It’s the first day of 2018, and I’m outside in 10 degree weather without a jacket or gloves, wielding and thrusting an 11-Gauge Ice Chopper with Steel D-Grip Handle into five inches of solid ice that has formed onto a small brook in my backyard. This makes it sound like I’m handy and know what I’m talking about; I don’t. It’s part of my push to keep learning, trying new things, and leave my comfort zone.
The ice needs to be chopped to ensure that the mechanical gears don’t freeze-up, crack, and break down–costing a couple of thousands of dollars to fix. I recognize that having a running brook sounds fancy, but it’s nothing more than a pretty over-sized puddle that offers soothing sounds as the water cascades down a six-inch waterfall. It is one of those amenities that the prior owner of the house built to make them feel sophisticated and classy. For us, it is primarily used as a large water bowl for my two Sheltie dogs.
It felt good to do light manual labor in the cold morning. I am clear-headed, alert, and sober since we had a house full of teenage kids celebrating New Year’s Eve. Sitting all day, seven days a week, in an office, it was nice to take in the fresh air and do actual work with my hands. Nevertheless, 10 minutes later, I was done and ready for the next manly challenge. I was tasked with the assignment to brave the early morning cold to hunt for food, which in today’s world means getting bagels for the kids who slept over after the party and my son who is home from college.
Yes, it is quite a fraught- filled adventure, making the perilous three minute journey in my Porsche* to Manhattan Bagels in the quiet leafy suburb of Westfield, New Jersey. I walked into the already-crowded shop and surrounded by other like-minded brave warriors also picking up bagels for their families. A couple of nights before I noticed something similar at the local Thai diner. A steady stream of middle-aged men pushed through the door, blowing into their hands to warm up from the cold, and chatting together in comradery over their brave fight with the elements to bring back sustenance to their families.
Although we think we are advanced as a society, we are not really. We have the same instincts of our ancestors, including a pack and herd mentality and hunting and gathering food for our clan. We keep doing the same thing, albeit with a little twist, over and over again.
Maybe we should rip-up the play book and look at things differently. Specifically, as it relates to today, when we are all supposed to set forth our New Year’s resolutions, only to immediately break them or forget about our promises, perhaps we should do away with this outdated tradition. It’s the same thing every year for most people. Plan to go to the gym, purchase a membership, work out hard for a few weeks, and it’s all over. Insert all the other resolutions in place of the gym and they pretty much all play out the same way.
Usually, I’m all about planning and goal setting, but I had an epiphany this weekend. Instead of going with the herd and pretending to do things that you think you should do, I have a different idea.
This is the simplest, but best advice I could offer: Rather than jotting down some New Year’s resolutions because you think that is what you are supposed to do, carefully listen to the voice in your head or the feeling in your gut. This is the voice that tells you what you really want to do and the person you aspire to become. Then, act on it. You already know what you want to do and the person you would like to be. You may not tell your spouse or friends, but you know deep down inside what you want. It most likely is not losing five pounds. You just add that to your resolution list because you think you should. It’s not getting six pack abs. Perhaps, the inner voice is screaming out that you don’t want to be a lawyer, never wanted to be one, and always wanted to be a teacher. You want to make a difference and help kids learn and grow. That’s what you really want to do, so maybe that is what you need to do. Go for it.
We spend so much of our lives playing a part of what we think we should be, even if it doesn’t make us happy or fulfilled. It is easier to just keep dragging mindlessly forward. Before you know it, time goes by and you are not the person you want to be nor in the job that you would want. It is almost everyone’s dirty little secret. They are living lives of quiet desperation: going to a job you hate and living a life that you don’t like. You know this is true, but it is hard to change.
Yes, it’s that simple. Listen to that inner voice that is telling you, constantly badgering you, and nudging you toward a certain direction. For once, try listening to this voice and follow its direction. Now, if it’s a pretty weird screwed up goal that will harm someone or yourself, don’t take my advice and seek some help. If it is a voice that tells you to go against the crowd, what your parents wanted you to do or what your peers think you should do, then go forward bravely. Toss out the pretend resolutions and go for what you really want, but have ignored for a long time.
When you walk down a street in any big city and a homeless person accosts you for some money, you probably look away, pretending this didn’t happen. You rationalize the avoidance by saying that the guy was probably going to use the money for alcohol or drugs. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. But is that the person you really want to be? Do you desire to be the person who digs into his or her wallet and offers money regardless of what it is used for? Would you like to be the person who actually talks with the homeless person, treat him as a human being, and try to connect and see if there is a way to help out?
When your parents or relatives call, do you let it go to voicemail? Do you rationalize and think of all the past bad things they said or did to you, so you could free your conscious when you avoid talking to them? After all, you know you don’t really have anything else more important to do. Would you like to be the person that, even if your parents, siblings, or friends hurt you in some way, that you could overlook it and be the bigger person?
These are just a couple of examples representing the difference between acting as usual versus taking a step back and thinking about reaching the potential of the type of person you might become, with just a modicum of motivation.
I think if given the chance, we would like to be bolder, more adventurous, less fearful, as well as emotionally and mentally strong and dependable. You want to be the person that is strong and tough enough, so that you don’t fall apart when you care for your mother who slowly disintegrates from the ravages of cancer, and goes with your dad to purchase a coffin for her as she lies dying in a home-hospice setting. Then, shortly afterward, you need to be brave enough to hold your father’s hand when he is in a coma from a brain aneurysm. Ultimately, you need to have incredible strength to keep your shit together when the decision is made to pull the plug. There are not New Year’s resolutions to plan for this. There are no goals or checklists to tick off. All you have is that voice that tells you what type of person you want to be. Then, if you are fortunate, you listen to the voice and act upon it.
*I purposely referenced the car, which is actually a loaner for my other Porsche, which has been in the shop for over two months. In hindsight, I now realize and accept that the vehicle was a foolish act of vanity, succumbing to crass consumerism. When I was young, growing up in pre-hipster Canarsie, Brooklyn, the cars my family and I had (Dodge Darts and Chevy Impalas) were cheap, terrible, and constantly broke down. I promised that if I ever made some real money, my only selfish purchase would be a nice car that worked properly. Business was good; I lived in a wealthy upper-middle class neighborhood, and wanted to show that I belonged. It’s terribly embarrassing to admit. Karma came into play and the vehicle wasn’t that great. It broke down just like the less expensive and non-prestigious cars. If you took off the name, label and symbols, it is not any nicer than other less expensive vehicle. Moreover, why would I need a sports car to drive to the train station, park it at the lot, commute into Manhattan, then drive it home for only two minutes after work? You can’t even drive fast. If you do, you will certainly get ticketed– as I found out on several occasions.
The biggest disappoint was that I failed to listen to my internal voice. The person that I aspire to is not the guy who succumbs to peer pressure and make silly purchases. The positive is that it is a learning exercise and part of my journey toward recognizing bad decisions, understanding why they happened, and then moving intelligently forward in a better direction.