So many friends and colleagues I’ve spoken with have a common sentiment as they look back on 2017 – “I’m so tired.” It appears for many, this past year took a toll. When I look back on my year, by all accounts I should be cheering. But I, too, feel a weariness. Some of the exhaustion is like the thrill of crossing a finish line after a marathon. But some is because my soul is fatigued from the heartaches of “real life,” and the continued glimpse of humanity at its worst that 2017 offered.
By any standard, I should (and do) feel immense gratitude and pride for what 2017 wrought. Professionally, I completed my 75th article for Forbes and Harvard Business Review. I did two TEDx talks, one Authors at Google Talk, and one HBR live. I was a guest on more than 60 podcasts. I worked with some amazing clients who inspired me as we watched their organizations transform. And I spent my days working alongside some of the finest consultants on the planet. Personally, I got to take an amazing long vacation with my wife and two dear friends. I got to volunteer extensively with an organization I am passionate about. I helped a dear friend complete ground breaking research on a pernicious affliction. And I lost 30 pounds.
And still, I’m very tired. Because in between all of that, the rest of life happened. I lost several friends too early in life to cancer. My older brother passed away unexpectedly. Both of my kids got very ill, and they live thousands of miles from me where they are in college. As a world, we faced unprecedented natural disasters that have left countless without homes, livelihoods, and care. Almost as if routine news, we saw headlines of leaders commit horrific abuses of power to exploit and harm others. And we continued to watch our nation further divide across political, social, and economic lines.
A few weeks “in between years” is hardly enough time to rejuvenate one’s mind, body, and soul. But it’s a start, and we all try and do it. For 2018, I’ve decided that rather than making “resolutions,” I want to make promises. To myself, and to others. I don’t want to be another statistic among the near 80% who make and break “resolutions” weeks after the New Year begins. Resolutions are something we intellectually decide on our own. Promises feel more sacred. And most importantly, they involve others. As kids, “pinky swears” were the most inviolate of commitments. You’d never think of breaking one once made. That’s the kind of promise I’m talking about. If I learned anything in 2017, it’s that having others on the journey may well be the most important thing we need to learn in life. To participate in the journey of others’, and to invite them to participate in ours. With a pinky swear.
Maybe like me, you feel like you went all out in 2017 but instead of momentum, you feel weary going into 2018. If so, see if some of these promises might help you shift perspectives, and think differently about digging deep to gear up for the year ahead.
I promise to take honest stock. The first principle of being reflective is being self-honest. 2017 was great and it was painful. In some cases, it was painful because it was great. I don’t naturally like to hold two paradoxical truths. I tend to focus on one or the other – either how great things are, or how challenging things are. But if I can learn to hold both truths at the same time, I will be more honest about what 2017 was and wasn’t, and I can honestly grieve what cost me, and celebrate what delighted me.
I promise not to confuse “not yet” with “not enough.” One of my worst habits is that I dismiss progress when it’s just that, and not more. I confuse milestones and goals, and disregard one for not being the other. So when all of the above professional accomplishments didn’t add up to the ultimate goal for which I began them, I felt discouraged. Inadequate. Resentful of others further down their path than I. I refused to allow them to be enough. And while I know this to be extraordinarily unhealthy, it’s always been my weakness. But I am learning to distinguish “not yet” from “not enough.” I know life, professionally and personally, is a marathon. The mile markers along the way give us our bearings and indicate progress. They are to be celebrated, not dismissed. I am realizing that an inability to celebrate the “in between” now and not yet not only makes me bitter, but constrains me from being able to celebrate the in between of others too. So in 2018, I will honor each milestone with joy and gratitude. I will learn to anticipate with wonder, the next milestones, and even the ultimate goals that they indicate I am that much closer to.
