New Year’s celebrations always make us itch. They scratch and tickle and won’t leave us alone. They leave us hankering, yearning, thirsting and aching for another day, another chance, another rebirth. On New Year’s Eve we feel like Ebenezer Scrooge being visited by the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet to Come and we watch our shadows wildly dance the night away, luring us to change ourselves and re-evaluate who we are. We are pulled and tugged by this ancient celebration to re-create ourselves.
It’s powerful, this New Year’s challenge to reinvent. Re-image. Re-think. Re-do. Re-make. Re-build. It invites an awakening of imagination. The New Year flirts with us and dazzles our senses. She shows us who we could be. She shows us who we do not want to be. She calls us to Be Bigger than Ourselves –and she makes us believe in possibility. She wants us to itch until we scratch and scratch and scratch down to a brand new skin.
The New Year is the time to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. We set things straight. We clean our houses. We address our debts. We mend fences and reflect upon our shortcomings. We rid ourselves of the past. We protect ourselves from the beasts. We prepare for abundance. We think about the future. We do a myriad of little rituals to evoke love, prosperity, peace and happiness.
This challenge is getting harder with each generation, now that we humans have incessantly endeavored to exploit each other and our planet so irresponsibly. We are a world that practices genocide on a daily basis, slices throats over disagreements and still thinks we have to ‘think’ about climate change, ecological instability, human rights, the safety of our children and emergencies on scales we cannot fathom. Each young person now faces an adult life that will have sacrifices and tribulations far beyond our silly and selfish notions of how to live in the world. The world itself will have to be reinvented and caring for our planet will become a moral obligation. We will be forced to relearn how to live with each other.
With this in mind each New Year is special, even critical. How do we begin to reimagine ourselves and reinvent our world? And how do we do it on an individual level?
Change the rules. We have changed them before. We abolished slavery, we fought for universal suffrage, and we broke social taboos that bound our hearts. Try to change the rules every day wherever you see them needing change. There will always be those who cannot imagine changing the rules- but resolve not to be one of them. Changing the rules is an imperative, so resolve to practice it.
Speak the simple language of the heart. Let people know either by your spoken or written words how much you care about them. Use the language of the heart to speak just as clearly when things are wrong. If we avoid sentimentality and superficiality, we can speak what the heart needs to say, and whether the heart is exalting or aching, its language can guide of through the labyrinths of life.
Realize You Don’t Know Much. Novelist Barbara Kingsolver said it best in her 2008 commencement speech at Duke University. “Looking back, I can discern a kind of gaseous exchange in which I exuded cleverness and gradually absorbed better judgment. Wisdom is like frequent-flyer miles and scar tissue; if it does accumulate, that happens by accident while you’re trying to do something else”. Wisdom comes if you can live long enough to beat the odds and the wisdom of each generation is necessarily new.
Listen with empathy and compassion. Avoid the mundane. Actually listen. We go through the motions of talking and listening while our internal scripts saunter on. This year, try listening with an open heart even if you disagree. Try putting yourself in the other person’s place as you listen, and see what you can learn. Listening is another gesture of true magnanimity. Listening does not mean you have to like or approve of another. If there is nothing to learn, walk away- but fully listen first. Chances are you will learn something about yourself.
Stop and breathe. The speed of life compels us to engage in activities without really experiencing them.
Soak moments in: the face of a taxi-driver; the sound of a friend’s voice; the look in a child’s eye; the way clothes on a laundry line tap in the wind. Resist getting swept up in the swirl. Stay present to as many moments as possible- even the scary, painful ones. Breathe.
Make a difference for someone. Reach out to others in simple ways. Do not let the people in the world around you be invisible. Each of us has needs and most of us have ways we can assist others. It doesn’t require money, it requires awareness and an attitude that recognizes we are connected to each other and we are in this boat together. Do it daily and expect it to be done for you.
See life as stepping stones. Your life is not a line. It is not a ladder. Let go of the idea that lives or careers are linear. Lives are like fields of stepping stones that spread in all directions. Each stone is a job, a relationship, a different culture to live in, or project that is available to you. Move in any direction that you like. There is no single path — but rather, an infinite number of options that will lead to a sense of fulfillment. Forget trying to climb a ‘career ladder’ or a ‘ladder of life”; these are useless metaphors for our times.
Be unreasonable and don’t live in isolation. There is magic in community and we must find it again. You can be as passionate and outlandish as you need to be, if you don’t attempt it in isolation. Be unreasonable. “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man”, wrote George Bernard Shaw. Lean into fear, get stuff done, do what works, be agile and practice humility. Unreasonables are known to travel in groups. And they are known to change the world. Assist in accelerating the world’s most unreasonable ventures. Be unreasonable and strive to create a world in which no one is limited by their circumstances.
Seek legacy. You have a legacy, a higher purpose, a mission, a reason. This means knowing that in some way, regardless of how large or small — the world will be a better place after you’ve done your work. This isn’t trite. Legacy requires mastery, the art of getting better and better at skills and talents you enjoy using. Image yourself as a master of something (not someone) and practice your craft. Legacy should guide mastery, which unlocks freedom. Practice freedom, the ability to choose who you work and hang with, what work or play you produce, where you produce it and how it will nourish you. Work does not always mean a job. Work is your task and your sacred play, your legacy and the fruits of your mastery. It can be one purpose or a dozen. Things we are passionate about evolve over time and freedom can mean finding the fortitude to go for months without a paycheck and risking all for an opportunity.
Treat your life like a grand experiment.
Living is really the chance we’re given to discover what we’re here for and what we love. It’s your best shot at improving the world in a way that is important to you. Life should be an adventure with a healthy dose of magic and mystery along the way. Don’t seek a Disneyland experience- seek a grand experiment that will thrash you to your knees and force you to get up again. Don’t accept another’s idea of your life; it must be your own.
This New Year, resolve to make your life your own. Resolve to be unreasonable. Please. It will give us all another chance…and we damn sure need it.