After years of letting myself down I resolved this January to ban from my New Year’s forecast any resolutions to change my ways, to improve my life, to make myself better in any way. And so far I’ve stuck with the regimen. It hasn’t been as easy as you think.
I have spent most of life looking for new beginnings, vowing to start fresh, plotting earnest strategies for self-improvement and multistep plans for personal redemption. I envisioned gateways to transformative landscapes where I would become a shiny new person being all that I could be.
In 2009 I would exercise more, eat fewer cheeseburgers, floss my teeth and give up TV. Starting the first of next month I would keep good records, cook the weekend meals, swap out movies for books and ride a bike to work. Starting next Monday I promised to write stuff after the kids went to bed instead of checking the scores of my fantasy baseball team. And tomorrow I would begin answering each email in a timely and efficient manner, even return phone calls the same day they landed on my answering machine.
Never happened, never has.
Perhaps part of my Start Anew problem is that I am still afflicted with an academic mindset. I secretly long for the days of new school years, new semesters, new books, new teachers. You get to start all over again, clean slate, new grading period. You get to leave poor efforts and past transgressions behind. This time you’re really going to do it, get the most out of your education and your life. Time for renewal, new lease on life, tempus fugit, carpe diem and all that. A do-overs every few months sounds pretty good to me.
It never took long to sag back to normal, of course, but it was nice to have those momentary purges then surges of possibility to make you feel unsullied and resplendent again. Trouble is, life doesn’t work that way. I’ve spent most of my life trying to rise above myself, only to falter and admit time and again I am who I am.
In the process, though, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. There are no fresh new beginnings in life, no corners to turn, no golden arches. Life is a winding road made up of mostly long, gradual bends in that road. I have encountered some sharp turns, and I have emerged from some dark tunnels to bask in happy radiance, but even then there was no clear-cut threshold between before and after . . . and no passageway that delivered me from myself, that made me new. Rare, lightning-strike conversion experiences aside, we just don’t remake ourselves overnight.
That isn’t to say life doesn’t hurl us into foreign, life-changing landscapes or that we can’t change ourselves over time. It’s just that, as a person who has spent years vowing to start making those changes with this new year, or next month or this coming Monday, I learned to stop waiting for the right time to begin.
I’ve also learned that change comes from little steps and unheralded beginnings. I’ll pass up the cheeseburger and fries today, if not tomorrow. Or it might be Thursday already, and I haven’t worked out in two weeks, but I’m not going to wait till next Monday to start that bold new exercise regime — I’ll go on over to the gym now and not fret that a singular workout isn’t part of a much larger strategy to change my life.
Today is the day. We can only live in the moment. So I hereby resolve to do what I can today without burdening or diminishing my little victories with delusions of some grand scheme of personal transformation. I’ll just do away with goals. I’m tired of not meeting expectations. It’s really better to live without expectations. Seriously. But that’s a topic for another day. Maybe next week, or the week after.
Kerry Temple is editor of Notre Dame Magazine.