Are you the type of person that makes New Year’s resolutions? Did you make any today? 

Following a year like 2020 when each month seemed to usher in a new disaster, so many people are barely clinging on to hope. Hope that the onslaught of bad news will stop. Hope that the virus will go away and leave us alone. Hope that their business will be able to reopen. Hope that a divided, resentful nation will call a ceasefire to the vitriolic hate. 

Is there anything magical about New Year’s Day? I think the answer is no….and yes. 

No, there’s nothing magical in the sense that most of our troubles will not expire or vanish simply because the calendars rolled over from one day to the next. COVID-19, racial tensions, distrust in public institutions, political divisions, and all the other problems we faced in 2020 are still with us.

But also, yes, there is something magical about New Year’s Day. An old adage (I’m not sure who originally coined the phrase) states that we are always only one decision away from having a completely different life. I think that’s true. 

If you’re out of shape, you could start changing your diet and exercise routine today. If you’re unhappy with your job, you can quit and look for another one. If you’re tired of living a lie, you can unburden yourself and finally come clean. If you’re holding onto a grudge, you can liberate yourself and your offender by choosing to forgive. 

We could choose to make any one of these life-changing decisions on any day of the year. So why don’t we? Because habits are hard to break and it takes tremendous courage to choose a different life for yourself. But New Year’s Day offers our psyche a do-over. An opportunity for a clean slate and a fresh new start. It helps us summon the courage to dare to imagine a different future for ourselves.

We can’t control all the circumstances of our lives, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be passive victims of fate. Whether you believe in divine sovereignty or cosmic destiny, I doubt either will be offended at us making choices to better ourselves. 

Louis Pasteur famously said “Fortune favors the prepared mind” and I’d like to think that applies to New Year’s resolutions as well. Perhaps those that live the best and fullest lives in this world are precisely the people that decide to do so. Regardless of what 2021 has in store for us, I hope you’ll join me in shrugging off the weariness of 2020 and boldly choosing a better life. 

The poem Invictus by 18th Century poet William Ernest Henley gave hope to Nelson Mandela during his 27 years in prison, and inspired him to rise above his circumstances to eventually become the first black president of South Africa. I hope on this New Year’s Day following a troublesome year like 2020, these words offer you the same kind of hope:

 

Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

      For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

      Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.