I was fortunate to spend time with an enigmatic man named Robert during a very special period of my life. Robert taught me many things during our days together, and this time of year reminds me of one particular interaction we had.
Now that you are becoming more aware, Robert said, you need to begin to set goals for yourself so you don’t lose the momentum you have built.
Like New Year’s resolutions? I asked.
That’s an interesting idea, he smirked. Let’s do that.
By then I was used to his cryptic responses, so I knew something was up because of the way his eyes sparkled as he let out an impish laugh.
Tonight’s assignment is to make two lists, Robert continued. The first is a list of all the New Year’s resolutions you WANT to keep, and the second is a list of all the New Year’s resolutions you WILL keep. Write the WANT List first, and when you have exhausted all of your ideas, then write the second list on another sheet of paper.
That night I went home and spent several hours working on the two lists. The WANT List felt overwhelming at first, but after a while I got into writing all the things I had always wanted to do if the burdens of life hadn’t gotten in the way. After nearly an hour, the list swelled to fill the entire page and contained nearly all of my ideas of an ideal life. The second list was much easier, and I was able to quickly commit ten practical resolutions that I felt would be both realistic and helpful.
The next day, I met Robert in front of the local food Co-op, where we seemed to have most of our enlightening conversations. Tell me about your two lists, Robert said as the familiar smirk crept onto his face.
The first list contains all the things I SHOULD do if I completely changed my life to be the person I always wanted to be. And the second list contains all the things I COULD do by accepting my current life, and taking realistic steps towards the life I want to lead.
Let me see the second list, he said.
I handed him the second list, and without even looking at it, he ripped the paper into tiny pieces and threw it in the nearby garbage can. His disregard for the effort I had put into the list annoyed me at first, but after I calmed down I began to think about the first list in a different light. In my heart, I knew the second list was a cop out, and the first list was the only one that really mattered.
And now, the first list. Robert bowed his head and held out both of his hands.
I purposefully handed him the first list and held his gaze for several seconds, waiting for him to begin reading the page. After an unusually long silence, he began to crumple the paper into a ball and once again tossed it into the can without looking at it.
What did you do that for?! I couldn’t hide my anger any longer.
Robert began to speak in a quiet and assured voice. What you SHOULD or COULD do with your life no longer matters. The only thing that matters, from this day forward, is what you MUST do.
He then drew a folded piece of paper from his back pocket and handed it to me.
I opened it carefully, and found a single word floating in the middle of the white page: