There’s a funny e-card that you can send to your friends that reads: “It would really help me in the office pool if you would fail at your New Year’s resolution sometime between January 7th and 9th.”
Once I stopped chuckling, I thought a bit about what the sentiments and assumptions were behind this card. First – that most people make a New Year’s resolution of some kind. Second – that we most likely will not keep the resolution. Third – that we will fail quickly. Fourth – that others are just waiting for us to fail.
The Ten Most Common New Year’s Resolutions (as illustrated by cats) are 1) Get organized, 2) Help others, 3) Learn something new, 4) Get out of debt, 5) Quit drinking, 6) Enjoy life more, 7) Quit smoking, 8) Lost weight, 9) Exercise more, and 10) Spend more time with family and friends. Many of these are quite substantive and important, and it is sad that people don’t take them more seriously. I wonder why we make these resolutions, only to abandon them just a short time later.
Perhaps part of the problem is the pressure of the New Year. It is as if this is our ONE chance for an entire year, and if we miss it, we will not be allowed to make a change at any other time. We must feel that the start of a brand new year is magically the start of a new phase of our life, and therefore we must take advantage of this change. I don’t know about you, but I think that this is completely irrational.
We are lucky enough to be a part of a tradition that allows us to make changes, to evolve, to repent, and to better ourselves every single day. Yes, we have the major Day of Repentance each year with Yom Kippur, but our efforts to self-actualize are not limited to the one day. Instead, every morning, upon waking up, we have the ability to start over. My favorite prayer of the Shacharit morning liturgy addresses this idea. “God, the soul that you have given me is pure. You created it, formed it, breathed it into me, and within me you sustain it.” We don’t believe in the concept of “original sin,” in that we are all born flawed and broken. Rather, we are taught that our soul is returned to us, each and every morning, in a clean and purified state.
If we wake up each day with a clean soul, this means that every single day is an opportunity for a fresh start and a new beginning. Any moment could be the one where we feel ready to make a big change, to take better care of ourselves, to repair the broken world around us, or to mend relationships that are important to us.
Included in the thinking about New Year’s resolutions is the idea that you can fail, and that once you fail, you are done. That type of black/white thinking often causes us to miss out on growth experiences. There is no reason that we must remain in our failure or our mistakes. Instead, we can start each new day with a renewed commitment to the tasks or goals that are important to us.
Anne Frank taught us: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” We need not wait until some artificial deadline to start a new chapter in the book of our lives. We need not be discouraged if our first attempt doesn’t go as planned. We can start, and start again, until we get closer to the levels that our souls can attain.
May 2013 bring us all many fresh starts, many mistakes, many learning experiences, and many opportunities to grow. May we take steps towards bettering ourselves, bettering our worlds, and repairing what is broken. May each day bring with it new possibilities, potentials, and promise.