The dark underbelly of New Year’s isn’t debaucherous parties and drunken mistakes, but fear.
Every resolution contains within it not just a hopeful notion of a future self, but an admonition to fear of being or becoming someone we don’t want to be; of being lost in waves of time that crash unceasingly onward.
There is a truism that it takes one seven years to decide what to get as their first tattoo, and seven minutes to decide what to get as their second.
Almost before the ink was dry on the quill on my right forearm, I began thinking about where to put an oar crossed with a harpoon.
The reference was, nominally, Moby Dick. I think Ahab is one of the most important characters in literature. On the one hand, he represents the power of the entrepreneurial spirit - the very drive, ambition, and unwillingness to stop that made America great. On the other hand, he ended up literally consumed (in this case, by the great white whale) because nature or the universe whatever you want to ascribe it to simply didn’t care; he was, for all the majesty of his ambition, in their eyes small.
One of the greatest challenges for human beings in general and, I’ve found, entrepreneurs in particular, is accepting the paradox of how much power we have to shape the destiny of those around us while simultaneously being a tiny spec in the cosmic consciousness.
How much of our lives are spent exerting trying to exert our will on the world - attempting to reorient and reshape the forces around us to achieve the goals we have? This is both in the metaphorical sense, as well as in the very reshaping of the physical world around us.
Yet no matter how enamored we become of our dominion and mastery over nature and fate, one disaster - on the personal or collective scale - is often all it takes to remind us of how little control we really have.
There is something interesting going on this year, at least within my community of friends.
More and more, the entrepreneurial people I know are asking themselves how much they’re willing to trade today’s happiness for the potential of some theoretical future objective. They’re wondering, to put it another way, whether success is a place you get, or whether it might instead be a way of being.
These are, by and large, positive people, and most of them seem to frame this exploration in positive terms - in the context of a search for something better. But for many, I think there is a desperate fear underneath. It is a fear of waking up tired and slow, with only a spark of the passion they once had, wondering in spite of their achievements what it was all for.
This is finding expression in a different attitude towards New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve seen a half dozen posts, tweets, or status updates that are effectively resolving to not have resolutions, but to simply live.
What strikes me about this is not necessarily that it’s new - these sorts of internal conversations about the prioritization of today vs tomorrow are a part of the human canon. What’s interesting is that they’re being had in public by the entrepreneurs who in years past would almost certainly have been the loudest in setting goals and bounding restlessly and relentlessly to the future with little regard for the present. It feels to me like part of a changing trend in how we, as a people, think about success.
As for me, the volume on these conversations has been turned down just a notch, if only because the last year has so clearly demonstrated how unintended paths can lead one to wonderful places. 2013 is a year for creating the future; but it’s not the future I would have known I wanted to create not too long ago, and there is something contenting about that.
I don’t have that tattoo yet, because I’m not sure where I want to put it. I’m pretty sure I’ll know when I know.