“You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world…”

— The Beatles, Revolution

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As 2014 draws to a close people start listing resolutions they intend to achieve in 2015. Although well intended, 77% of people who make new year’s resolutions abandon them — many as early as the end of January.

I’ve never been much for making lists of resolutions, though as 2009 started I was inspired by Chris Brogan’s call to list three words that would inspire me and inform my decisions.

Ironically, in the months that followed my life took an unexpected turn that forever changed who I am and how I see the world. My three words were incredibly relevant some of the time, yet totally irrelevant at others. I survived a shock to my system that jarred me out of my comfort zone.

I learned that nothing is certain except the uncertainty of life. Yet, looking back over those five years I also realized something essential to my philosophy of lifelong learning: I evolved. What does that mean?

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If you look at the definition to the left the word that pops out at me is “gradually.” This means change takes time and therefore requires something we all could use more of: patience.

Because most resolutions are transactional they are nearly impossible to achieve unless you precede them with a transformational realignment. If you don’t change how you see yourself and your situation, any short-term goals are doomed to fail because you won’t have an accurate benchmark.

So, with all due respect to The Beatles (see the lyrics to their song Revolution, above), evolution is more realistic than revolution, especially on a personal level.

Am I perfect now? Far from it; I am full of flaws and continuing to evolve as an individual. I suppose that’s the point, right? But I am more aware of myself and more engaged in my life than ever before. I am embracing ambiguity more than before and forcing myself out of my comfort zone.

The impact has been exceptional, both personally and professionally. Most notably, I relocated 8,000 miles away to Dubai, UAE for a full time teaching position  — just two short weeks after being offered the job(and having never before been to Dubai)!

Although Dubai is westernized in many ways, it has still provided me a wonderful opportunity to experience an entirely different culture than the one with which I was accustomed.

I am endeavoring to become the person who I should be, not who other people want me to be. I refuse to let others define me and decide for me.

I am doing this as much for myself as I am to show my two sons — whom I miss a great deal — that there is a world beyond the boundaries of the city in which they live. I want to inspire them to adventure by my actions. In the spirit of Robin William’s character in Dead Poets Society (John Keating) I embrace a philosophy of “Carpe Diem!”

I understand evolution is a process that happens  — wait for it — gradually. Ask Darwin: evolution is a transformational process that fundamentally changes something over a length of time, not a short period of time.  Just as I will never stop learning, I realize I will never be “done” evolving.

My evolution might have happened naturally as a function of maturity when I turned 40 earlier this year, but the process was was undoubtedly accelerated by the five years before it. While in the midst of the moment I was often overwhelmed with the challenges thrown my way, I now look back with gratitude for having been strengthened as a result.

Certainly you don’t have to go through what I did; you can find inspiration anywhere. If you need a little boost, however, you might enjoy reading the book “The Art of Possibility” by Benjamin Zander. You might also find insight by completing the StrengthsFinder analysis; it was fundamental in helping me realize teaching was my perfect profession.

So, will you resolve to evolve in 2015?

Are you grateful for the gifts you received this holiday season?

Hopefully, if you wanted an iPhone 4S (affiliate link) and didn’t get it (or got something you didn’t want), you were not devastated like these horribly ungrateful individuals. For more humorous commentary, consider comedian Jim Gaffigan’s thoughts on getting unwanted gifts. If you did receive a gift for which you are not grateful, remember that somebody always wants — or at the very least could use — what you have.

Also consider that, during the “holiday season,” consumers bravely endured pepper spray on Black Friday, delivery drama for items ordered online, travel trauma, and the frenzy of family feudsWhy? To purchase the “perfect” gift for you (just as you might have done for others). Interestingly, despite the many challenges with which consumers were presented, in addition to the overall economic uncertainty, shoppers came out in force this past holiday season.

According to a December 15, 2011 Associated Press article, “the National Retail Federation…now expects holiday sales for the November and December period to rise 3.8 percent to a record $469.1 billion.” The article further elaborates, “the projected gain is still below the 5.2 percent pace seen during the holiday 2010 season from the prior year, but it’s well above the 2.6 percent average increase over the past 10 years.”

