Checking tweets, Facebook posts, and blog entries from many of the people I follow, I see that many people had a rough year in 2010. For some it was the economy, for others health issues, for others relationship problems or loss. They are all ready to say goodbye to a year that beat them up in some way, and hope for better with the turn of the calendar.
In academia we have the singular opportunity to start over at least twice a year. New semester, new students, new courses, a new chance to do it right. I'm very happy with the progress I made as a teacher this past year (a subject for another blog post), and want to keep the ball rolling in 2011. There's a lot of pressure on firsts: the first few class meetings, the first minutes of each class, the first graded assignment, the first test, the first individual meeting with the student. Setting the right tone can feel not only important, but critical -- like you'll never get another chance, or like a misstep dooms the relationship for ever.
Maybe some people feel that way about the first day of the year, too. The superstition is that the person you kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve is the person you'll kiss the rest of the year. And some people try to start new habits or break old ones starting with January 1.
If it's an all-or-nothing shift, then disappointment can come just as quick as change. The first time you backslide, everything's ruined. I was happy to see that some of my online friends have more nuanced resolutions -- less of this, more of that, better consistency, smarter judgment, fewer exceptions to your rules. Those are the kinds of changes we can make. Instant transformation is unlikely; a gradual turn toward our ideals is always within our reach.
2011 isn't a clean slate. We carry into it all the baggage we've accumulated so far. Every day we have to decide what it's going to be. And if we fail to make the decision we want on day one, or day ten, or day one hundred, when it comes to being the person we envision, we will have another chance tomorrow.