Holidays. It’s the time when the university is closed, and to enter you need to sign in to security where they might check up on you periodically to make sure you’re not kidnapped. It’s the time when those lacking nearby family might feel the pangs of loneliness. It’s the time when people who do have family in their vicinity might be spiraling toward insane instability from their relatives. It’s the time when you’re supposed to be joyful because that’s the general instruction on the cards you receive either from family and/or your cell phone company. It’s the time when your alma maters ask you for donations before the end of the year, even if you still might have student loans to pay off.
Beckoning in the new year has always been a time about which I became excited because it’s a socially acceptable time to make goal lists otherwise known as New Year’s resolutions. Nothing stopped me from making the lists the rest of the year either, but I felt a special bond around this time to the community of people all making lists about how to improve themselves. Year after year I’d start getting into the New Year’s resolution spirit early, starting weeks before January.
I’ve been very goal oriented my entire life, but somehow, accidentally, this year I forgot to make my resolutions. I think I was too busy to realize the season had crept up. To be honest, I’m not even sure what my goals are any more. I’ve always been driven by goals and deadlines, but reaching these finish lines doesn’t necessarily improve the quality of one’s life, does it? Does achieving your goals make you happy? Do you know what makes you happy? I used to think my goals are what get me out of bed in the morning, but I have recently been revising my thinking. I have tried the same strategy to gain discipline over my various activities time and time again, to enforce minimum time limits of my pursuit of them. Albert Einstein has a noted quote that repeating the same strategy with expectations of different results is, well, not quite sane. I will be gentler and suggest that as scientists we should be able to predict if we repeat the same behavior, our experiment will yield the same outcome.
I’ve approached most of my life like it is an exam. I do my homework. I research and make study plans. I put in the hours. And generally, this approach has led to the realization of my goals. But what I had forgotten along the way included the forgotten lessons I gleaned from J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. These lessons include having the courage to be common, instead of striving to overachieve, to detach oneself from the rewards of labors (which Salinger quotes from the Bhagavad Gita), and to put in the effort to do what you are meant to do for someone else, not for yourself (I advise reading the book for a more puissant, perhaps, though less sensitive statement of this sentiment).
I don’t really have any goals for the new year. I’ll write and read more blogs, novels, and interviews for Wellesley Underground because reading and writing are lifelong needs I’ve had and how I feel I can contribute perhaps in some small way to my community. It’s not a goal, just something I do. I don’t have a word count plan for each day to read or write. I’ll do my job to the best of my ability because doing science is also part of who I am, and research is fulfilling and advances our understanding. I’ll make an effort to do self-care like music and physical exercise, not with time limits, deadlines, or goals, but just to do some every day for nourishment. Is this a New Year’s resolution? Perhaps. But the difference is that in previous years I imposed rigid guidelines. I generally generate unrealistic lofty plans that leave me berating myself in failure. I think trying less and caring more might be healthier and place me in a better position to give more. I once had a piano teacher tell me that you play piano to give to the piano, the composer, and the audience. I must confess, my mindset often does not revolve around what I can give to others, even through my own self care, but about those fruits of the labor. I guess Wellesley had it right all along, “Non Ministrari sed Ministrare,” not to be ministered to but to minister.
Do I have a New Year’s resolution? I don’t have any set plans for this year. No weight or exercise goals. No word counts or paper quotas. No goals. I just have a general idea that I would like to live less that way and with a more philosophical, nourishing mindset. That I want to do a better job taking care of myself and those in my world instead of pushing myself to achieve.
What will you do this year to take care of yourself and the others in your world?