New Year's Rest-olutions
Avignon, France

New Year's Rest-olutions


For a few years when we were a much younger family, we would make New Year’s Resolutions together with our kids. Like together together, offering one another suggestions on what to target for self-improvement, habits to make or break, goals to achieve. Matters of such nature that would on any given normal day likely devolve into an argument, but with the New Year breathing down our necks had the potential to send one or all of us into a sudden tailspin.

Tears shed. Stairs loudly ascended. Doors slammed. 

Thankfully, it was a practice we eventually wised up to and ended as we realized the cruel stupidity of thinking that personal growth should be workshopped, especially with family members who may know the past us better than anyone else but have zero inkling of the future us we long to become. And while parenting is, as it were, like having a rare bird stop momentarily at your window feeder—you’ll do anything to not scare it away—familiarity, even on that level, should never be mistaken for expertise, not when a person’s identity is at stake. Even the most accepting and loving toward us cannot see all ends.  

Salvador Dalí

The boundlessness of our distinct selves falls far even from our own eyes. Tina Turner knew this when she said: “Sometimes you've got to let everything go - purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything... whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you'll find that when you're free, your true creativity, your true self comes out.” So did Eckhart Tolle when he contemplated how to live a life of greater presence and purpose: 

“Our sense of self, our identity is derived from your thinking mind - in other words, what your mind tells you about yourself: the storyline of you, the memories, the expectations, all the thoughts that go through your head continuously and the emotions that reflect those thoughts. All those things make up your sense of self.”

Sharing reflections of who we might be or become—either willingly or by having it shoved down your throats, albeit lovingly, around the dinner table with your parents and siblings weighing in—risks shorting ourselves on the transformative power of personal experience. "We are what we are because we have been what we have been," wrote Freud. Our experiences shape how we perceive and express ourselves. 

 “I am the person I know best,” Frida Kahlo responded when asked about her many self-portraits. She understood that identity was fashioned by many of the factors we’re born with—ethnic heritage, sex, one’s body—but also by the challenges and changes we go through in life, impacting the decisions we make, who we choose as friends, where we live, what we wear, the beliefs we find ourselves drawn to.  

The Two Fridas, 1939 by Frida Kahlo

That is not to say New Year’s Resolutions are not worth their while. Those inspired by love, goals, habits for self-improvement, or in Frida’s case with her portrait, The Two Fridas, simply understanding the duality of our selves better, can be useful as long as expectations are realistic, match current circumstances and provide you with a sense of meaning. Not what someone else would like you to do or behave.

If after, you want to see what others think, say your family for instance, feel free to ask, but keep in mind any sought after advice-givers, good intentions have a way of backfiring as advice is often only effective if it agrees with what that person wanted to do anyway. Otherwise, it can make someone feel less diminished in their own eyes. So be prepared to keep your pearls of wisdom to yourself or risk never being invited to dinner again. 

So, with that in mind, this year our New Year’s Resolution is to encourage our children and anyone listening to take a break from the task of looking at one’s future self and consider how they may take better care of the self here and now, the one front and center. This could be our own personal experience of moving to Sicily talking as we have more time now to slow down and give more attention to the present day, but what is age for if not to share the lessons from having made mistakes? 

Precious birds, are you listening?

To learn more about taking more and better rest this year, check out this article from The Atlantic. Trust me, if you have teenagers, you’re gonna want to know more about “bed rotting”. If you don’t have kids, the article/interview also talks about the Flow state, which you may remember I wrote about last year.  

A few other measures that matter from this week:

  • Oppenheimer— The kudos for this film, recently a huge winner at The Golden Globes, is 100% warranted. Any movie about science that brings tears at the end, as it did for me, is well worth watching. I only wish it had come out in the 80s when I was screwing around in physics class instead of being inspired by it.
  • In the category of better understanding our natural world, here’s everything you never knew about salt. Who knew there were so many specific rules of which to use when?
  • Two books from my bookshelf that I’ve been steadily reading (and re-reading) in the last few months are about money. Which, if I go back at look at my journals, money holds a particularly high place on the lists of Things I Can Be Anxious About. I’ll share more in the coming weeks, but if you’d like to dip your toes in ahead of that the books are: Die With Zero, highlighting net fulfillment over net profit, and The Psychology of Money, which has been very helpful for me, a bit of a control freak, in changing my relationship with money with practical takeaways (hint: life doesn’t happen on a spreadsheet). 
  • I also just finished reading From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life, by Arthur C. Brooks, which I found a suitable read for many reasons—the book draws on social science and philosophy of which I am a huge fan of (again, where was this inspiration in my younger, impressionable years!)—but primarily it addresses quiet well the challenges we’re both facing here in Sicily in terms of using staying productive. 

 That’s a wrap for now. Hope everyone is coping well with what a good friend from childhood calls “the grey days” of January. The good news is every day going forward is getting longer and longer. 

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