When I was eight years old, I made a New Year’s resolution. Having observed my mother cleaning rust off of a bicycle with Coca-Cola, I decided that maybe Coca-Cola no longer qualified as something suitable for consumption by humans.
When my dad got home from work, I mentioned the Coke thing to him, and he said, “Oh yeah, in the Navy, we use Coca-Cola to clean toilets.” So, I haven’t had a soda since the eighties.
Obviously, my amazing fortitude has made all my dreams come true!
And that’s the thing – most people’s New Year’s Resolutions are related to small habits, and especially to things we won’t do. (No cake! More calf raises! No espresso after 8pm! No vodka before 2pm!) They’re very often related to being virtuous.
I sometimes have to explain the word “virtue” to non-native speakers in my various classes. “It means doing the right thing regularly,” I’ll say – but you wouldn’t use it to describe, say, saving a child from a burning building. You use it to describe going to church. You use it to describe not drinking, smoking, swearing, or fucking. It’s mostly about women. Eh.
Allow me to draw on my high school AP European History class when I refer us instead to the Renaissance ideal of virtù, as described on this art history site:
The architect and theorist Leon Battista Alberti used the Italian word “virtù” for “those excelling gifts which God gave to the to the soul of man, greatest and preeminent above all other earthly animals.” A man of virtù in Renaissance Italian, coming from the Latin virtus and having its root in the Latin word vir or man, was a man with active intellectual power to command any situation, to do as he intended, like an architect producing a building according to plan; by contrast with someone at the mercy of fortuna, of chance or luck, of the accidents of fortuitous circumstance, unforeseen and hence out of control. The man of virtù, the virtuoso, aims at reasoned and examined control alike of his own thoughts, intentions, and actions and also of his surroundings.
Nice, right? Gentlewomen can have this too.
(Note: Machiavelli had a rather more dastardly take on virtù. See more Machiavellianism in Bullish: Is It Better to Rule Through Love or Fear?)
So, rather than making New Year’s Resolutions, I suggest Lifestyle Design – or Career Design – for the new year.
But you should probably start now. While January 1st is a fine time to decide to throw out all the cookies from your cabinets and only eat kale, designing a better lifestyle is going to take some advance planning. (On a dietary front, see this week’s Bullish Life: Gentlewomen Don’t Crash Diet on TheGloss.)
I started by making a wishlist. In a tiny notebook with birds on it, because I’m old-school like that.