Confessions of a Resolutionist


. . . I can’t resist. I hear the beguiling voice of a fresh opportunity as I turn the page to a new year. I will resolve to change . . . well . . . something. Maybe. I haven’t figured that part out yet. But I mean it this time. It’s too important to pass up the chance to become a whole new me! Right? This is the one occasion I have to declare a new start. 

I know. The new year is seductive with its promise for healthier living, better time management, improved organization, and reduced stress. I’ve been burned before. But, I’ll give this one more try. So I hereby pledge my devotion to Brussels sprouts, my exercise bike, drawer organizers, and hours of quiet meditation. I will not be haunted again by the ghost of New Year’s resolutions past. Cynicism is not welcome here. This year it will last. You’ll see . . .

Hi. My name is Mark and I’m a resolutionist. This is the conversation I have with myself each year.  Here we go again.

I have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s. I crave the opportunity to reset, but the patterns of the past are too often the patterns of the future. This year, however, I thought I would do something a little different. The typical set of resolutions remains worthy, but I’ve been thinking. What if I ask myself some different, perhaps better, questions to inform my resolutions? Will that make a difference? I’m willing to give it a try.

What areas of knowledge do I want to explore or deepen in the coming year?

The body of human knowledge is enormous and growing rapidly. I’ll never capture even a sizable portion of that knowledge as my own, but my life will be enriched if each year I decide to tackle one new topic and enjoy learning a bit more. We are all at different places in our lives. For some in the early stages of career development or others contemplating a professional transition, this may signal an opportunity to pursue more advanced career-related learning. Taking a continuing education or professional development course might be just the right thing. For others, this task is much more about personal enrichment. The chance to encounter a topic that has long held our distant interest, but has thus far eluded capture. They key here is to be intentional about the learning we seek to undertake. It’s time to have a plan

I recently have taken an interest in explorers. I plan to learn more in this area by reading various works of history, poetry, and looking for artwork that speaks to the lives and work of the world’s explorers. I also know there are a variety of documentary films that examine both ancient and modern day explorers. I think I will learn more about science, climate change, and courage. I hope it will deepen my understanding of humanity and our place on this planet. Perhaps I’ll become a better and more engaged citizen as a result. If you have resources to suggest, feel free to pass them on.

What skill sets do I want to acquire or improve in the coming year?

I often hear people say, “Well, I don’t have any real skills.” I think they say this because they have a very narrowly defined set of skills in mind. Our minds quickly move to job-related skills and these are indeed important. They may or may not inspire us, but such skills are essential to our work. There are, of course, those who have the kinds of skills that involve some form of public presentation. Musicians, actors, and athletes would serve as examples of individuals many of us immediately identify as highly skilled. Our typical definitions are far too limited. We easily overlook skills like listening, analysis, and nurturing that are immensely important, but not as broadly public. If we expand our definition of skill sets, we open an opportunity to look at ourselves and others with eyes of appreciation for the diversity of skills we collectively represent.

This year I have committed myself to developing (at least trying) skill sets that will push me in new directions. As much as I appreciate the skill sets I have, I feel at this stage of my life I want to test myself in things that do not come naturally for me. It’s a bit intimidating because at my age becoming a novice again is tough to swallow. I’m used to being the one who knows how to do things well. Through the years I have done this from time to time and I have found the experience to be annoying, frustrating, even maddening, but always rewarding. The visual arts are a weak spot for me, though I have a great appreciation for art and artists. I need to find something I can try that will help me to explore my creativity in a different way. I’m not sure where to begin with this one, so if you have any ideas, let me know.

What new or renewed experiences do I want to have in the coming year?

Sometimes I feel like the days are all the same. That’s a significant overstatement since my work is very diverse and takes me into many different settings and encounters with many different people on a wide range of topics. Still, there is a routine that keeps me primarily in indoor settings and allows for limited experience in nature; it’s focused on intellectual or cognitive activities, and engages high degrees of complexity in organization and human relationships. Though it is important and satisfying work, I feel I need something more to restore some balance. A byproduct of this kind of professional lifestyle is the tendency to be focused heavily on digital communication and this has now spilled over into my personal life. I recently read an essay in the New York Times by Tony Schwartz entitled, Addicted to Distraction. It stirred my thinking.

In the coming year, I am going to pull back on the intensity of my digital communication. Some days I have found my iPad becoming more of a pacifier than a tool for communication and information. Though I enjoy the convenience of having books on my iPad, I think I need to also hold a book in my hands again. I tried this recently and have found that reading a physical book allows me to focus more on the reading by avoiding the distraction of notifications popping up, or a text message appearing, or the ping of a new email message arriving. As I de-digitize a bit, I also need to reconnect with the outdoors. I have a long history of spending time in nature, but that has been significantly diminished. I have hiking boots in my closet eager for a return to the trail. There is nothing quite like feeling the water beneath you with an unmistakable motion that can both exhilarate and soothe. For me this is a returning to settings I have always loved and yet forgotten. I have heard these kinds of places referred to as “listening points.” They are the places you can hear yourself think. Perhaps you have places you know that carry a special meaning for you. Plan to go there this year.

As you learn more, grow deeper, and search farther I wish you a happy New Year.

About the Author

Mark Putnam

I'm the lucky individual who carries the title, 21st president of Central College in Pella, Iowa. Passionate about higher education and the issues facing it and the world today, I hope to invoke an engaging conversation with all who are ready to dig in, make a difference and build for the future. Share your thoughts. I'm listening and interested.



4 responses to Confessions of a Resolutionist

Ed Maroon says:

I love the idea of de-digitizing a bit. I think we can all use that. Do we really need to know the answer to a question someone poses right this very minute. I love google but remember how fun it was to think about something before knowing the answer. I think we are all growing a little apart every time a new gadget comes out. I think in addition to what you have suggested, I also suggest doing random acts of kindness. I know I am guilty of getting caught up in the rat race and what always brings me back is an act of kindness. One more to add is to smile more.

Anne Petrie says:

Ice skating! For someone with extremely rudimentary skills, there’s something about skating that renews my spirit. In the space of an hour on the rink, I go from damage control (“try not to wipe out”) to focus on details (“OK, now glide more on your left leg”) to flow (“feel the rhythm, feel the ice”). A pretty apt metaphor for the learning curve my voice students go through, too! So that’s my New Year’s resolution, to skate more. Happy New Year!

Elizabeth Primus Ware says:

Grab a camera….not the tiny little one in your phone…and go for a walk/hike. Take pictures. Look as well as see. Try the same route in different seasons, different weather. God gives us the most amazing light, and I think it gladdens His heart when we appreciate it. May He bless your New Year in every way!

Andy Thompson says:

I think self-improvement of any kind is a worthy goal, if you can keep it. God asks us to be good stewards of many things, including the gifts he’s given us, and sharpening our talents and employing those talents effectively fits that definition. I like the de-digitizing idea. We’re way too caught up in the minute to minute to think effectively about the long haul. Time seems to speed up the older we get, but I like to recall how inspired I was by William Paul, my philosophy professor at Central. He asked us to consider eternal truths, the meaning of life, and our place in the universe in the context of the great thinkers who’d gone before us. I hope Central will continue to be a forum for freedom of expression and the testing of assumptions, and embrace a willingness to consider all points of view. That’s what the liberal arts are all about.