The Genteel
November 23, 2020



At the end of 2010, I was offered a package to leave my comfortable but stagnant job as a magazine editor. It wasn't completely unexpected; I'd been planning and plotting my theoretical next steps and new adventures for months, and, well, the constant changes and uncertainty in media demands that providers (and consumers) re-evaluate at a dizzying pace. I wanted to do things, and go places. I wanted to write more, for new audiences, about different topics. I wanted a change, to feel like I was actively creating my future, not just following along. Yet there I was, days before 2011, without a new direction, hardly any money in the bank and no concrete career lifelines in sight. I'll refrain from using words like "hopeless" to avoid sounding terribly clichéd, but I definitely had no idea what the hell I was going to do next.

But what if, instead of making resolutions, we took risks? 

Resolutions are to January 1 what Jesus is to December 25: almost impossible to disassociate. Self-help empires thrive on this mentality, the fitness industry can expect a yearly spike, and McDonald's sales probably take a one-week nosedive. In law and music, in mathematics and literature, resolutions seek to finalise things, to produce endings. In life, we use "resolution" to better ourselves, or to urge ourselves to become better. (This is a slippery slope, if you ask me.) But what if, instead of making resolutions, we took risks?

What if our resolve wasn't about lists or goals? What if it was about doing everything, or anything, every single day of every single year? Country singer Willie Nelson once said, "Ninety-nine percent of the world's lovers are not with their first choice. That's what makes the jukebox play." And that's what makes resolutions go round, too. It's easy for change to remain a prisoner of hope or desire - both powerful motivators themselves, but dangerous if inactive. Simply: it's about doing more, and the uncertainty that comes from anything unfamiliar, regardless of its potential to "change your life," is what frightens most. Traditionally, risk has been presented with only the most negative connotations. In finance and in health, for example, I believe risk to be directly proportional to faith. And I don't base my faith upon my sight. Do you?

But, have you looked up synonyms for the word [risk]? They include "chance" and "possibility." They include never having to hit play on a Willie Nelson tune in a jukebox. They include all those people in the fashion world and beyond like Tom Ford and Gucci, for example, who together risked everything before you. They include resolution.

Since that evening in December 2010, when I collected the last of my things as if I'd just be taking a standard holiday sojourn, and I traveled home on the last transit pass I'd need for a while, to the same apartment I didn't know if I could still afford, I needed something, anything. Resolutions, of course, looked only too good: spend less, save more; pitch here, e-mail there; change this, fix that. I've never really believed in resolutions, but always thought they were fun to talk about if we dressed them up as "life goals" and they didn't involve weight. So I sat down, and I made a list of things that I wanted - no, needed - to happen that year. I wasn't sure what that would entail, or whether or not I expected these scribbles to magically save/change my own life. But with resolutions, there's an element of will that factors in, and they depend solely on your willingness to perform that magic. Otherwise, they remain words.

In the Middle Ages, the word "risk" was strictly reserved for business done at sea. Today, it's a word we use without any purposeful meaning. Sure, there are come-and-go things like money at a casino that are just that, or there are those emotional matters that could leave you minus a piece of your ego. In any single human experience, in any interaction, in every step out that door, there's hazard. But, have you looked up synonyms for the word? They include "chance" and "possibility." They include never having to hit play on a Willie Nelson tune in a jukebox. They include all those people in the fashion world and beyond like Tom Ford and Gucci, for example, who together risked everything before you. They include resolution.

And I guess that's what I really did; I took risks. Drive to Tennessee for a music festival with a car full of girls I'd never met before? I did it. So if I had written something like "travel more," that would have been me doing it. Randomly accept any and every date from any and every reasonable prospect? I did it. (I usually found every single one tortuous, but you better believe I still did it.) Study ballet for half a year because I always wanted to? I did that too. Most importantly, I risked everything that I had ever thought to be true about myself - my meticulous planning, the image of what my career should/would look like, any money I had, my sanity - to become a full-time freelance writer. No, I've never been a gambling man, and I'm a Virgo if that means anything to you. I accepted every assignment, signed on to any new project, and dared to tell every story within me no matter the consequence. I joined the very pages of this magazine. In 1931, T.S. Eliot wrote, "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." In 2012, in a world like ours, in a year like this, will your risks be worth it? I don't know. But I want to take them anyway.




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