New Year … it is one of those threshold points where we resolve to make a new start… quitting bad habits, starting a health kick or a new project… drawing a line under some aspect of the past and moving forward in a new way. And yet, for all that determination, most of those who commit to change will have broken their resolutions by the middle of January, and that can leave behind the bitter taste of guilt, inadequacy or failure… which, by a cruel irony, was often at the root of the problem in the first place.
It does not have to be that way… we have a new opportunity with every passing second. Every moment is a potential crossroads where we have the chance to choose our way forward. Every choice we make, consciously or unconsciously, shapes the path our future will take and leads us off in a new direction. Like any interesting path, we cannot see where it may lead as we stand at the crossroads, and we have yet another choice… to face the journey with excitement and curiosity, or fear.
The idea reminds me of the old ‘adventure’ books that were popular a few decades ago. You read the story so far and, at a critical moment, were presented with a number of choices. Each choice sent you to a different page in the book where the story took a new direction, leaving you with a new set of choices and eventually leading to one of the many possible endings. In effect, you ‘wrote’ the story, based upon your choices. All the words were written… all possible endings were in there…all combinations of the choices were available… and every time you made a new choice, you rewrote the story. You know the sort of thing…
…you turn the corner and are confronted by a ravenous monster…
a) Stand and face it
b) Run away
c) Buy it lunch
The ‘choose your own adventure’ books were targeted primarily at young teens and inadvertently provided a graphic life-lesson. They illustrated that while you may not be able to control external factors in your life, you always have a choice in how you face them… and a responsibility for the path you have chosen to follow and its consequences. The advantage that they had over ‘real life’ was that, if you made the wrong choice, you could always go back to the previous chapter and try again. We do not have that luxury, but we too can learn from our mistakes…and learn more from our worst choices than our best.
I doubt if there are many of us who have not made glaring errors of judgement at some points in our lives and many of us have carried them as a burden of grief, guilt or simple embarrassment that may have weighed us down for years. In many ways, this too is a ‘choose your own adventure’ scenario:
… you are confronted by a ravenous monster…
a) Stand and face it
b) Run away
c) Feed it
If that ‘ravenous monster’ is named Fear, Guilt or Shame, the chances are that most of us feed it a diet of regret, reliving old emotions engendered by the events that caused it to appear. Just like the adventure books, you cannot erase the chapters that went before…nor do you need to do so. Each step you have taken and choice you have made have combined to bring this you to this moment… and this you can choose to rewrite your adventure whenever it wishes.
The mistakes and apparent failures of the past are a valuable part of our journey. In 1159, John of Salisbury wrote: “Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.” In 1675 Isaac Newton said, : “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” If we have a past filled with mistakes and failures, then perhaps the bigger they seem to us, the higher we can climb upon them and the farther we can learn to see beyond them.
There is only one New Year’s Eve every year where we can make those traditional resolutions, but there are three hundred and sixty four other days. Each one of those has eighty-six-thousand-four-hundred seconds within it… and any one of those can be a threshold of opportunity when we can choose to change our world.