A clean slate

Robert Valentine Senior lecturer of advertising

Column by Robert Valentine, Senior lecturer of advertising

For some of us, the end of the fall semester could not have come any sooner. For others of us, it is too late. For almost all of us, it is a welcome respite.

If you are at all like me, you find yourself in a state of regret: too many things left undone; too many opportunities missed or too many opportunities taken which left too little time for the important things.

Now, the good news: next semester, we get to try again to get it right.

In January, we get to wipe the slate (unless your case is still pending in some court of law, of morality or of basketball). We can make a list of those things we want most to do or be, and setting our sights on the targets, make a clean start.

That’s my favorite part. It’s a funny thing, but the shortest day of the year (Dec. 21) and the turning point in the calendar (Jan. 1) sort of come together; as the days slowly grow longer, we have another chance to quit smoking, start reducing, end procrastination or stop drinking tap water.

The appearance of “Jan. 1” on the calendar is a license to take new hope and seek new directions. Hope and change are like seeds lying underneath the snow. During the remaining weeks of cold, they plan and put forth tendrils seeking nourishing encouragement and reassurance, fed by renewed determination to improve.

As the chilly weather gives way to the warmth of March and April, we get to try our hands at improved relations with others, at gardening, exercise, study, hobbies or work. What lies before us is the fulfillment of that seed of resolve planted back in January.

Of course, setting goals and reaching them are two different sets of acts. Making lists of personal improvements has to be done immediately, while the pain and discomfort of failure or overindulgence are still fresh and heavy on your conscience.

One expert recommended creating a list of 10 things to achieve.  Number the list one through 10, from the most important to the least. Then cross out the last five items. You can’t do everything at once, after all.

There is no good reason to wait until Jan. 1 to impose new rules or start new and better practices. As soon as you resolve to do something differently you are licensed to start the new course of action. Why wait?

If you are seeking a place to start your list, I have some recommendations for you. See if they resonate with something you’ve heard before.

Only four of the five appear on my personal list.

When you enroll in a lecture class, attend all the scheduled class meetings.

When given an assignment, start working on it immediately. It won’t be any easier or get any better just because you wait until the night before it’s due.

Don’t be afraid to say, “No,” when you are asked to fill out a fourth for the drive to Paducah to go clubbing. When the little voice at the base of your skull whispers, “You really shouldn’t:” listen.

Whatever it is, do it now. You had nothing else planned.

Clean up your desk/desktop/backpack/back seat before you go to bed. You’ll be able to find everything easier in the morning, whenever it comes.

And that is why, dear reader, I love January. It is an annual rebirth, a perennial second chance.

Now, it is almost here and if our self-honesty has prepared us to recognize the dead weeds of imperfection, we can make ready to plant new seeds of hope and determination that will yield a new person in the coming year. Or not.