Welcome to 2012! According to the Mayans (or, more accurately, the New Age fanatics), we have less than a year to live! But the rest of us reasonable people know that the world has much more happiness and heartache, mirth and misery, feast and famine in store. The universe is here for the long haul, and humans will likely be here for a while longer too. So enjoy life while it is here!—and be sure that others do as well.
New Year’s has always been a time of reflection for me, as it is for many. I prefer to find a quiet place to sit and ponder, rather than the raucous, drunken celebration of a changing calendar and a ball dropping. For me, Christmas is a time to celebrate, but New Year’s is a time to reflect on what has been and what is to come. Such reflection should really happen continually, for every day is a step forward. After all, January 1st merely marks an arbitrary point in the circumnavigation of the Earth around the Sun. We are always moving, always being propelled forward into the future. Without an understanding of the past and a clear vision of the future, we are condemned to stumble blindly about, never finding solid footing. The Earth may always smoothly travel in its orbit, but we have no such guarantee. And so, as the old year leaves and the new year makes its entrance, I prefer to keep the company of my thoughts, with a mind to my own actions and the development of my character.
Every year, on New Year’s Eve (or thereabouts), I write a letter to myself for the following year. Since 2008, these letters have brought me insight into the progress I have made, the aspirations I hold dear, and the ways in which I have changed my beliefs and opinions. I write about what has happened and about what I hope to accomplish over the next year; I write words of encouragement to myself and points to remember. Each year, I write what is on my mind, and then seal it in an envelope for myself one year in the future. Over the course of the year, I forget what I have written, but when I finally open the letter, my memories return. Though it seems a little strange to say, writing and reading these letters is a special moment of solidarity with myself. It reminds me of where I have come from, and strengthens my resolve to continue transforming into a better person. In a way, the act of reading the letters itself changes me, for I gain a better perspective of who I am and where I am headed. I am not a single point, but a vector, pointed in a specific direction.
So, New Year’s is a special time that I share with myself. I jealously guard that moment; it is so quickly lost as routine and “normal life” creep back in. I don’t mind spending the time alone, because I am really joined by the echoing voices of my past selves. I share the moment with the words of of my dearest friends, the ones who always wish me well, for one day they know they will be me. And I in turn become another echoing voice, directed out into the murky haze of the future, knowing my words will reach a better man. That man will be better than me because I am the one who will make him so.
It is said that most New Year’s resolutions go unfulfilled, abandoned before they even have a chance to settle. But I feel the traditional approach is misguided. Making resolutions for the sake of making resolutions is a waste of one’s time. Without a clear vision of who one is and who one wishes to be, setting goals is useless. When you know where you wish to go, the goals fall naturally from this vision; the goals are now steps along a path. They must be directed, and the direction must be charted by what you are most passionate about. Such a statement is deceptively simple, for we often do not fully understand where our passions lie. Resolutions about “going to the gym more” do not fail because of busy schedules or forgetfulness, but because in the moment, one finds that one places more value in sitting and watching TV than in being healthy. When we are mistaken about who we really are—in the everyday situations in which we are normally immersed—we fail to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves. It is only by understanding ourselves, our values, and our passions that we make progress. My exercise in writing letters to my future self is a way of understanding who I am and reinforcing my values. Such a task provides a continuity between my past self and my future self—an unbroken chain of conscious agency. It’s just a shame that I only do it once a year.
This New Year’s, I would suggest that you take a moment, like me, to reflect on who you have been over the past year. Don’t gloss over the failures, but don’t diminish the successes either. Recollect the good and the bad, and find a coherent image of who you are. Then focus on the direction in which you are headed. You may find that your path will become clearer as you shine the reflective light upon it. If you find that your path is not where you wish to go, muster the resolve to course-correct and find concrete, practical steps to change direction. If you are on target, be sure of your footing and surge ahead. While you have no control over what has happened in the past, you can take control of your future. With a solid grasp of who you are and a firm vision for who you wish to be, you can do just that.
This year will provide us all with opportunities and challenges to sharpen us. May you leave 2012 a better person than when you entered it. Happy New Year to you!