On New Year’s Day my friend Sue and I went back and forth about whether we felt like going to the Mummers’ Parade. (If you aren’t familiar with this event, it is a 116-year-old tradition involving approximately 10,000 people, dancing and/or playing instruments, while wearing wildly elaborate costumes—truly a unique piece of Philadelphia culture.) My husband and I live very close to the old parade route, close enough that we used to hear string band music inside our house throughout New Year’s Day. In the past it was a 30-second walk to join the fun. But as of last year, the route changed and now the nearest spot to view the parade is a little over a mile away; Sue and I just couldn’t decide if we wanted to walk that far in the cold.
Late in the day we finally made up our minds to go. We made the chilly 20-minute walk to Broad and Washington and stayed for about an hour, watching four or five string bands. But it was getting dark and we were getting very cold, so as the band we had just listened to rounded the corner onto Washington Avenue, we started walking home.
Leaving the parade at the same time was a man with his three children: a boy of about 8 and two girls who were a bit older, perhaps 10 and 11. They were walking along just ahead of us when the boy suddenly stopped in his tracks, cocking his head to one side as he apparently heard the music of the next approaching band. The whole family came to a halt on the sidewalk as the boy glared up at his father and accusingly yelled, “You said it was over!” His sisters—now hearing the music as well—took this as their cue to get in on the action. They began dancing around their dad, chanting, “You lie! You lie! You said it was over!”
The dad remained completely calm and with fatherly authority, said, “When your feet are frozen, it’s over.” With that, he began moving again; his children followed and in a moment the group disappeared down into the subway stairs.
My friend and I laughed. It was a pretty funny scene.
I imagine there may have been a bit more grumbling as the family rode the subway and perhaps transferred to a bus or a trolley. But before long they were probably settled in their warm house with some hot cocoa, and the indignity of being told to leave before they were ready, quickly forgotten.
It got me thinking. Obviously, those children had fun at the parade—for a while. But as they became cold, hungry, tired and cranky, they couldn’t see that it was time to go. They couldn’t see that a good thing had run its course.
It’s that time of year when many of us are making New Year’s resolutions: choosing to give up things that are bad for us. It’s not too difficult to see that it’s a good time to give up something detrimental like smoking or overeating, but it can be much harder to recognize when it’s time to give up something that’s been good. When we’ve been involved in something positive, like a job, a club, or a civic organization, it can be very hard to see that the time has come for us to move on.
If the time comes for us to make an exit and we don’t, we limit ourselves. We cheat ourselves out of new experiences. In the case of a job or a leadership position, we may even be standing in the way of allowing someone else to bring fresh energy and vision to what has become stale for us.
I witnessed the power of a timely exit in my own family recently. My husband was in a career he used to love—one he thought he’d stay in until retirement. But finding the right position after moving back to the East Coast became an exercise in frustration. He finally looked outside his field of expertise and found unexpected joy in a completely different job—one he’d never considered before.
So as 2016 begins, my hope for you is that whatever you do in the coming year will be exciting and fulfilling. If you’re sticking with what you’ve been doing, I hope there will be new discoveries and fresh challenges. But if your feet have grown icy, I hope you’ll take some time to reassess and step into something new and different: something that fits your 2016 self much better.
Best wishes for a very Happy New Year!