When did ambition become a bad thing? If you just read the comments under your favorite blogs and columns you would think we’ve become a nation of naysayers, slackers and reactionaries with a poor command of the language save expletives — “Life is unfair and you suck.” Apparently there is always someone to blame — the Banks, the Congress, the Media Elite or [your favorite villain goes here]. I guess the idea of being free and responsible to create your own good fortune is an idea better left to bygone days. So why bring it up now? Because normally, around this time of year it’s customary to concoct some aspirational goals that you hope will inspire you throughout the New Year — lose weight, write that novel or just stop yelling at the kids so much. It’s a resolution because you are declaring your intent to be resolute, stick with it and prevail through the course of obstacles that divide you from your ambition — half-witted coworkers, unforeseen expenses, chocolate éclairs and the like. Your resolutions bring a sense of destiny to your life.
Still, next New Year, if you didn’t achieve all your targets the calendar forgives you as you take one more lap around the solar cycle. America is after all the land of second and even third chances — think recently disgraced politicians or your brother in law who is on his third marriage. Even those who obtain their goals come to realize that they didn’t really get “there” because there really is no “there.” There is only the next “there” — Version 55.0 or a debt paid or a love requited. To a cynic this may seem analogous to cursed Sisyphus pushing his rock up the steep hill only to have it roll back to the bottom each time. But the optimist knows that is our incompleteness that pulls along. Ben Franklin could have stopped after being an author, entrepreneur, scientist or even postmaster but thankfully he continued on to become a patriot and founding father. It was his desire to be more that kept him moving forward — “Energy and persistence conquer all things.” You are ever a work in progress. It’s the constant revisions that make your story compelling.
Usually at this time of year I notice unfamiliar faces at the gym or former students returning to school to complete that degree or maybe it’s just a newfound friendly demeanor on a colleague who has been stressed and sour for ages. Not this year. Where is the positive attitude? The energy? That misguided sense of can-do? I may have the answer. During my short but much needed downtime during the holidays I had a chance to catch up on some reading, watch a few talk shows and even listen to my favorite public radio programs. It seemed as if everywhere I turned there was an expert with the same message: “Don’t make New Year’s resolutions because they never work. Besides, you are perfect just the way you are.” Now I’m in favor a self-acceptance, a positive body image and the importance of seeing the good in others but not to the extent that they thwart your growth as a person and our progress as a people. You see, to become more you have to want more. That’s right, I said it. The ego, that much maligned scoundrel of the New Age clique, is essential if our society is to function as a meritocracy. Greatness, by any criteria, requires us to distinguish it from the ordinary, common and nominal. But these comparisons are unnecessary, the argument goes, because they make people unhappy. Yes, dissatisfaction is a powerful emotion that can either drive you into stifling avoidance behavior or compel you to improve your circumstances. It comes down to choice. Do you want to be pushed by the expectations of others or pulled by your own desire to become better and new?
So how can you muster up the courage, fortitude and energy to spend another year chasing goals you may not have achieved in years past?
Let’s leave perfection to Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way, and just work on getting better, or better yet, getting new. After all it is that time of year when the days are shortest that we may leave our failings in the dark and chose to be illuminated by the light of our ambition. May your imperfections be your source of inspiration. Happy New Year!