Gary Tetz

If you didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions, you better be prepared to explain why.

The question will probably come during morning stand-up. “Hey, everybody, hope it’s been a Happy New Year!” your long-term care leader might say. “I thought it would be fun to go around the room and each describe our most deeply private personal goals for 2020.” 

When they get to you, one defense could be arrogance. “I don’t do resolutions. I’m far too self-actualized for that sort of nonsense.” For this to be credible, you would need to already have a meditation cushion in your office, and a copy of the Tao Te Ching on your credenza. 

Self-flagellation is another option. “I didn’t make any because I’m afraid of failing. Again.” Then you should burst into tears.  

Cynicism might also work. “I didn’t make resolutions because what’s the point, when the world’s going to hell in a handbasket?” They’ll get distracted wondering how a handbasket could possibly provide a global passage to eternal fiery torment, and you’ll be off the hook. 

Sadly, until asking about New Year’s resolutions becomes a HIPAA violation, you’ll be expected to reveal your innermost self-improvement initiatives, and track your endless successes on social media. 

“In our current era of nonstop technological innovation, fuzzy wishful thinking has yielded to the hard doctrine of personal optimization,” says Alexandra Schwartz in a New Yorker article titled “Improving Ourselves to Death.”

She estimates the personal growth industry takes in more than $10 billion annually, which is why the most sure-fire self-help program of all is to become a popular self-help guru, hawking your book, blog, tour and podcast to a voracious and seemingly bottomless market. 

“What they’re selling is metrics,” Schwartz continues. “It’s no longer enough to imagine our way to a better state of body or mind. We must now chart our progress, count our steps, log our sleep rhythms, tweak our diets, record our negative thoughts — then analyze the data, recalibrate, and repeat.”

As a counterbalance, she suggests “Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze,” by Danish author Svend Brinkmann, who nicely identifies the problem that’s corroding the pursuit of the one goal most of us seek — a true sense of purpose. “In an accelerating culture, we are supposed to do more, do it better and do it for longer, with scant regard for the content or the meaning of what we are doing,” he says. 

It’s a society-wide performance anxiety we probably all feel to some degree. But whenever I’m overwhelmed with my obvious inadequacies, which usually follows an ill-timed visit to Instagram, I turn and return to the timeless words of first century personal growth expert and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.  

“Stop wandering about!” he journaled to himself. “Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue — if you care for yourself at all — and do it while you can.” 

Notice, Marcus didn’t say, “Get busy improving yourself through endless navel staring.” His recommended focus was on “life’s purpose,” a far more worthy and therapeutic target. 

So if you’re feeling the pressure to embrace a self-enhancement curriculum, I’ve got good news: You’re already enrolled. 

Because to reap the benefits of doing something that truly matters, along with the opportunities to do it a little better every day, there are few self-help experiences better or richer than working in long-term care. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.