On a cold, snowy night when I was in the sixth grade, my best friend and I stood underneath the stars in our heavy coats and looked up to the sky. We were an odd pair, especially in sixth-grade society, because she was considered the pretty one and our classmates often informed me of my ugliness in the hallways between classes. My friend had pretty long brown hair and green eyes, while I had frizzy blonde hair and big plastic eyeglasses. She earned a 4.0 just like I did, and both of us worked in the school office and on the school news team.
I wanted to be more like her: pretty and popular. So when I watched the fireworks from where we stood in the street, I made a resolution to “get pretty and popular and have all the boys like me.” Exact words. My resolutions have changed over the years of course. At some point, I realized that popularity doesn’t mean much and prettiness is subjective.
As far as historians have been able to determine, the Babylonians are the earliest people to have made resolutions on their new year. They would agree to pay off all their debts, return borrowed farm equipment and patch things up with their gods. Starting the new year right meant being in good graces with their neighbors and their deities.
When we think of preparing our resolutions for the new year, we create these long lists of things we are going to do now that we get a symbolic fresh start, no matter what. We’re going to hit the gym more; we’re going to ask for that promotion or get that job at our dream company; we will meet someone and fall in love; or we will finally go rock climbing or bungee jumping like we’ve always said we would.
According to marketplace statistics, gym memberships tend to increase after New Year’s Day, but attendance soon tapers off: the resolution to go to the gym more often didn’t stick. Sometimes this leads to feelings of guilt for not being able to keep promises to ourselves. So, we make the same resolution the next year.
I’ve made resolutions that I could never keep. My 12-year-old resolution was more of a wish than an actionable goal. It did prompt me to figure out what I wanted with my life, what my expectations were for myself, what I could do to improve myself. I ended up growing out my bad haircut and learned how to straighten my hair. My big plastic-framed glasses were soon replaced by wireframed ones, and eventually I got contact lenses.
I hated myself during my teen years and would look for what I needed to change. The annual makeover became my next New Year’s resolution. For several years, I was obsessed with improving my looks. What I wanted out of life never figured into my plans.
I reached adulthood. Now what? I knew I wanted to go to college but had no idea what I wanted to major in, nor did I know what career I wanted or how to get there. I stayed at a job I hated longer than I should have because it provided a consistent paycheck (albeit a very dismal one). Dreaming for anything more became a ridiculous notion.
I stopped making resolutions for several years. At some point, I nearly stopped trying and chose to settle. No one tells you that soul searching can be a really painful process. I quit that terrible job and went back to college, slowly figured out that I wanted to write and took a few chances.
My only New Year’s resolution these days is to make sure that this year is always better than the last. I’ve learned that I tend to change my mind about what that means over the year, or things happen in my life that require an adjustment to my to-do list.
Maybe it’s just as vague as the resolution I had made when I was 12, but it leaves the new year open-ended and gives me the power to shape it in ways that go beyond what I think I know right now. That is the only resolution I make.
(image source: public domain/pixabay.com)