New Year Resolution? Moving from What to Why

new year resolution
Every new year, lists of New Year resolutions pop up all over the internet. Lose weight. Exercise more. Check off something on your bucket list. But you know what? I suck at resolutions. Why? Because I’m busy all the time and every single one of those resolutions require time, effort, and energy that I just don’t have.

What’s Wrong with New Year Resolution Ideas?

New Year resolutions are often limited. Look, I get it. We all want to be healthier, change our lifestyles, dye our hair, or get a tattoo. The thing is those are all closed answers to bigger questions.

I spend half my work life teaching students to look beyond the “what” and to question the “why.” If your “what” is to get a tattoo or to lose weight, ask yourself, “why have I been holding back?”

With that in mind, my New Year resolution is to challenge myself. Maybe, these challenges will work for you, maybe not. But rather than ask yourself “What can I do in the New Year?” try asking yourself “Why do I want to do those things?”

Challenge 1: Be Kind

I am, by nature, a snarky, sarcastic, cursing *%*%&^@!@*. I rarely see myself as kind. Some people may say I am (although my Rate My Professor page says otherwise). I go out of my comfort zone to be kind to people because I want to be better than I am.

I was the lonely kid on the playground. I was the person seated at the far end of the lunch table. I was the college kid who had a small group of tight-knit friends but spent a lot of time alone in my single dorm room. I hate seeing other people feel that way.

So, if kindness means recognizing that in others and making sure they don’t feel that way, then I guess I’m kind. In my head, I do things because I want to feel better about myself. I want to feel like I’m doing “what I should.”

I want to be kind in 2018 not because I want to feel better about myself but because I want to make other people feel better about themselves. So, my first challenge will be to be kind without thinking about how it impacts my sense of self-worth.

Challenge 2: Be Honest

A new year resolution about telling the truth can be seen more as being blunt a lot of times. However, in the same way that I curse like a snarky sailor, I’m also a pretty blunt person. I don’t lie. I don’t say something behind someone’s back that I wouldn’t say to their face. Honesty and truthfulness are different.

Being honest is more than telling the truth about a shirt or a hair color. It’s about looking into yourself and looking outward. It’s about being willing to take a moment of self-reflection and say, “Yes, I can change. Yes, I can admit something to myself that I didn’t want to believe.”

In late 2017, I started doing this. I’m lucky that I have the support network that allows it. However, it’s not easy to recognize things like limitations or identity. Those come with long-held internal biases that need to be overcome in order to be honest with ourselves.

My challenge for 2018 is to embrace that internal honesty. I recognize my flaws well, but I also need to recognize how those flaws impact my self-perception and how others perceive me.

Challenge 3: Be Brave

Every time I think of being brave, I imagine myself as a Gryffindor. Bravery often feel foreign to me. I have no dragons to slay, no evil wizards to overcome. My Ravenclaw nature means that I need to look beyond just what bravery in books implies and think about what it means to me.

To me, being honest is the first step to being brave. Bravery is about acknowledging the honest truths about yourself and working to change them.

In 2016, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I spent most of 2016 and 2017 ignoring the fact that it had any impact on my life, my parenting, and my person. Being honest was the first step to recognizing that I needed to be brave.

Being brave means not just being honest with yourself but going outside of your comfort zone. As I’ve recognized more about my MS, for example, I’ve started talking more about what it means to live with a chronic illness.

I’m not brave for living with a health problem. I’m being brave by opening up to people in ways that are uncomfortable for me. Being brave means taking this step outside of myself and recognizing that doing something I’m not comfortable with is also something that can help others in ways I might not expect.

Challenge 4: Take Risks

This follows from being honest and brave but remains distinct. Being brave means going outside my comfort zone in some ways. Taking risks means knowing that by going outside of my comfort zone it’s possible to lose something.

GeekMoms and GeekDads discuss many different struggles. From anxiety to gender, we engage in difficult topics. However, this comes at a price. Whether it’s trolls or people learning something about you that’s private, these conversations can lose followers, friends, or even family.

Towards the end of 2017, I realized that those risks far outweigh the benefits of being brave.

Risks, however, don’t have to be this personal. They can simply be applying for a job that you’re not sure you’re qualified for. They can be taking a leap into a new career or taking up a new hobby at which you may fail.

Even when that risk of not meeting your own expectations seems overwhelming, failure, the best lesson is.

Challenge 5: Reach Out

I’ve taught college first-years for over 13 years now. In those 13 years, I’ve evolved as a person and teacher. Perhaps motherhood was part of it. Perhaps watching my child struggle in school, wanting to be understood, was part of it. Perhaps I’ve just become a kinder, gentler me because I’m so tired all the time.

As a first year instructor, I’ve heard every excuse in the book. I’ve worked at teaching my students to be independent, take responsibility for their actions (or inactions), and learn to be better adults. With that in mind, I distanced myself from them to force them to be more independent.

What I realized this semester is that reaching out works better than pushing away. Offering help when it’s needed isn’t just about being kind, it’s about being understanding of differences. So this past semester I worked to offer more opportunities for success. Sure, reaching out like this made more work for me but isn’t that sort of the point of teaching?

Even more, reaching out means finding people who need help but don’t realize. It means listening to others’ struggles without judgment. It means recognizing that actions speak louder than words.

I can say I want to see more diversity in my town or in comics, but do I reach out? Do I stop, listen, and help people who have seemingly insurmountable challenges in order to allow them to succeed?

In truth, I probably haven’t done that much in the past. I don’t generally like people (see above re: snarky). I don’t generally think people like me (see above re: Rate My Professor). I have social anxiety, always assuming I’m making a mistake in a social situation or that I’ve overstepped a boundary.

Reaching out to people means overcoming that. If I don’t reach out to others, how can I become the change I want to see in the world? If I don’t reach out to meet new people and make new connections, how can I learn about the different life experiences we come with? The answer is, truly, I can’t. I can’t become a better person just by Tweeting and writing and reading the internet.

I can become a better person by challenging myself to reach out to others so that I can learn from them.

Changing from What to Why

Year ends make me reflective. I reflect on who I’ve been for the last twelve months and what I can do to be better. I reflect on my failures and my successes. I choose to do this because stagnation isn’t an option. This year, my goal is to challenge myself.

I want to move from what I’m doing wrong or right to why I’m making those decisions. I want to focus on courage and action so that I can live  true to my best self.