Testing One’s Resolve

January 8, 2010

Most people I speak to who are beyond their 10 year high school reunion and use Facebook have at least one story about reconnecting with someone from their school years. Typically someone “really attractive” who they didn’t date but “always had a thing with.” I must have been hanging out with the wrong group of people, because the only cohorts that contact me are the ones who were really into the Anarchist’s Cookbook, or who knew the schedule for when a new batch of records were put on the shelves at Goodwill, or who were always busy talking about Dr. Who on newsgroups.

The other day one of these old compatriots started IMing with me. Sorensen (his last name, which is what we all called him by because there were too many other kids with his same first name) lived in the hills, wore an Indiana Jones fedora all the time, and his dad had a field full of 50s and 60s Buicks in various states of disrepair.

“Happy New Year, Josh”

“Happy New Year, Sorensen. How are things back in the ‘Burg?”

“Cold for this area. We actually got snow the other day. Global warming ha!”

“Wasn’t it just in the 60s like two weeks ago?”

“Sure was. I was walking around in a t-shirt! Crazy man, crazy. So you got any New Year’s Resolutions?”

“Sort of but not — I try to set goals to accomplish during the year rather than making some general behavioral change. I’m more likely to stick with a change if it’s embedded in working towards something. Like, I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon this year. That will push me to work harder on my running than just saying I want to run more or something. What about you?”

“Nah, man, I don’t do any of that. It’s just setting yourself up for failure.”

“You mean because nobody sticks with their resolutions for more than a week anyway?”

“No, that’s not it. I’m pretty stubborn when I set my mind to it. Like one year my resolution was to drink less Coke, and I did it, too!”

“I remember that — you drank Pepsi instead and drank about twice as much of it as you did Coke.”

“Well that’s because it wasn’t as good as Coke and I had to drink more to get my fix. Then when the year was up and I could go back to drinking Coke, it just didn’t taste the same anymore. I couldn’t drink either and had to find something else. You see, failure! Because I swore off Coke for a year I lost my love for it. Except for the few years when Jolt was around I’ve had a hole in my life ever since.”

“But wasn’t the point to drink less soda, not to just stop drinking a particular one?”

“Well that’s a stupid question. I would have resolved to drink less soda then, wouldn’t I have? But I didn’t have a problem with that. I might have a Sprite or a Mountain Dew every once in a while, but not too often. The problem was that I was drinking too much Coke.”

“But then you solved that, didn’t you?”

“But at what cost, Josh. At. What. Cost?”


Chatting with Sorensen made me consider a few things:
1. I need to spend less time online.
2. There are many interpretations of failure.
3. If personal change is so difficult, how are we supposed to begin to tackle institutional change?

This last is one of the big struggles for archivists in trying to advocate for their collections and for trying to enact necessary change for necessary care. It’s a big job that will not be accomplished in the first week of the new year, or even by the end of the year itself. But steps towards a bigger goal can be achieved in digestible chunks. I take a lot of my resolve from my experience with running. It’s a very mental sport that depends on one’s patience, of being able to take one’s time to build up to different levels of accomplishment. But at the same time, one needs to know when to push and go big, to challenge what one thinks one can do and achieve something beyond one’s comfort zone. You might fail at it, but the beautiful thing is that you wake up the next morning and try again.

So I agree with Sorensen — I don’t care for New Year’s Resolutions. They set you up for failure because a year is too short of a time. We’re in this for the long haul and need to plan for the big investment. It’s a lot of work to do, but I reckon that’s why Sorensen needed all of the soda to keep himself going.

—¬†Joshua Ranger