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Be Realistic in the New Year

Be Realistic in the New Year


Janus, the Roman god of thresholds, is January's namesake. His image bears two faces -- symbolizing transitions -- with one face looking backward and the other, forward. I write about Janus because of the New Year, so frequently the catalyst for new beginnings and resolutions, most of which are abandoned in the first week of the year. Many people err because they root their newly discovered resolutions in only one of Janus's faces: the one looking forward. Essentially good, this perspective holds the possibility of optimism and hope: 'What next?' being the operative question. Without that hope one stays mired in stale patterns of the past, lost in a place of resentment and self-questioning, continuously self-defeating, since one is more in touch with one's failures than one's potential. In other words, only being in touch with Janus's backward-looking face prevents us from recognizing our potential and instead to be doomed by our past. At the same time, being in touch with one's past is crucial in that it holds essential elements instrumental in the process of change -- one's biggest mistakes. A mentor told me years ago the field I've chosen will elicit gratitude for my biggest mistakes. They are modes of empathy, since I cannot in good conscience presume that clients will always learn to make better choices. I certainly haven't been consistent in making better choices. As a good friend has always told me, 'we are all bozos on this bus.' Such an attitude helps to address perfectionism that consumes one's process of change, the incorrect assumption that in order to progress one needs not to stumble along the way. Many people who have HIV live in the past, some judging past behavior and agreeing with those in society who somehow believe that we deserve it. Others hold onto deep resentment if their significant others or sex partners lied to them about their status. Either way it represents clinging to that which one cannot control, which directly opposes the process of change requiring that one has control over some things in the here and now. I know this not because of my education, although certainly my education has told me the same things. I have all too often berated myself for past mistakes, whether with respect to my finances, drugs or alcohol, or relationships. When I'm too identified with them, they become my identity, and change feels impossible. I'm a prisoner of my own self -defeating thoughts. At times this has prevented me from making positive change. It is a truism that history repeats itself if not learned from. It's why we repeat the same tired patterns over and over again, practically the self's inner guide of wisdom instructing us that we have yet to learn crucial lessons from the past. The other wisdom Janus implies is that in order to be authentic we need to embrace the totality of who we are. The past defines us as little as the future does. The tension between the two forms the single greatest determinant of change: realistic goals. Whether your resolution is to lose 50 pounds, go to the gym five days a week, or quit smoking, drinking, or whatever, the fact remains that such goals are attained only when approached daily, realistically. Ultimately, realistic goals are easy ways to treat ourselves more kindly. As we move into the new year, my wish for all of us is that we develop realistic goals that honor where we've come from as well as where we hope to head. Fransen is a licensed clinical social worker who is in private therapy practice in Chicago. He welcomes feedback at

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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