Something I’ve Noticed, four: ambitious.

‘No, I’m not kidding,’ I said. ‘I’m very, very serious.’

I was twelve years old and I had just revealed my New Year’s resolution: to read one hundred books… in a year.

‘No, not “ten or eleven”,’ I said. ‘A-hundred – I’m going to read one hundred books. It’ll be fun!’

I spent a lot of that year reading in different places: curled up on the sofa, dangling upside down on my bed, burrowed under my duvet with a torch. I drew up a little chart and, one by one, I listed all the books I had finished. The list spilled over onto two pages, and then three, and then four. Some were skinny books, like ‘The Boxcar Children’, and the ‘Frog and Toad’ series, and a manual I found on juggling (imaginatively titled: ‘How to Juggle’). Most of them though were fairly substantial, like ‘Little Women’ and ‘I Capture the Castle’ and ‘His Dark Materials’. I read books about dragons, and about a mouse that could read, and about a freckled boy with a dog called Jumble. I read books about a girl that fell down a rabbit hole, and about a spider called Charlotte, and about two children who ran away from home to go live in a museum. I read a lot of books.

On the night of December 31st, I brandished my list with pride. And then, suddenly I felt a jolt in my stomach: I realised there was a mistake. Somewhere along the way I had mixed my numbers up. I frantically recounted all the books on the list to double check, and then triple check. But no: a mistake had been made. I had not read one hundred books after all. I had actually read… one hundred and one! (Huzzah!)

That was in 2004. It was the most satisfying feeling to look back over the year and know that I’d done exactly what I set out to do. I had wanted to do it, I decided to do it, and then I just did it.

I was noticing recently that my New Year resolutions have changed shape since then. My goals have dwindled into vagueness, such as last year’s: ‘become a generally, all-round better person’. While that goal looks very ambitious, I wonder if it’s actually a bit of a cop out. ‘Become a better person’ is sufficiently ambiguous to not need to do too much about.

The first few days of a new year are normally bursting with optimism. ‘Yes!’ I am always proclaiming to anyone who will listen. ‘This will be The Year of Change!’ But then, about four days later, the excitement has fizzled out. Life goes back to normal, to being dictated by deadlines and train times. It’s a shame, though. New Year is one of those times where we all have an opportunity to stop what we are doing and to ask questions of ourselves. To ask, like the poet Mary Oliver writes:

‘…what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?’

I think if we are going to ask questions though, we need to be brave enough to answer them. And that can be uncomfortable, because questioning usually means that something then needs to change. I think it is probably easier to mumble something vague about wanting to be a better person or student or friend or whatever, than to actually move beyond that and try to do something about it. Change comes from making small and specific decisions, and then just getting on with them.

I don’t know – maybe I’m just speaking for myself here –  but I don’t think I want to live a life where I’m just doing things because they are easy. There is no joy in that. I want to keep a sense of optimism this year. To live fully, with my eyes wide open.

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