Twelve New Things
An article written in the Wall Street Journal, by Zachary Karabell of River Twice Capital, may have included the best reflection on 2022. Of the last year, Karabell said this in his opening words: “…[W]e have reached the end of 2022 with a disagreeable form of globalization: Everyone, it seems, feels grim about the present and worse about the future.” At first blush, most of us would not be faulted for agreeing with Karabell’s quick assessment. The last twelve months were tough ones.
For me, 2022 was a mixed bag of highs and lows. In my professional life, I found new opportunities to cultivate my writing talents. I finished a few books, I conceptualized and started the WMF series (among others), I inked a pretty notable collaboration project, and I am now a recognized editor of scholarly writings. Alongside those things, I was still a dealmaker and found time to close a few good ones. To be sure, though, one or two of those deals did not pan out, but — oh, well. That’s just business.
I think the hardest lessons of 2022 came in my personal life. I started the year watching friends move away. Opportunities for growth are dwindling in Louisiana, and so, that has spurred an exodus, largely to Texas and Florida (but that is a subject for a different missive). If that, alone, had been the scale of the changes I experienced, things wouldn’t have been so bad. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. 2022 also brought the unexpected deaths of a sibling, an uncle, and a few close friends. There were illnesses and hospitalizations. And in recent weeks, there was also the complete destruction of the Carter family farm. So, yes, it has been a lot.
Life changes unexpectedly, and while you cannot predict what, when, or how things will change, what comes can often be shocking, complete, and immutable. Those changes, this year has taught me, can easily leave us unmoored from the fixtures that define our daily lives, be those fixtures physical, professional, social, or otherwise. When we become complacent in our routine, or rigid in our understanding, we are less prepared for change. That is when the enormity of change reeks the most havoc on us emotionally.
A noteworthy solution for encountering the enormity of change can be found in the words of the martial arts expert and actor Bruce Lee:
“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash! Be water, my friend.”
This Taoist approach to life provides useful instruction on how to meet change. For starters, Lee rightly does not assume that change is a preventable phenomenon. Instead, he encourages us to adopt a mental posture centered on calmness and fluidity. Our weltanschauung, our view of the world, cannot be inflexible. Instead, the less form we assume — the less rigidity we take on — the better. So, the initial emotional shock notwithstanding, when we do meet change, according to Lee, this formless mental posture enables us to be immediately responsive and more adaptable.
Acknowledge. Accept. Adapt. Act.
From a practical sense, part of what gives us the ability to remain formless is open-mindedness. Our willingness to try new things, meet new people, visit new places, achieve new things, have new experiences, listen to new ideas, and so on — all of these forms of experimentation do more than simply enrich our lives and afford us new memories. They help to make us who we are.
My understanding of that notion, alongside the handwritten question attached above, are the purpose for this missive. After a year filled with the unexpected, I am hopeful that 2023 can be a little different. That is not because the scale of change is going to be any less. Of course, I cannot know that. But the way that I approach whatever changes are ahead can be rooted more in thoughtfulness and adaptability and less in emotionality.
When was the last time you did something for the first time? Well, if experimentation helps us foster the right type of open-mindedness and formlessness that meets change appropriately, then I am resolving to answer that handwritten question: In 2023, I plan to do twelve new things — one new thing each month.
Really good new year’s resolutions do tend to be regimented, specific, measurable — and when missed, anxiety-inducing. This resolution bears none of those qualities. In fact, I admit that this resolution is pretty vague and unplanned, but there are benefits to spontaneity. And, yes, experimenting with some new things may not result in good experiences, but that is all a part of the learning process.
Experimenting with new things can lead to three advances in one’s personal growth. First, there is self-discovery — an opportunity to learn more about what a person is capable of doing, an opportunity to reaffirm or recalibrate one’s beliefs and preferences, and an opportunity to dispel fears, misconceptions, and limiting beliefs. Experimentation also gives a person a better understanding of the world beyond any previous perception. And together, self-discovery and understanding can reveal meaning. That is, a person can be more informed about his role in the world.
While Karabell wrote of a generally grim feeling coursing through our society, he encouraged his readers to adopt a balanced perspective of the preceding twelve months:
“And yet, far more went right in 2022 than most of us recognize. Rather than being the sum of all of our fears, the year was in many ways a possible harbinger of a pessimism thaw. Of course, focusing on what has gone right requires an asterisk acknowledging that much did not. But we know that already, and the negative skew is a distortion. News, politics, and social media thrive on bad news and hot emotions: People respond more powerfully and immediately to anger, outrage, and fear than they do to hope and calm. That makes it difficult for good news to stand out, but we do ourselves a disservice if we fail to give progress its due.”
He is right. It was not an entirely bad year. There were just bad moments. And that we are even able to say that proves how blessed we all are.
As we enter 2023, we do so with new hope and aspirations. For me, this is a chance to really appreciate life and more of what it has to offer. I plan to submit more easily to my own curiosity — of course, with it reason — and not recoil from new possibilities. (So, we are talking about, perhaps, learning a new language and traveling to new places — not jumping from an airplane.) And I will live more readily outside of what is comfortable and familiar.
Change is constant, but this life is precious. No matter what change comes, this life is meant to be lived.
I will be doing my best to add the words “to its fullest potential” to the end of that preceding sentence. So, wish me luck.
By the way — Happy New Year!