I promise to keep my love affair with help going. I hired a coach two years ago, and we’re beginning our third year of work together. When I look back at all I have learned, I feel giddy. At the end of many of the podcasts I was on, when asked what piece of advice I would offer, I answered with, “Get help.” Honestly, help from others is one of life’s greatest gifts. Why on earth would we EVER want to undertake difficult things alone? Yet, we all do. We fear being a burden. We don’t want to feel weak or unqualified. We don’t like feeling vulnerable or looking incompetent. We don’t want to admit we need others. (Oddly, we’re perfectly ok being helpers to others, expecting them to admit they need us). Whatever remnants of that faulty thinking I had are almost gone! Help is my love language. I can’t get enough of it now, and in 2018, I intend to find ways to get more! If you have one ounce of resistance to others joining you in places you need help, PLEASE get past it. I promise you won’t regret it. You can’t truly appreciate the honor of being needed by others until you embrace your need for others as well.
I promise to be formed by the crucibles. My first TEDx talk was in early November. It was “the talk I was born to give” according to dear friends. It was on a topic near and dear to my heart – power. My thoughts were formed by my book built upon ten years of research data. And the event was in my home town of Seattle. The day before, I flew in from Connecticut from my brother’s funeral. The dissonance was unbearable. Saying goodbye to my big brother, and the next day, walking into the coveted red circle to tell the world my ideas. As I walked on stage, I looked up, fighting back tears, and thought of my brother. And on the way to the red circle, all I could think of was the faces of so many friends and family who’d carried me that week, many of whom were in the audience. Inside, I knew digging deep to “show up” for this was forming me. Refining me like fire does dross. Though I still have no idea how. I was keenly aware that suffering does yield strength, empathy, wisdom, and resilience, and reveals supplies of strength we didn’t know we had (especially when we allow others to help). We can’t prevent life’s cruel parts from invading. But we can let them form us into better human beings, which in turn allows us to care for those suffering even more than us.
I promise to reach back and give to others earlier on their journey. When I look at the many people who reached back from further up ahead to offer me practical advice and support, encouragement and kindness, I’m astounded. So when I look back and see others earlier on their journeys, at places I was not that long ago, it makes me eager to offer them what was so generously offered to me. Thought leaders who lent me their voices. Friends who gave me time and compassionate ears. Family who cheered me on. Wise guides who gave me sage ideas. One of the best ways to truly savor the milestones of “in between” (#2 above) is to look back and offer the same to those coming behind me. If we all do the same in 2018, we truly will make the world stronger, together.
I promise to rest and play. I rediscovered the beauty of sleep this year. (As an aside, whoever said we need less sleep as we get older was an idiot). I took my physical and emotional health more seriously this year. I promise to keep playing (to keep these 30 pounds off – which we all know is harder than losing them in the first place!). I promise to play racquetball with my friend more. I promise to take longer weekends away with my wife. I promise to keep making better choices about food. And I promise to keep exercising regularly and not get complacent. (I’ve already gotten clothes a size smaller, so I have no choice). It’s so cliché, but we only get one body and if we don’t take care of it, it has ways of “giving us feedback” later in life. I’m praying “50 is the new 30” is really true. I’m going to act like it is until I learn otherwise.
I promise to remain grateful for the privilege. Down the hall from my office is a conference room and kitchen where I get my morning coffee. I have a collection of coffee mugs from all of the world, and from numerous special moments with people I love and regard. Each morning, when I pick which mug to use, I hold it in remembrance of the person it represents to me, remembering joyfully the moment it symbolizes, grateful for who they are to me and the parts of life we’ve shared. It’s my (some might say corny) way of reminding myself of everything above – that others in my life have shaped my journey, and that I need to remain grateful for the privilege (including the really hard parts) of being on the journey. Beginning my day with a reminder that my story is part of a much bigger, grander story keeps me grounded, and in 2018, will surely help me keep my promises.
However your story has unfolded in 2017, my hope is that you can make a few promises to yourself, and those that matter most; that the chapters about to be revealed can be full of all of life – the not yet, the milestones, the crucibles, and the wonder of others loving and cheering you on, helping you keep your pinky swear.