Impressively, despite the odds against it happening, consumers collectively spent nearly one-half trillion dollars buying goods and services that, were it not for the holidays that necessitated the purchases, those items would have most likely never been purchased. And now, with the holidays fading into the past, everyone is turning their attention to their soon-to-be-forgotten New Year’s resolutions.

When it comes to resolutions, people often list grandiose goals they intend to accomplish and, much like expectations for gifts, often the reality doesn’t match the fantasy. So, how can you start this new year with intention and reflection? My suggestion is to instead make a list of three gratitudes — three people, experiences or things for which you are thankful and:

  • Provide a foundation upon which you can build your life;
  • Whose presence in your life gives you direction;
  • Act as wings that lift you through tough times.

Similarly, Chris Brogan encourages people to “forego the idea of a resolution, and instead, to come up with 3 words that will help you define your goals and experiences for the coming year” with his “My Three Wordsmeme. So, what are my “three gratitudes?”

  1. My Sons: My boys, Jacob and Max, are my inspiration and motivation. Whenever I am with them, my heart fills with joy and my life is filled with meaning. Both have overcome — and continue to work through — unique obstacles, but they do so with grace and gumption. Their presence fills me with pride, love, and laughter.
  2. My Friends: I have a small core of friends — maybe 5 really strong connections, mostly from my undergraduate years at UCSB, but one or two from more recent years. While small in number they have provided me with unconditional support that has made a large impact.
  3. My Career:  Henry David Thoreau is quoted as saying  ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’ I interpret this to mean that most people spend their lives pursuing practicality while foregoing their passion. While both are important, I am grateful to have transitioned into teaching, a career that is both challenging and rewarding.

Those are my three gratitudes… what are yours?

Photo Credit: “thank you note for every language” by woodleywonderworks.

Although the “New Year” is an arbitrary point in time chosen to indicate the end of one cycle and the start of another, it remains a worldwide moment of personal reflection and planning. In that spirit, a few days before the end of 2008, social media expert Chris Brogan posted a tweet on Twitter as follows:

Thinking hard about what my 3 words for next year should be. Pick 3 guiding principles to shape your actions/decisions. Boil down to 3 words.

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After carefully considering which three principles reflect my goals for 2009, I have decided  to be Affirmative, Generative and Transformative. Here’s why I picked each one:

  • Generative: This word fundamentally defines and guides me. The many definitions for the word generative reveal the most basic meaning to be “creative.” The word “generative” forms the foundation of of generative learning which Peter Senge claims “enhances our capacity to create.” Engaging in generative learning involves linking existing knowledge of a subject with emerging ideas, resulting in a more individualized understanding about its systemic significance.  It is for this reason that I am motivated by the motto “learn continuously, live generatively.” In 2009 I will continue contributing ideas and knowledge for the benefit of the greater good.
  • Affirmative: In its simplest definition affirmative means “positive” and that is what I will be this year. I am naturally predisposed tobeing cynical (in fairness, sometimes it is for humorous intent), but I will make an effort to re-frame a situation to see the good, not the bad. I’ve gone through some very trying experiences in the past few years (including almost losing my younger son several times and dealing with my older son’s diagnosis of autism). However, I recognize that focusing on the negative aspects of a situation won’t reverse its polarity to positive!  Two quotes come to mind when I consider this goal:
    • From John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Book 1, lines 254-255):  “The Mind Is Its Own Place, and in It Self / Can Make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”
    • From Abraham Lincoln (Courtesy of @LizzHarmon on Twitter): “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
  • Transformative: With the election of Barack Obama, the theme of “change” is foremost in the minds of many people. However, I desire something more than change, which merely implies something different (not necessarily better).  I will work towards being transformative which promises a marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better. That is my desire for this year: a significant evolution — perhaps even a revolution — on a personal and professional level. I am ready for that “next step” and ready to engage the energy around me and leverage it beyond my wildest expectations.

Now that I’ve revealed my three guiding principles, I invite you to share the ones with which you most strongly identify in the comments area below.  After all, nothing helps you achieve a goal more than writing it down!