It is estimated that up to 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. Most have stopped their daily workouts, or resumed the consumption of coffee, chocolate or tobacco products by mid-February.
There have been myriad columns and scholarly papers written about how one might endeavor to become one of the 20 percent who sees their resolution through. The advice ranges from setting realistic goals to setting incremental goals that are easier to achieve.
This brief entry into the annals of resolution advice will not focus on paths to success. Instead, I would like to argue the importance of setting audacious goals that result in public failure.
Some of the greatest successes that we know failed miserably before they achieved success.
Walt Disney was a reporter with the Kansas City Star in 1921 when he was fired because he “lacked imagination.” He went on to found an animation company in Kansas City that similarly failed after six months because he could not bring in enough revenue to pay the rent.
Famously, J.K. Rowling submitted the manuscript for “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” to 12 different publishers, being rejected by all 12. She was a divorced mother living on welfare when she finished writing the manuscript. Eventually, it was accepted with a very small $2,000 advance. Clearly, the Harry Potter franchise went on to achieve huge success making Rowling at one time worth more than the queen of England.
While these individuals may not have initially been high-profile public figures, or have presented themselves in a public way prior to achieving success, their persistence in the face of failure is clearly a lesson to all of us that failure should not be seen as an end to a goal, but a necessary step in the path to ultimate success.
In September 1962, President John F. Kennedy very publicly said that the U.S. will land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Kennedy had originally rejected NASA’s proposal for such a project due to the cost that would be incurred. The United States and the Soviet Union were already engaged in a space race whereby the USSR had beaten the U.S. in launching the first Earth artificial satellite in 1957 and the first human in space in 1961. Pressured by the successes of the Soviets, Kennedy launched the race for the moon despite NASA lacking the technology and ability to achieve such a goal.
While Kennedy would never see the product of his very public assertion, the moon landing of 1969 and safe return to Earth was the crowning success of his declaration. It is equally likely that history would have proven him to be a false prophet when he made his declaration in 1962. The Soviets could have beaten us to the moon, or the successful landing could have occurred sometime after the decade was complete. Whether he knew it or not, the urgency of the public declaration very likely altered the course of history, creating the impetus for the work that was required to see the outcome that was desired.
In my own life, I have seen the bittersweet product of a very public exercise that did not produce results and ultimate success. As many readers may recall, I was a candidate for Congress in West Michigan in 2018. By definition, when one decides to run for such a public office, one must publicly declare the intention to run. Being a lifelong liberal and running as a Democrat, my chances for victory were guarded from the beginning. I knew this. My family knew this. My closest advisors, friends and confidants knew this. I suspect that most of my support, in the back of their minds, also knew this.
Despite daunting odds, I was determined to run a campaign that was worthy of the important issues about which I care so deeply, and the amazing people for whom I was running. As is evidenced by the fact that I am a community columnist for this paper, and still a full-time emergency physician in West Michigan, I did not prevail.
Even though I did not get more votes than my opponent, there has been a resurgence of liberal activism in this area during 2017 and 2018, and continuing through this past year. Those of us working for Democratic victory in the presidential election are hopeful that more Democratic votes in our area can help turn Michigan “Blue” once again.
As a result of the relationships developed during the campaign, I have been afforded the opportunity to work with the Committee to Protect Medicare, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening Medicare and expanding it to include individuals of all ages. Had I not set out on the initial journey that failed, I doubt that this opportunity would have materialized.
So, as the calendar has now turned to another year, and a new decade, I would argue that it is a moral and civic imperative that each of us sets a goal to achieve by the end of this year. With an election year looming, that may be to assist the candidate of your choice to impact the direction of our state or nation. If so, volunteer, put a sign in your yard, post on Facebook or Twitter. Respectfully declare who you support irrespective of their chances for victory.
If you are trying to quit smoking, or drinking, or increase exercise, tell friends and family. Have them hold you to account.
A little positive peer pressure may be all that you need to be one of the 20 percent who emerge at the end of the year having succeeded and ready for the next challenge of 2021.