“Happily ever after.”
That’s the phrase that’s used in fairy tales after the villain is vanquished, the hero or heroine gets their prize, and they settle in for some well-deserved enjoyment of their new life.
So now that we’re in 2021, with the villain that is 2020 behind us, are we at our “happily ever after”?
I think we’ll find (if we haven’t already), that we might want to leave that idea to the children’s books.
What a New Year Can’t Do
The problem with taking our cue from fairy tales is that they’re stories. And stories have an end. We eventually close the book and stop the telling.
But our lives keep going. There isn’t a pivotal moment that resets everything and brings nothing but happiness. We wake up in the first few days of January and we’re still mired in the same opportunities and challenges that we had a week ago. It’s why I’m excited that we’re in 2021, but also very aware that nothing is going to change just because the calendar did.
Seeing 2020 in the rear-view mirror does feel good, but now we can’t use it as an excuse.
I think we’ll find that it’s both liberating and scary to have the big villain gone from our own personal story. Unfortunately, the individual components that made it such a wack-a-doo year (a pandemic, social unrest, economic uncertainty, etc.) are still around.
Now that we are firmly in 2021, we have to ask: “What’s next?”
How to Leverage a New Year
There’s a valuable tool that does come with the new year. Even though there isn’t anything inherently different between December 31st and January 1st, it’s an easy marker for us to create a different mental framework.
The idea of a temporal landmark was popularized in Dan Pink’s book When, but it’s an idea that everyone has used at some point. Whenever you use a specific day as the line of demarcation between an old and new behavior, you’re using a temporal landmark. It’s a day that stands out from the routine nature of every other day.
It could be a New Year’s resolution, or making a life change at a birthday, or just a promise that you’ll a new habit on the first of the month. Anything that lets you clearly see the past and the future as inherently different can be useful. And that’s where I think 2021 can help.
There will continue to be challenges big and small this year (and every year after it). There will be plenty of opportunities to rail against everything working against you. You’ll always be able to find a new nemesis.
But in the next few days, there will be a brief moment between a kneejerk reaction to blame something on “2020” and remembering that the past year gone. And in that moment, you will get to decide whether to find and blame that villain or choose a different path.
That other path won’t necessarily be easier, because you’ll have to take responsibility for what’s happening in your world. But, with that responsibility also comes agency and choice. You have the freedom to decide how you will act.
And that’s a freedom that can’t be taken away from you.