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Monday, January 06, 2020

Be Better, Work Harder

At a party the other night, I asked someone if they had any New Year’s resolutions. I’ve never really been one for resolutions, but over the past several year-end changes, I’ve tried to be more resolute in the things that matter to me the most. I simply vow to work harder at whatever it is that I'm already doing. I felt that resolutions were desperate calls for help by people whose lives were spinning out of control.

New Year’s resolutions seemed to be a very American concept in a land where bookstores are piled high with huckster manifestos on how to lose weight, quit smoking, make more money, have better sex, and a thousand other things most resolutioners will never come close to achieving. If you need to induce vomiting, just query “New Year’s resolutions” and you’ll get thousands advice columns on how to run your metaphoric marathon or whatever the fuck you want to do. I mostly live by the motto “Don’t want to do something, do it.”

I was surprised when the person at the party said that he did actually have a few resolutions. “I want to quit smoking,” he began. I thought this was a wise decision on his part, but he wasn’t finished. He continued with a torrent of things that he wanted to achieve, of behaviors he wanted to modify, and places he wanted to see. Had I not known this person, already brimming with remarkable accomplishments, I would have probably laughed it all off as an unrealistic boast. I wished him luck.

I couldn’t help but consider my own lack of ambition, at least when it came to making resolutions. Way to play it safe, I thought to myself. Nothing ventured, nothing gained was just one of the slogans that passed through my head. The more I thought about the audacity of taking on a host of challenges, the more I warmed up to the idea.

I don’t smoke, I honestly exercise about as much as you are supposed to exercise, I read profusely, I eat great food that I cook at home, I’m close to my ideal weight, but to say that I have a lot of room for improvement is a grotesque understatement. Perhaps I should climb out on a limb, or climb higher up the tree, or make it to the summit, or try to do more?

I think what we are trying to do when we make resolutions is to be the best version of ourselves. I love the fantasy of how we can somehow unleash the power of our brains to use its full potential, sort of like plot of the book/film Limitless. If they ever do come up with a drug to enhance brain capacity, I probably won’t be able to afford it. I'll need to stick to the old-fashioned method of just working harder.

Work harder, try harder. Who couldn’t use a bit more of these platitudes in their daily routine? Parents exhort their children to do this as part of the whole process of child-rearing. A big problem is that as soon as mom and dad aren’t around, once they take their boots off the neck of their offspring, lots of recent adults turn into indolent slobs. I’ve seen this again and again with people who grew up being forced to play a musical instrument. I envy anyone who learned to play piano as a child, because starting late in life presents almost insurmountable obstacles, but at least I’m playing everyday instead of someone who was good when they were 14 years old and hasn’t gone near a keyboard since.

Instead of being coy or condescending about the concept of resolutions, perhaps I need to take sight of my shortcomings in life and carpet-bomb them, or at least take a vow to do that. What’s the worst that could happen? I don’t think I’d be breaking any laws if I were to break a resolution or ten, and I’d be in good company, or if not good company, then at least a lot of it. This would fit in with one of my resolutions to become more sociable.

…to be continued (my written resolutions)

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