New Semester, New Me? And Countering Other Faux Deadlines

By Maanasi Dhiraj Narayan  ’21

As we settle into the new semester (especially after we received all our final grades), we may find ourselves excited by the prospect of a blank slate, a new opportunity to thrive in not only our school work but in our everyday lives. Whether it be creating fitness goals, becoming more involved in a club, or rushing to finish newspaper articles…

Just as this article missed the new calendar year, so do all of you readers have a second chance to start anew in the second semester. Perhaps you are creating a checklist of goals, or adults are pushing you to improve, or you are stressing about the ever-closer dread of college applications. Or maybe you are the skeptic who figures, why should I try now?

My goal is to argue in favor of the tradition of the New Year’s Resolution, but to also break down the current philosophy of the ever-popular goal-setting that starkly contrasts with that of the ancient world.

First, for a quick recap of human history, let us travel to our roots in recorded history. Specifically 4000 B.C.E. to ancient Babylonia, the recorded firsts to celebrate a new year. However, their holiday greatly differs from our own. The festival of Akitu was held in March, during the crop-planting, and people promised their gods that they would return borrowed goods and money. Our modern calendar may begin in January rather than March (thanks to Julius Caesar’s solar calendar), but the tradition still has 4,000-year-old roots. This beautiful sense of accountability and self-improvement in the community distinguishes a cultural urge from an artificial checklist, but we do carry forward some honest intentions in a more independent, secular age.

However, the modern psychology behind the New Year’s Resolution starkly contrasts the ancient world’s approaches. In our secular world, we as an overall society do not have obligations to a god (though if you are religious, your traditions may include prayer). Instead, we view ourselves as individuals with great potential manifested in an overwhelming list. As we surf the Web, we are bombarded with daily success stories of fitness resolutions in the first couple of weeks of January. And, as we write down our ideas, we tap into endless inner aspirations that create opportunities for action, as well as disappointment. When we compare our own failings to others’ progress, we may feel less than and lacking. Or we may give up the goals altogether.

But what is a true New Year’s Resolution? An arbitrary day for the self? Or a chance to compare ourselves to others? A chance to self-deprecate rather than self-love?  

The typical high school student (think IH student) has big goals or enforced “personal” goals. The student may think (based on real life examples) of small things such as:

“I might as well use the block schedule. I’m also totally going to use the planner every single day. Time to do homework the day it is assigned before my parents yell at me for late nights and bad grades. I also have to get to college. NO MORE PROCRASTINATION.”

“I’m gonna clean all my stuff. Locker, desk, you name it, I’ll clean it. Goodbye to dust and hello to spotlessness.”

“My parent wants me to attend more of my team’s practice meets, so my goal is to somehow get enough sleep.”

“New semester, blank slate! Time for all As. My friends are so smart and I need to be as well. Without those grades I might die. ”

Whatever the goal may be, the student may or may not create a deadline. Those too relaxed will aimlessly put off the doing part. Perfectionists will preoccupy themselves with thorough planning and agonize about getting that desk spotless. Those actively engaging with their goals may burn out quickly. The rebellious may see the imposed academic goal as an unnecessary means to please others instead of the self. Others may put their acquaintances’ goals above their own to please their friends.

The common theme? An utter dislike of the deadline. A daunting time, which may have high expectations or uselessly waste time. An imaginary deadline with no accountability. A time that can be pushed off for eternity. A time creating change in a dreary pattern that has worked so far. A time to focus on the self for the doormat (in politer terms, a people pleaser who takes things too far), or a time to focus on others when the goals are imposed by authority figures.

The student has a myriad of compelling reasons to hate the faux deadline. The laughable fakeness of the New Year’s Resolution garners several jokes of failed attempts. A common poor joke: The second day of the diet is always the easiest; by then you’re off it. (In fact, the top three resolutions of 2019 are all fitness-related goals.) The fakeness of posts is accentuated by the sad realities that the original poster may not even have cared for trying without the rewards of likes and praise.  

Is our society superficial to proclaim a so-called new awakening or fresh change in the midst of a stagnant civilization? Or have we created the negative attitude toward change? Does our modern pessimism create a lack of responsibility? After all, the world isn’t going to change — unless we do something about it.

Returning to our ancient ancestors, humans relied on the soil, and cultivation relied on humans. Every year, the new year’s harvest created a sense of connection to the generous lands and town that took care of the people through famine, drought, and debt. That pastoral sense of community created greater senses of obligation to the self, the neighbor, and the town. Instead of comparing ourselves to an online post or high expectations to get into college, we need to understand our responsibilities to ourselves as we grow and improve. As we share the goals with our own gods (whether they be non-existent, religious, or materialistic focuses such as a phone) and our community, we cultivate change on a small scale and plant the seed for more.

Conclusion of this article: Time is priceless. This may be an old adage, but we can look back and rejoice at our progress. I know all of you have at least one new good accomplishment. To the new students, you have adjusted to IH’s strong curriculum and high expectations. To the freshmen, you have formally committed yourself to the beginning of your high school journey. To the sophomores, you have taken on a harder load and challenged yourself. To the juniors, you have solidified your student portfolios for your future colleges, and, to the seniors, you have prepared your entry tickets into the next chapter of your lifelong education.

Whether you think in terms of grade level, semester, calendar year, week, day, minute, or second, know that you always have a chance to improve. Whether you owe it to the gods as in the ancient world or to your elders, remember to try most importantly for your past, present, and future self.

In the end, you may resolve to improve whenever you want, and you shall find that the time that you put in shall pay for all your future wishes.  

Image via Sam Jenks

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