Aiming for Better Things in 2022

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Today begins Advent, the season of preparation and waiting in anticipation of Christmas. Thanksgiving has passed and Black Friday promotions have formally initiated the retail sprint to the finish of 2021. The next few weeks will zip by as we lose ourselves to shopping, parties, and the dangling participles of all we’ve left undone for this calendar year. Some have started thinking about next year from a planning perspective, and though it looms, it seems farther than it is as we face the mountain of activity stretching before us in the foot race through December.

In the midst of all before you, please allow me to add one more to-do: self-reflection. I suppose it isn’t so much a “to-do” as it is a reminder that December is a perfect time to pause, catch your breath, and invest some time contemplating the year gone by, as well as what might be for the next 12 months. This season of preparation and waiting presents an ideal opportunity to consider the priorities of your life and resist the urge to surrender to the torrent of consumption, activity, and distraction that traditionally burdens this time of year.

Perusing my bookshelf recently, I came across an old book entitled The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett. We bought this version circa 1993 in what I believe was its first printing. The book is an anthology of poems, essays, fables, letters, speeches, and short stories collected from human history. It has been a delight getting reacquainted with these great works and they have reminded me of the importance of the fundamentals in our own development; fundamentals that are easy to lose to distraction and complication along the ways of our lives. I will revisit this book in some future posts and heartily recommend it for anyone looking for some grounding.

My reference to Bennett’s anthology stems from its reminder that we need to continually recenter ourself through what we’re reading, how we’re thinking, and the questions we are asking, of the world and of ourself. As much as we’ve read and considered over the course of our life, we must continually revisit much of it as we change so that it can meet us where we are, in new and more meaningful ways. The virtues are always worth revisiting as we consider who we are and who we want to become.

As we roll toward the end of 2021 and aim for more in 2022, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. However, before we begin quantifying our productivity, assessing our progress, assigning a grade to our performance, or creating a list of resolutions, we should start with some fundamentals. We need some basic reference points to force us to think about how we think. The virtues are a great reference point as they are timeless, unchanging amid the relativism so rampant in our own time. However, this post is brief and the power of Bennett’s book is in the slow, savoring of the stories and poems.

In the spirit of efficiency and provocation of thought, we’ll use a more contemporary resource to inspire contemplation and leverage the beautiful simplicity of a list. Canadian psychologist and author, Jordan Peterson, recently published Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life as a follow up to his massively popular 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Both books are truly excellent and offer an intellectual journey through psychology, philosophy, literature, and pragmatic approaches to navigating life’s struggles and living fully. For purposes of this post, they also offer a great list to use as a reference as we begin our self-reflection and look toward 2022.

Fortunately, we don’t need to read the books to get ourselves started, the rules are specific enough to prompt solid self-reflection. Let’s start with Peterson’s first 12 Rules:

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
  2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you.
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
  7. Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.
  8. Tell the truth – or, at least don’t lie.
  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
  10. Be precise in your speech.
  11. Don’t bother children when they are skateboarding.
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

The last two are a bit abstract but make sense with a bit of context. I’ll let you sort them out. One of the most compelling things about Peterson’s list is that it is not purely academic; much of what he writes comes from his years as a clinical psychologist. The rules are written in application form which makes them very pragmatic, however, my suggestion is that we start by using them self-reflectively as we frame the tough questions. Where are we relative to these rules? What is our default state?

The first set of rules are framed as a means of coping with the chaos of the world and beginning the path toward order in our own lives. In his second set of rules, Peterson takes us beyond order to give us approaches to some of our biggest hang-ups and to managing the complex burdens accumulated over our lifetimes. Here they are:

  1. Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement.
  2. Imagine who you could be, and then aim single-mindedly at that.
  3. Do not hide unwanted things in the fog.
  4. Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility is abdicated.
  5. Do not do what you hate.
  6. Abandon ideology.
  7. Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens.
  8. Try to make one room in your house as beautiful as possible.
  9. If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely.
  10. Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship.
  11. Do not allow yourself to become resentful, deceitful, or arrogant.
  12. Be grateful in spite of your suffering.

So often, we assess the time passing in our lives on the basis of what we’ve accomplished or completed. Then, we look forward and apply the same lens. Of course, such an approach is natural and necessary as we plan and prepare for the things we want to get done. in this season, may I suggest that we complement the traditional process with a deeper look at our fundamentals? The tough questions, and the tough work, relate to our own foibles, habits, choices, and biases. We are quirky, set in our ways, and stubborn. We are also creative, strong, and smart. Our capacity for more is virtually limitless; particularly as it relates to thought, effort, generosity, and love.

Aiming for better things in 2022? Start with yourself. Aim for a better you. When you ask yourself what you did well in 2021 and what you did poorly, start with your behaviors rather than your accomplishments. Were you kind? Were you generous? Were you considerate? Were you a good friend, spouse, son, daughter, father, mother, employee? Were you forgiving? Were you honest? Were you trustworthy? Were you consistent? Were you persistent? When you consider your choices, did you choose the right people? The right path? The right answer? The right food? The right thing to do with your time? Did you dwell on the right thoughts?

We are likely to walk into the new year expecting more. More income. More health. More joy. More success. More progress. More hope. Let’s start by expecting more of ourselves, then focus on the right things. Get the fundamentals right. Put the virtues at our center. My suspicion is that, when we’ve done that, more of the better things will come our way. And, if they don’t or they’re delayed, we’ll find that we’re more able to cope, manage, respond, and thrive despite the struggle and the disappointment. Here, we’ll find more life, more fulfillment, and more satisfaction – all better things.

And ultimately, we’ll find more of ourself. At least the version we want to be.

  • Rebecca Seifert

    Great essay!!! Thanks so much and keep them coming! Merry Christmas and the best to you and yours in the year ahead!

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