We’re all familiar with the quintessential New Year’s Eve song, “Auld Lang Syne”—we sing it as the clock strikes twelve, clinking glasses, blowing noisemakers, embracing loved ones. With its mix of Gaelic and antiquated phrasing, it’s one of those songs you might sing and know verbatim, but not really ever stop to ponder its depth of meaning. I think the song’s opening line is one that merits reflection, though: “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?” The phrase auld (old) lang syne means “days gone by” or “long ago”, and I find it poignant that Robert Burns, the poet and author, invites us with this question to consider our relationship to the past. His question implies that the past is often something we want to forget or diminish as we press ourselves forward, driven for the future. His question seems to invite us to reflect—is the past, and our awareness of its place on our present as well as our future, perhaps something more complex?
The post-holiday denouement that culminates in New Year’s Eve is often accompanied by last hurrahs and declared goals for the year to come. Often these goals have a distinct orientation to the future, which in and of itself is no bad thing. But often these goals imply a truncation from the past. What if we see our goals, our New Year’s resolutions, our dreams for the future as flowing from, deeply related to, our past? I like to think of the past as the foundation from which I’ve built my present; my history that is an integral, vital part of who I am, from which I’ve gained momentum and meaning and wisdom. My cognizance of my past, from times I remember fondly, to moments laced with disappointment and loss, and of the impact of my history into my present makes the concept of my future richer. When I remember, as Robert Burns says, “old acquaintance” and “bring to mind” days gone by and all I’ve learned along the way, I find that goals for the future, what I want and hope is to come, is enriched by my appreciation for the complexities and learning curves of my past.
As you set your goals for the New Year, professionally and personally, I encourage you to build them from a place where your hopes and vision for your future are informed and enriched by all you’ve gleaned from “old lang syne.” Remembering, reflecting, and appreciating what’s led us to where we are today, let’s bring the past’s wisdom to our plans for the future. Happy New Years to you and yours! Here’s to all that’s brought you to where you are today, and all that you hope to build and achieve tomorrow.