I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions.
I tell you that upfront, knowing that it may be entirely reasonable of you to conclude by midway through this post that I’ve contradicted myself.
There are two problems with the concept of making resolutions.
First, the start a new calendar year is just an arbitrary measure of change.
And not a particularly good one at that.
Other than the change of a few digits in the calendar, not a whole lot feels new on January 1st. It bookends a week-long holiday, and takes place well after the start of winter (especially here in Ottawa).
In many ways, I’ve long felt that the real new year begins in early September. Summer fades. School resumes.
There is a noticeable switching of gears at work. Having said that, I would get funny looks from people if I wished them a happy new year around Labour Day weekend. So I keep that to myself. Probably for best.
Then there is the second problem: resolutions tend to be “to do” lists: vague promises we make to ourselves to take action, and then fail on the execution of the task.
I could talk at length about that. But I’m not going to.
Sometimes you have to look at the pattern of decisions you make in life–even the ones that are rooted in deep conviction–and ask yourself if maybe it’s time to make a different choice.
So I’m going to try something different.
My good friend, Chris Brogan, started an interesting meme a few years ago in which he picks three words and works hard to make them the central focus of the calendar year ahead.
What I like about his exercise is that instead of generating yet another to do list, it’s a snapshot of ideas. In other words, it’s a to be list.
With that in mind, here are my three ideas for 2015.
1) Chatai Hatou
This is a kissaten, a traditional Japanese tearoom and coffee house located on an almost hidden side street in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. It has survived the onslaught of Western coffee chains, fast food outlets and even the grinding hardships of decades-long stagflation in the Japanese economy.
Still, it teems with customers.
The owners of this humble, enduring shop did not react to changing market conditions. They did not resort to making a cheaper product. Nor did they move to a better location.
In fact, nothing about Chatai Hatou has changed in any meaningful way in over 25 years.
Instead they remain focused on two things that matter to them and to their customers: patience and discipline.
Order a pour-over coffee here and you are treated to a 20-minute ritual that you cannot experience anywhere else. As one writer describes it: “the coffee is prepared with such intensity and grace that it feels as if time has stopped.”
The owners of this kissaten made a choice. They said no to chasing the easy money of delivering a commodity to a large audience. They are as selective as the customers they serve, and remain dedicated to creating something memorable and meaningful for that select group of people. I like that idea a lot.
Okay so you might be thinking, “Hey, Pat, that’s a swell start to your list…but it’s two words.”
Well I’m a bit of contrarian. And if you say it fast, it sounds like one fancy word.
Very few facts about Paulinus have resisted the wear of time. We know that somewhere around 50 AD, he took on responsibility for managing Rome’s grain supply, so he was a person of considerable authority in his time. He may also have been a near relative of Seneca, the great stoic thinker. And Seneca thought enough of him to write him a letter, containing advice that has survived the ages.
He says ‘Dear Paulinus’ (and I am paraphrasing) ‘there is a far worse thing we can do in life than to be bitter about how short it is. It is not that we have a short life but that we waste a lot of it.’
There are two reasons I share this.
First, I like to think that Paulinus took Seneca’s wise advice to heart. We have no way of know that for sure, of course.
But 2,000 year old advice doesn’t survive by accident.
The work we do and the choices we make: this is what gives our lives definition. It’s what survives.
Just as important, Paulinus reminds us of another smart bit of advice, that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Being choosy about whom we break bread with has a way of shaping our choices, our thinking and even the opportunities we create for ourselves.
Most of us can’t be a Seneca, but we each can be a Paulinus if we want to.
Beware faulty definitions of living well.
These are most often found in the assumption that we have in the need to grow larger and to accumulate material things.
Experience has taught me that those are pointless pursuits because they only measure in units of more.
Never satisficing. Only collecting.
On that point, I’m reminded that Hunter S. Thompson was just 20 years old when he wrote this deeply insightful letter to a friend who was looking for some direction.
My favourite part of Thompson’s advice: “look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.”
It is easy to become directionless and to become a collector of things, rather than a seeker of experience and wisdom. I remind myself of this–and will do so again as often as I need to in 2015.
In finding a way, I find The Way.
I hope you do too, in the manner that means the most to you.