Shrugging Off Failure

I confess: I’m not a resolution maker.

I used to be, but I’ve given in to my pessimistic, fatalistic nature — the birthright of all Norwegians. I don’t set goals, or chart my progress. It doesn’t help me to look at the long run, or the big picture.

Let me be clear: I am not saying, “I’m going to fail anyway, so why pretend I’m going to do this?”

The Norwegian pessimist says (to quote Garrison Keillor), ”Don’t think you’re special, because you’re not.“ In other words, ”Do it, and stop whining about how hard it is. Don’t make a big deal out of it.“


My entire family is Scandinavian. Most of my grandparents were born here, but you wouldn’t know it to hear them talk. I don’t pretend to know what people in Norway think about New Year’s Resolutions, but my Minnesota relatives didn’t believe in making a fuss about things.

They didn’t make resolutions. They just decided to do what needed to be done, and tried to do it as well as they could. Why do we need a special day to remind us of what we ought to be doing?

Self-esteem? It wouldn’t occur to them to worry about this. Self-esteem is a 20th century American invention.

There is a Norse folk-belief that you should tell a joke as you face death, because it shows Death that you are not afraid. That sounds like a Viking attitude, but I think it has more to do with living in a land that is dark half the year, and never gives in abundance. We take what we get, and don’t complain.

If we face Death with a joke, perhaps Failure ought to be met with a shrug. Get over it. Try again. The people who merit scorn aren’t the ones who try and fail, but the ones who can’t stop talking about it.

What matters is not a list of ”This year I will…“ resolutions. What matters is how we face up to the fate we’re handed. We can’t control what happens; we can only control what we do. So we just do it.

Tonight I will think about what I ought to be doing. Tomorrow I will wake up and start doing it.


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