Say No to 2016 Resolution Lists — Say Yes to Areas of Development

As we turn the corner on a new year, I find myself mulling over possible personal resolutions and reviewing various lists of “to do’s” and “how to do better’s” offered up by others. I get the importance of setting goals and timelines (and have certainly drafted my share of lists in years past), but find this year my thoughts go less to the linear than the holistic — to the identification of a few broad and deep areas I’d like to explore, develop and become more grounded within over the coming year.

Each of these has an aspect of the personal and communal. I’ve come to think of my three areas of development as Music, Museums and Meaning.

Music is the area perhaps easiest to express. I began playing guitar in 4th grade and off and on over the years have been in various pick-up bands — some of which were pretty good. Yet, I’ve always been a capable though not gifted guitarist. My favorite t-shirt proclaims, “World’s Okayest Guitarist!” and I think that pretty much sums it up. I do not approach music as an extension of my work or thinking about strategy with necessary metrics and definitions — I don’t play my music according to scales and keys, but rather by ear, heart and broad intention. As is no doubt true for many others, what I love about playing and singing is that, in certain moments, it frees me from structured thought and I can get lost in the tone and textures of expression.

In addition to being a form of personal liberation and expression, music is, of course, also a means of connection and community. I’ve spent much of my professional life alone in hotel rooms, on airplanes, in transit or standing by myself before an audience. I find I sincerely miss connecting with others through sounds we create in concert through each other’s understanding of “song.” I have an acquaintance from college days, one of those folks you “know” but don’t really know, who I’ve always liked and admired. He is a professional musician and from afar seems to have successfully been able to both sharpen his craft and connect to a community of others who play and celebrate life through sound. To my mind, he pursues both personal and community development.

I’ve always been drawn to what is in essence a tribal experience of life through music — but due to other commitments and priorities am afraid my desire to celebrate that tribe has always taken second place to my professional passions. My work keeps me on the road a good deal and, to its loss, my profession has become focused upon tactics and execution rather than intent and deep vision, so to regain my personal footing this year I will be spending a good deal more time playing guitar and re-joining my tribe than I have in the past. And, by extension, I wonder if by bringing more music and — of key import — participation in the creation of music back into our lives we might each be better positioned to hear things our traditional inputs of emails, blogs and meetings don’t allow for.

Just a thought…

The second area of development I intend to pursue is what I think of as “Museums,” by which I mean both the institutional vessels that hold our world’s culture as well as the larger bodies of human knowledge and experience that feed those institutions. Much of today’s public discussions feel as if they are focused on the celebration of “progress” broadly writ, with a focus upon technology, big data and the advancement of things we claim to know or take as “proof” rather than on faith. Regardless of whether one’s focus is upon technology or the human condition, it is hard not to agree that those who celebrate and are focused upon creating an improved human future through business, nonprofits and public initiatives are indeed moving us ahead.

Yet much of our celebration of disruptive progress feels focused upon the trees and not the forest in that many of these innovations enable us to connect and act in new ways in the world, but do not explore or alter the fundamental challenges of human experience — by which I mean how we encounter, move through and understand such elements of living as ambition, passion, compassion, ego, greed, love, rage and so on. For guidance in how we should understand, reflect upon and manage these more central elements of living, we need to look not forward, but back. Our shared and regional cultures express how we, as people, have understood and managed these core elements of what it means to be human — across centuries and within the ever evolving context of economics, technologies, social governance and so on.

In addition to helping “place” our personal experiences within the broader context of our collective, social experience over the centuries, I also believe a deeper understanding of our roots better positions us to comprehend current and diverse global challenges such as the rise of ISIL, the xenophobia and fear undergirding the New American Right represented by Trump and domestic so-called militiamen, humanity’s impact upon the Earth over the ages to better understand the power and implications of climate change, and any number of other issues with which we are presently grappling, both as individuals and as a society.

Therefore, over the coming year I intend to go back to the future and reacquaint myself with both ancient history and modern art, with philosophy and social expressions coming from not only Western Culture, but Eastern and African and Latin and more. I will intentionally explore our shared, virtual Museums through books, blogs and videos, as well as through personal experiences that promise to connect me with those who, over the centuries as well as today, observe the same fundamental challenges of life as I, yet bring a lens to that life which differs from my own. In doing so, I would like to discover more about what we share in common in order to see more clearly what may truly divide us down through the ages.

The final area of development I intend to cultivate is also the hardest to express and is that of Meaning. In many ways Meaning is simply the outcome of what is explored through delving into our Museums above or as we experience a more transcendent life through Musical expressions. In this sense, Meaning is the personal expression of how we understand culture’s relevance and value to each of us as individual actors in history.

Professionally, I have been described as a thought leader in my field of impact investing and social entrepreneurship because through my ideas, writings and engagement with others, I have sought to help shape and give meaning to our shared efforts — but if we are lucky, personal Meaning shifts, evolves and matures over time. While my fundamental values as a person have perhaps remained consistent, over time my perspectives and understanding of not only my own but others’ experiences have evolved. Out of a deeper exploration of Music and Museums, I hope to more clearly ground my understanding of the Meaning of my own life, both personally and professionally. I wonder if by grounding our daily lives in historic and cultural context we might each see better our future paths.

The lists of 2016 may be of use in holding us accountable for performance, but as I’ve outlined above, I’m less certain they will be helpful in grounding our journeys of the coming year.

I believe we should stop looking down at our lists and reconnect with the historic arc of our horizons!

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