My sister-in-law Juliet told me that one year she decided to only make New Year’s resolutions that she could actually keep. After much deliberation, she resolved to take better care of her shoes. And in fact, she has kept this resolution for many years now (except for the one pair of boots the new puppy got a hold of). It was a matter of being realistic, she told me, and not setting herself up for failure with some unattainable goal.
Which made me think about ambition, aspiration, desire.
George, a young 29 year old man who could still pass for a teenager, was going to be setting up a hedge fund. He had already made a tremendous success as a Wall Street trader, with a system he had worked out that had led to tremendous gains for his company’s clients. Now he wanted to branch out on his own.
George was driven. He didn’t really date; he’d hook up now and then, but most of his companionship came from the guys at the high stakes poker games he frequented. And when he couldn’t wind down, there was one particular pill that would take the edge off for him.
George’s father had divorced his mother when he was about twelve years old, and the father proceeded to do everything he could to ruin his mother. Though very wealthy, the father had schemed so that his wife couldn’t get at his money, and Ralph saw his mother reduced to near poverty. He decided that earning hundreds of millions of dollars would be his guarantee that his mother, his brothers, and he would never lose control of their lives again.
I believe George will succeed, and I’m sure I will both admire and envy his success. But it looks like he will spend his thirties on telephones, in front of computers, living on adrenaline, popping pills, using money as a fortress that could end up locking him up from the inside. George thinks it will all be worth it when he is 40. I hope he’s right.
Is it possible to have grandiose ambitions without being obsessed? The constant stream of celebrity meltdowns the media bombard us with suggests that it isn’t easy. And then there’s that little matter of the collapse of the global economy – oops! Hopefully we all now recognize that the glamour and hype of the celebrity culture and of the financial world is often undergirded by pharmaceuticals, rehabs, prisons and divorce lawyers. And that many seeming successes are actually just bubbles.
George had a moment recently - while high - of perfect peace, looking out at the view from his penthouse windows, feeling really good about what he’s accomplished. George is a great guy; I hope someday he can feel good about himself even when he isn’t high, and that he can open up and share his life, his amazing accomplishments, with someone who loves him.
It’s great to set goals in the New Year. I’m not saying don’t aim high. Go for it! But it’s also important to stop and recognize and appreciate what you’ve achieved, and what you’ve got. We can tend to focus on what isn’t enough, and lose sight of what is, what is good enough. So here’s an idea: resolve to relax more, to connect more with others, and to enjoy living while you can, as much as you can. And maybe take better care of your shoes, while you’re at it. Happy New Year!