Traditionally this is a time of year when we all sit down and make promises which we have but the vaguest intentions of keeping.
In some obscure manner, the calendar ticking over to mark a new year is significant. It wipes the slate clean and promises to forget all of our previous wrongs. It gives us the opportunity to be better, this time. And this time, we will be. Honest.
I've never found New Year's Resolutions to hold much weight, though. The idealistic goals with which we start the year: quit smoking, eat better, go to the gym every week, spend more time with the kids, take a holiday... they disappear into the folds of everyday life all too quickly.
But still we set them. Still we idealise a better version of ourselves. Someone who we aspire to be more like in future.
A couple of years ago I wrote a post outlining some things I'd learned about life recently. I didn't intend it to, but it had a big impact me and, apparently, on several others.
Looking back on it now, I think it worked because it was the polar opposite of everything a resolution is. Rather than set goals to improve or refactor or reform, I just recapped on what I'd learned and already become.
So, on that note...
A Few More Things I've Learned About Life Recently
Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is how our lives are defined as experiences divided by time.
At various significant points on our little timeline, there are events which take place which shape who we are. The first memory, the first love, the first job, the great trip, the incredible reunion, the death of a loved one, the birth of a child. I call these moments. And, as you look back over time, what you see are a series of interconnected moments which lead up until the present day.
Moments define memories, and our memories are what we base every single decision in our entire lives on. Big and small.
I love to think about this. I love to examine each moment on my own little timeline. Why is it there? There are 24 hours in each day, 7 days in each week, 52 weeks in each year. Of all the possible fleeting moments, some representative of no more than 30 seconds of my existence, why do I remember this one thing? Why did this stick, where other things were lost forever?
It's fascinating. And the more you do it, the more you notice how patterns begin to emerge. The more you look at the patterns, the more you start to understand what moments are important to you. What moments define your life. What moments matter.
Here are some of the patterns I've found in my timeline.
First: In hindsight, the good moments seem amazing, and the bad moments don't seem so bad.
The lens through which we view the past is rose-tinted. We have an incredible resilience to overcome difficult situations, not really knowing how, just knowing that we came out on the other side and it was all ok in the end. Conversely, the good moments always feel under-appreciated. "Why didn't I make the most of that while I had it?" - "I wish I could go back and live that moment again".
Our memories work in the exact opposite way to our consciousness. While we worry and obsess about the bad things that are happening in our lives right now, we completely take for granted all of the amazing things going on all around us. It's only in hindsight that this focus is reversed. The bad wasn't so bad, and the good was amazing.
Perhaps we could take some more time to appreciate that maybe, just maybe, we're right now living in a moment which we will later come to idealise.
Second: Sometimes the smallest things have the largest impact.
I recently heard a story (or parable, if you will) which stuck with me. I'd like to share it with you:
One day, a young man was walking along a beach. It was a dreary December day and he was lost in thought, wandering amongst the thousands of starfish which had washed up and become stranded with the outgoing tide. In the distance he noticed an old man trudging along the beach ahead of him. Every so often the man stopped, picked up a starfish, and hurled it back out into the ocean. He did this again, and again, slowly but surely making his way along the waterfront.
The young man watched and wondered with timid interest at the seemingly futile task. When he caught up, he asked the man; "Sir, why do you throw the starfish back into the Sea? Such work is senseless for you cannot save them all. It makes no difference."
The old man turned, and looked the young man in the eye before picking up another starfish and hurling it into the ocean. He watched the splash and stood for a moment, before turning back again. "For that one," he said "it made a very big difference."
Too often we balk at a seemingly hopeless task because our individual ability to solve it is so diminished. What is the point of helping a single homeless person when there are millions? What is the point of donating $5 to a charity which needs so much more? What does it matter if you stop to help one stranger on the planet who has less than you do?
To the one person you're helping - it matters a great deal. To the one person you're helping, you are a moment on their timeline.
That's something I've been thinking about a great deal. How many moments have I featured in which are embedded in the memories of others? Am I comfortable with that number?
What if one small thing you did as a moment in someone else's life lead them to do the same for two more people? And what if those two people went on to affect change for four more people?
The greatest wave starts with a tiny ripple when a pebble is tossed into the water. Nothing is insignificant.
Third: We're all faking it.
Do you remember the first time you realised that there's no such thing as "being an adult" ? Throughout your childhood your parents justified decisions to you as being about adult vs child. Sensible vs not. Wise vs immature. You sort of wait for something to happen when you turn 18, or 21, or 25. When does this shit kick in, exactly?
Eventually, looking back on your timeline you realise that there was no moment when you became an adult. You learned things, you changed, you grew, but you're still the same person. Your parents didn't know better, they were just faking it and doing their best. But too often, we fail to carry this lesson over other moments in our lives.
Being successful. When does that kick in? What does it take to get to the level of Steve Jobs? How could I be more like him?
We're forever comparing ourselves to people who we perceive to be better, stronger and wiser than ourselves. Because they've reached some mystical point of success which we want to attain.
But looking back, examining the moments, there is no definitive transition point. There is no magic bullet for anything.
I promise you that the people who you perceive to be successful don't feel that way. We're all just trying to reach the next moment on the timeline. For every person who you envy there are probably three people who envy you.
Stop putting pressure on yourself to be like someone else. Enjoy your own moments. We're all faking it, anyway.