I undoubtedly enjoy writing New Year’s (or birthday, or academic year) Resolutions. As I’ve said before, I find goal-writing to be an orienting process, and new aims and goals put a much-needed spring in my step for the drudgery of post-Christmas winter, when the days are still so long, but without twinkle lights and the promise of a holiday trip home to brighten them up.
I felt a bit wary as I wrote my 2018 resolutions, though. For starters, I had a hard time thinking of my word for the year (last year’s was perspective). My work life isn’t the disaster that it was at this time last year or the year before, my relationships with friends and family are strong, and my physical, spiritual and emotional health are in a good place. Without a dramatic problem area, it was hard to pick a particular item of focus for the year.
On top that, I was struck as looked over my drafted list of resolutions at how narcissistic they all seem. Learn this skill, read this book, go to this place, organize this aspect of my life, try this new thing. The end of all these goals, ultimately, is self-improvement, and for the first time ever, I felt bothered by that end.
It’s not that I don’t see the value of self-improvement. Look, so long as we are alive, we might as well live a life that we can be proud of. Besides, the only person I can change is myself, so I might as well put some effort into becoming a better person. I do believe that outer transformation (of the world) begins with inner transformation.
The problem is that focusing on self-improvement can become selfish as easily as it can become transformative. And that’s the last thing I want. I want to live an abundant and full life, but in the pursuit of that life, I don’t want to become so wrapped up in myself that I become a god to myself.
In short, I want to be devoted to enhancing and enriching the quality of life for those around me. I want self-improvement to be the pathway to a life that helps me look out into the world instead of inwards towards myself, a pathway to living a bigger, not smaller, life.
Sometimes we do the right things for the wrong reasons. And sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons. And much of the time, our wrong reasoning and wrong acting stem from a lack of reflection.
So this year, as I go forward with my word for the year (which I did, in fact choose, after much deliberation) and my potentially narcissistic resolutions, I’m going to keep these questions in mind:
- Is completing this goal helping me to live a bigger life?
- Am I improving myself/my life in such a way that I will be more equipped to enhance the lives of others?
- How am I enriching the quality of life of the people I encounter?