Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011-Claiming the Tributaries

I’m a firm believer in New Year’s resolutions. I think it’s an amazing gift to be able to give yourself a day and a time to start fresh. Wipe the slate clean and begin again. I know a lot of people think that New Year’s resolutions are cliché and pointless because you quit within the first week, but maybe I can change their perspective.

I think one of the reasons I love resolutions is also one of the reasons I love teaching. I love that teaching gives you a starting and stopping point every year. I can’t imagine having a job that goes on and on and on, with no break, no beginning or end. Each school year feels like a race- every August you fire the starting pistol, and you know that you need to run your butt off until May, when you cross the finish line, with just enough recovery time to make it until August, when you start the race all over again.

So resolutions are the same way. Here we are on the first day of the first month of a new year. The starting pistol was fired last night at midnight, and we cheered on the start of another race to run with toasts, friends, loved ones, fireworks, and celebrations all over the world. We’ve all started running, and though many of us only have the goal to make it through another race, and many of us may set loftier goals that may get left in the wake of making in through another race, the hope is that this year won’t just be another year of “making it through.” And that’s what I want this year to be.

Let’s be frank. For many (and I would even say most) of us, the life we planned as kids and the life we are living now are very different. This really makes us feel like we are still waiting for life to start. And while we have been waiting, life, years, time, all of it, is passing us by. We graduated college, we found a job, we made friends and developed relationships that have allowed us to find out more of who we are. The thing we have to realize is that this is our life. And we’re already living it. It’s time to grab the bull by the horns and live life as fiercely, totally, confidently, and fully as we can.

One of my favorite stories in American history that I teach every year is the story of Le Salle’s expedition down the Mississippi from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. When he finally made it to the end of the line and reached his destination, he claimed the Mississippi River for France. And as an afterthought, he decided to go ahead and claim all the Mississippi’s tributaries (rivers that feed into a bigger river). This afterthought decision ended up claiming most of present-day US for France, with tributaries stretching from the the Ohio River, Arkansas River, Missouri River, Snake River, and hundreds of their tributaries. If Le Salle hadn’t planted the flag, laid the claim to the territory, and taken a risk, France would have missed out on so much. (Can we say New Orleans?) Le Salle had no clue when he made that statement how much he was gaining for his country, and until Lewis and Clark (among others) explored the land 150 years later, no one realized just how much land there was out there.

As random as that connection may seem, I challenge you to make today the day you plant your flag. And more than that, make a bold, risk-taking, statement. Don’t just claim the river you’ve just finished floated on. Claim the tributaries. The land you haven’t explored yet. And then get out there and find out just how much you discovered.

So there’s my soapbox. My 2011 is going to be a year of living life intentionally, taking risks I’ve never taken, and choosing to be a better me. One that knows who I am in a way I didn’t know 10 years ago, at 16. One who wants to continue to discover more of who I am and who I was created to be. One who welcomes others, whoever those others may be, to join me on the journey and explore with me. And one who, on New Year’s Eve 2011, can cross the finish line out of breath, having given it my all, and celebrating not just the finish of another race, but a new PR.

See you at the finish line!

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