For many, the New Year is about making resolutions. Starting a regular exercise routine. Cutting back on fast food or alcohol. Saving more money. To be sure, these are admirable goals—ones that most of us have embraced at one time or another.
Personally, I’ve never been big on the whole New Year’s Resolution thing. Rather, I see the holidays as a time for deep reflection: on the successes and setbacks I’ve experienced; on what my priorities are and will be; on who I am, where I want to go and who I want to become. It’s also a time when I try to catch up on my reading—a hobby that, for me, has always been synonymous with reflection.
While I’ve gotten through a number of great books during the holiday break, some of the most impactful things I’ve read are from a website called the Daily Stoic, whose newsletter I’ve subscribed to for years. For those who don’t know, stoicism is a school of philosophy which posits that true happiness (eudaimonia in ancient Greek) lies in using one’s mind to understand the world—and their role or purpose therein. In a word, it’s about reflection: knowing who you are at any given moment; and taking the steps necessary to better yourself.
Recently, two passages in particular have kicked my self-reflection into overdrive. The first is about courage—one of the essential virtues of stoicism:
“Courage doesn’t mean you’re not scared. Courage means you proceed despite being scared. Courage means you keep going. It means you don’t get discouraged, even when things are hard, when other people are falling down around you, when it’s been so long since you heard anything resembling good news.”
2020 may be behind us, but the challenges it created—this awful pandemic, an economy in chaos, unprecedented social upheaval—didn’t disappear with the flip of a calendar page. Unprecedented COVID hospitalizations; the despicable attack on the U.S. Capitol; a presidential transition cast in doubt: If anything, the challenges have only grown. We must continue to confront them. Day in, day out. And for as long as it takes. Just as so many great stoics have throughout history, from Marcus Aurelius to George Washington.
But even if we have the courage to keep marching ahead, there will be times when we find ourselves at a crossroads, where it’s not immediately clear which direction we should go. These decisions—these choices—have the potential to define our realities for years to come.
Which brings us to the second Daily Stoic passage that really struck a chord with me. It’s about the beauty of choices, and how the intentions we set—in how we act; in the paths we pursue—are what truly defines us.
"You know you deserve better. You know you’re capable of better. What’s it going to take for you to actually ask for it? When are you going to fulfill that potential that just sitting there? How about right now? Because it’s possible. This year. We’re putting it to you here: Stop putting it off until tomorrow, until Monday, waiting for it to just happen. Because it won’t. Someone has to take control. That someone is you."
I can’t think of a more powerful message for this moment in time. It’s easy to be paralyzed by life’s uncertainties. When will COVID subside? How long before we really get back to normal? Is my job safe? Should I consider a career change? These are questions that all of us have had to reckon with. And while we can’t control the larger forces at work—the virus, the economy, the harrowing times in which we live—we can decide how we confront the challenges in front of us. You have that choice. You have that power. It’s how you use the power of choice that matters.
To me, these two ideas—having courage and making choices—represent two sides of the same coin. Without courage, we’re like a deer in headlights, unsure of whether to move out of the way or simply pray and hope the car veers off the road. And if we don’t recognize the choices we actually have, we’ll never summon the courage to make the ones we need to.
As I said in last month’s CEO Corner, for as bad as things seem right now, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Whether you’re a student wondering what the next semester will look like or an experienced professional worried about your job security, remember that while we can’t choose the circumstances, we find ourselves in, we can choose how we respond. And if I know anything about our SHPE Familia, I know exactly how you’ll respond: with courage, conviction, and a steadfast belief in your own power and agency.
I still believe we’ll reach the light. Don’t be blinded by it. Instead, step right into it. Embrace it. Let it illuminate the paths in front of you—and the endless possibilities before you.