I have never been all that enthusiastic on traditional New Year’s resolutions, by which I mean I have never once in my life resolved to do anything particularly new or different just because the calendar flipped from one year to the next. I do not like being told what to do, and am especially resistant to being told when to do it, so coming up with a list of things I will or will not do in the coming year, on the eve of said year, seems fundamentally absurd and pointless and entirely against my better nature.
The very idea of launching into a campaign of renewal and self-improvement simply because of a change in the date on the calendar has about as much chance of long term effect on your life as deciding to get in shape while on vacation. Neither is likely to last beyond the end of the week and the new sneakers will still end up in the bottom of the closet, hardly worn.
“Trying to predict the future is like
driving down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.”Peter Drucker
Predictions, as well, are risky affairs, not worth the paper they’re printed on, and would be subject to great humiliation were it not for the fact that we ignore them so completely that there are not only zero consequences to being wrong, there is literally no reward for being right. The especially egregious examples are when someone takes a 50/50 shot on a binary question where not only do they have even odds at being right, but are assured that half of anyone thinking about it, already agrees with them.
The business-management guru Peter Drucker once said that trying to predict the future was like driving down a country lane at night, with no lights, while looking out the back window of the car. It was an entirely predictably pointless endeavor.
I once knew a guy who predicted that home computers would never take off, that the internet was nothing but a fad, and that Apple stores would never succeed. He’s dead now, and although I don’t think it was related to his inability to predict the future, he clearly did not see that coming, so who knows.
There is an oft-misquoted line that tends to float around the Internet this time of year that in essence claims that it’s easier to create the future, then to predict it. This has been attributed to everyone from Steve Jobs to Abraham Lincoln, so it was probably coined by either a screenwriter or an eighth grade student.
Yet another meme you will find, posits that if you desire to have a future that is significantly different from your present, the thing you have to change, is not what you do, but how you think. This is just another way of getting at the point that we are capable of creating our own destiny, that we have absolute control over our future, as long as we’re willing to think differently and behave accordingly. You are either the bug or the windshield, and so it matters who gets to drive the car, not which side of the glass you’re on.
The one prediction we always know will be right is that no matter what, it’s highly unlikely that it will turn out the way you thought it would. You might get some things right, but most will be wrong. You may get the outcome right, but be completely wrong on the path to get there, or you may recognize the path but misjudge where it will lead. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, so eventually a few people are right about a few things, but that is just the statistical odds of being right if given enough random options.
“And now we welcome the new year,
full of things that have never been.”Rainer Maria Rilke
I know I will get a little bit older, every day, for the rest of my life—until I don’t. And while I fully expect to be here this time next year, there are no guarantees, and will wake tomorrow only by the grace of God. I don’t believe in destiny but I do tend to be pretty optimistic in my cynicism, and find that one way or another things tend to work out if you keep an open mind. One sure-fire way to be disappointed in life is to expect that things will go according to plan. On the other hand if you can find the ability to see obstacles as opportunities, you will never be bored and always fascinated by the uncertainty of the future.
I have some idea about what 2021 is going to bring, but I’m also pretty confident that nothing will end up like I think it will. I have chosen a direction and am doing my best to steer despite having no headlights, and I’m resigned to the fact that no one is in any better position than I to see the future. But I am in a better position than most to react to an ever-changing environment because I’m never holding on too tight.
When I was in college, I put myself through school by working on a brick crew for a masonry outfit in Philadelphia. I ran the brick saw, which was a gas-powered, water saw with an 18” diamond-coated blade that cut pavers and bricks. You held the brick in your bare hands and fed into the saw on a little tray with wheels. You had to hold onto the brick tightly enough to keep the brick from flying forward, but not so tight that you couldn’t release it if necessary. You see, bricks have flaws, defects, and inconsistencies and these would sometimes catch on the blade, which would cause the brick to go flying forward with a ferocious power. You had to let the brick go, or you risked losing a finger or even a hand. The saw was not sharp, as it was meant to cut stone, so if your hand ever got in there you were most likely going to lose it in a mangled mess. It wasn’t going to cut you so much as tear everything to pieces. So you learned to hold on tightly, but not too tightly; just enough to get the job done but not so much that you’d lose the fight.
I never got used to having that saw take a brick out of my hands and slam it into the wall behind it. It would scare the shit out of me, everytime, as it should have. I never got used it, but I did learn how to let go, and managed to get the job done and retain all my fingers.
It won’t be dull, that much I can promise you. But that’s about all I know.