I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.
I’m a big believer in personal change, I just don’t put any stock in arbitrary time markers. The division of years, while useful for a myriad of practical and societal reasons, is given too much prominence in our personal lives. You’re going to be the same person at 2016-12-31 23:59:59 as you will be at 2017-01-01 00:00:01. We don’t change because the calendar turns; we change because we make a choice to do so.
It’s already a cliché that 2016 was a shitty year, but you know what they say: They’re clichés for a reason.
It’s quite possible your favorite artist died (with David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Gene Wilder, and Harper Lee topping the list of the deceased, odds are good at least one creator you enjoyed or even adored passed); or maybe the man who was elected President of the United States deeply concerns (terrifies, sickens, etc.) you; or perhaps your personal life has fallen apart all around you. All reasons to hate the year that was.
Also, let us never forget, millions of people around the world were displaced from their homes and are still facing uncertain futures and unrelenting terror. It’s hard to look back on the headlines of this past year and not feel despondent. This Saturday, people across the world will gather to enthusiastically celebrate 2016’s end, myself included.
But then what?
It’s time to ask yourself the question, how are the next twelve months going to be better than the last twelve months?
I’m not talking about weight loss plans, or resolving to read a book a week. Those are all fine goals to set for yourself, but they’re skin deep endeavors. Even if you accomplish your goal, you will exit 2017 essentially the same as you entered it.
Look, if you’re content with yourself and your place in the world, I’ve got no advice for you. Just keep on keepin’ on, stay golden, Ponyboy, and so on.
For the rest of us, though, it’s time to think about how we’re going to make actual change in our lives and our world.
Firstly, if you’re depressed because a bunch of celebrities died this year, I don’t know what to tell you, other than, buckle up, it’s only going to keep getting worse. If, however, you’re saddened by the loss of artistry as represented by those who departed in 2016, maybe it’s time to do your part to make sure new art keeps being produced in the world. Lord knows we need it.
That could mean finishing your album or novel. Maybe you take a big risk – quitting your job, performing live – and actually put faith in your art. It might not even be about your own art: You could start a company or group to support other artists. Or maybe you’re a parent and you encourage your child to pursue music, or theater, or dance, or any form of expression. The David Bowie’s of this world all started somewhere.
If you’re looking around the planet and don’t like what you see, you are not alone. The global political landscape is looking pretty grim right now, and there’s no one singular cause. There’s also no one solution.
If you’re politically inclined, now is
as good a time as any the absolute best time to get involved. I can’t speak for politics in other countries, but in the United States there is a dearth of thoughtful, engaged people throwing their hat in the ring. It’s not enough to go to protests or to sign petitions (and it’s certainly not enough to share articles on social media). There are open positions in your local government that aren’t glamorous or sexy, but still matter. Stop bemoaning the lack of viable candidates, and become one.
You can blame a rigged system for why Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or some other (better) candidate didn’t get their shot at the presidency, but politics is a game of chess, and there are more pieces on the board than just the King and Queen. The great thing about a pawn is, if it makes enough moves, it can eventually become a knight, rook, bishop, or, yes, queen.
Politics matters, but there are some causes that will never be fixed by laws or deal making. There are many lives that cannot hold on long enough for a treaty to be signed. Donating to good causes is a straightforward and admirable way to help out others, especially when there’s no clear answer for a problem, but that money doesn’t just go to a magical cloud to rain down on those in need. Wherever there is a need to be met, someone has to physically step up to do the work. Could that be you?
Doctors Without Borders, the Peace Corps, and countless other disaster relief organizations all do great work around the world. If you have a medical background, especially, your services could be put to great use. There is likely even vital work to be done in your own neck of the woods. Volunteering somewhere, anywhere, whatever your skill sets, is massively important. Obviously, not everyone can do it, and that’s why donations are still so important, but for those who can, there is a world of need.
This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip. It’s easy to read these kinds of posts and think, “That sounds great, but I know myself and I won’t/can’t do any of it.” Believe me, I get it. All of those suggestions I made, I don’t intend to do them.
As readers know, I’m moving to Spain next year. In my next post, I will write about my plans and purpose in making that move. It’s true that I’m doing it because I love to travel, but I’m also moving to hopefully have a positive impact. Like I said, I’ll get into the details next week, but for now I just want to say I spent much of this year frustrated and determining how to improve my world and my place in it.
There’s no wrong way to make a change, but there’s a surefire way to make sure nothing changes, and that’s doing nothing.
I started out this post by saying that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I never have, I never will. But that doesn’t mean I don’t make resolutions. I’m resolved to be in a new place – geographically, psychically, intellectually – than I am right now. If, for you, tying a resolution to the New Year gives it more weight, then do what you need to do. Just make it a resolution that matters.
With this year coming to a close, those of us who are dissatisfied with the state of our world need to decide what we’re going to do about it, and as individuals, we need to resolve to take action. 2017 will only be better than 2016 if we make it so.