year, all slaves and prisoners were to be freed to return to their family, all debts cancelled, and all property returned to its rightful owners.
Christianity also adopted the Jubilee celebration as a time for forgiveness of sins. In the Jubilee year, all were given a clean slate to start again. When followed literally, the restoration of property and freedom ensured that all of God’s people were given a fresh start. It was God’s way of showing compassion to a flawed and broken people.
This New Year’s Eve, consider making a Jubilee resolution for yourself. Whatever mistakes you’ve made, forgive yourself. Whatever goals you’ve failed to achieve in the past year, forget them. Whatever future you have in mind for yourself, reset it.
Begin 2013 by freeing yourself from the burden of expectation that you have no doubt placed on yourself year after year. Begin anew with a simpler, more compassionate goal. Consider what you love, what you are passionate about, and simply pursue that passion for the joy it brings you.
If you want to make healthy changes this year, then make those changes simply because those changes will make you feel good, not because you believe there will be a big payoff in the form of a “new body” when you reach 2014.
Most of all, be good to yourself this year. We are all capable of being our own worst critics; we are all capable of writing the definitive list of our failures and flaws; we are all capable of grinding our self-worth into a fine powder. But you need not be so hard on yourself.
With your Jubilee resolution, remind yourself that you are good and worthy of love, especially the love we deny ourselves. With your Jubilee resolution, remind yourself that life is it’s own reward and everything else is icing on the cake. Your slate can, and should, be wiped clean because your past does not define you and your future does not confine you.
Who you choose to be in 2013 depends upon how willing you are to be modest and adaptive. Be who you want to be, not because there’s a path you wish to follow, but because the steps you are taking may lead you to happiness in any direction.
The joy you seek will not be found when you reach that lifelong goal that drives you. It can only be found in the simple pursuit of that which makes you you.
May the next year be filled with the joy of self-discovery and the next new year find you closer to that joy. Only then will the Circle Game be something that you can win.