I absolutely love the first week of January. Partly because the Sunday night TV is incredible this time of year. Downton Abbey, Season 4 starts tonight! We’re in love with it. And we’re totally those people who think that watching a British soap opera is somehow an intellectual activity akin to reading a Jane Austen novel. So for us it’s delicious and nutritious. Thus a family obsession to the level that we do things like this:
Seventeen years ago, I sat alone in a college apartment after all my buddies had gone to sleep. It was the first week of January and I was reflecting unhappily on the year I’d just finished. I genuinely could not think of a single good thing I’d accomplished that whole year. I’d worked some but not saved any money or bought anything of value. I’d started some college courses but had not finished them. I’d hung out with friends but had not done anything memorable or meaningful with them.
I promised myself that night that I’d never feel that way again. I sincerely vowed to myself that every year thereafter would be spent in activities meaningful to me and beneficial to those around me. Two weeks later, I was in the Mormon Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah learning Portuguese, studying scriptures, and adjusting to a regimented schedule. I was miserable.
But I did believe the prophet, Gordon Hinckley: “If you serve a mission faithfully, you will be a better husband, you will be a better father, you will be a better student, a better worker in your chosen vocation.” I knew that this would be a re-launch for me and would end up defining who Rick 2.0 was going to be. In the years since, I’ve made countless mistakes and course corrections. But I can honestly say I’ve tried to live every day with purpose and have never again had to look back with regret on time completely wasted.
For 2014, I’ve set a goal of having an early mid-life crisis and navigating through it. I’ve realized that although I’m a hard worker and have a job I enjoy, I’ve also sold myself short on some of the most important and enjoyable work I could be doing in my life. I’ve allowed myself to become overly busy and have distracted myself from exercise, reading, meditating, temple worship, and recreation. I haven’t figure out yet what my life’s work is supposed to be—and lately I’m too busy to even think on it.
I was struck by Nigel Marsh’s comment in a TED talk about the risk of saying “I’ll have a life when I retire, when my kids have left home, my wife has divorced me, my health is failing, [and] I’ve got no mates or interests left.”
During a recent trip for work, I challenged myself to spend all my free time on airplanes or taxi cabs thinking about what my “ideal” day would look like. It had to be something realistic and long-term sustainable. And it had to support both short-term success plus the capacity for longer term development and discovery. What I came up with was this: cutting out the ritual of nightly TV, enforcing a strict bedtime curfew, and enabling myself to wake up a lot earlier and get a lot more done so that I have some time left over every day for personal development.
I know I’m not going to get it 100% right. But the effort is already paying off. And if I reach for the stars and fall short, I’m still probably going to be a lot higher up than where I started. As the apostle Dieter Uchtdorf recently affirmed, “Even though we might fall short of our finish line, just continuing the journey will make us greater than we were before.”