11 January 2008

Doomed New Year's Resolutions

“Men who have discovered the limits of arrogance make better company: You notice more when you're not running around imposing your will on everything.”
- Virginia Vitzthum

Change is a difficult thing but every year, millions of Americans purpose to do just that. Maybe I'm just so old that I've accepted who I am and have difficulty imagining myself as someone different, but it seems like this industry of New Year's resolutions is one based on well intentioned delusion.

The other day, I was talking to what seemed to be a darling woman. She said that she was going to get more organized for the new year and was even able to list out all the benefits of doing just that. "So why aren't you more organized already," I asked. My own suspicion is that she has made such resolutions before but finds herself, once again, resolving anew to be who she is not. Such an endeavor seems like such a waste of energy when she could, instead, build on what everyone else sees as unique - or at least rare - strengths. New Year's Resolutions can too easily be attempts to be like someone we admire rather than self actualize.

According to First Break All the Rules, what distinguishes the really extraordinary managers from those who are merely very good or even mediocre is how they deal with shortcomings. The motto of the extraordinary managers in regards to their employees seems to be, "Don't try to put in what was left out. Instead, draw out what was left in. That's hard enough." In other words, we all arrive at life with missing pieces. We can spend our energy and ambition trying to address this obvious and sometimes distressing lack, but it's not clear that it'll ever make much difference. Or, we can acknowledge what we actually brought to the party and find a way to make that work. It wasn't that Einstein failed to work hard, he just (as far as I know) didn't spend much effort trying to be a world class dancer. It takes a great deal of effort just to be good at what we're good at.

If you have to make a New Year's resolution (and given it's already 11 January you probably don't), make a resolution to enhance or strengthen what you already know to be a positive part of you. Save the scary and often unrewarding work of trying low probability goals for experiments when you are already feeling confident and are less likely to make failure mean too much.


Anonymous said...

The sticking point is that many people have mistaken impressions of what their strengths and weaknesses are. The easiest person to delude is oneself.

Ron Davison said...

true enough. I remember one of the more scary things I read was about how it is that the worse a person is at something, the better they think they are (among other things, their judgment is bad, so they don't realize how poorly they're doing). Good point.