New Year’s Resolutions: A Professor’s Perspective

Dr. Mandy Elliott

Ah, January: when many of us take slogans like “happy new YOU” to heart and resolve to improve ourselves by doing something impossible (or at least highly improbable) only to peter out by February and commence disappointment and self-loathing for not completing said thing. Happy new year!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my resolutions lately, and I’ve realized two things: 1) They often involve “fixing” myself; and 2) They often involve the kind of self-centered navel gazing that screams privilege. That is, I have tended to respond to fits of impostor syndrome by resolving that THIS IS THE YEAR I will sculpt that six pack or read a book a day (choices with no stakes or accountability), instead of resolving to participate more fully in my community (a choice that involves real stakes and accountability).

Thanks to the late author, activist, and feminist icon bell hooks, I’ve decided to be done with these types of resolutions. They aren’t good for me, and they distract me from helping to create actual, meaningful change. In her essay, “Love as the Practice of Freedom,” hooks says that we tend to long not for collective transformation, but instead for an end to our own personal pain. But, by committing to improve only our own situations, we “not only remain attached to the status quo but act in complicity with it, nurturing and maintaining those very systems of domination” that cause the personal pain and systemic inequity that lead to impostor syndrome in the first place.

According to hooks, collective transformation through love is the way out of all exploitation and oppression, including my own. After all, my privilege doesn’t prevent me from feeling overwhelmed or inadequate. So, in addition to hooks’s words above, I find comfort in modernist author Virginia Woolf’s resolution for 1931 to “be free & kindly with [herself].”

Ideally, my resolution this year will consider that I am a vital part of this world as I am and that I can participate in loving and radical collective transformation while being “free & kindly” with myself in the process. Who’s with me?


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