It’s Time to Start Something

Dear Will:

Well, we’ve done it. Or should I say, we haven’t.

For the last 20 years or so, we have sent out Christmas cards to friends and relations around the globe. In most years, that card has included a letter of sorts, one into which we have invested a considerable amount of time and effort in order to make it witty and worth reading—even if you don’t find our children as interesting as we do. In some years, I have had to submit multiple drafts to get it past my wife (Editor in Chief) because the initial versions were either too boring or too inane or too vacuous or maybe all three. It was sometimes arduous, but we did succeed to some extent in making our letters entertaining enough that some friends encouraged us to keep ‘em coming.

It was a lot easier in the early years, when our children were cute and spontaneously funny in the way that innocents tend to be. But as they have gotten older and we have used up a variety of editorial tricks and angles, making our annual letter even somewhat engaging has become a difficult chore. You yourself may recall a time or two when our effort has fallen well short of the mark. For these and a variety of other reasons we decided that enough has finally become enough. Thus this year there was no card and no annual letter from the Watkins.

When Dana and I finally gave ourselves permission not to send out Christmas wishes, it should have produced in me a great sense of relief. (Confession: My first and only draft of Christmas Letter 2011 was rejected out of hand by the Editor in Chief.) But rather than feeling like I had been let off the hook, instead I have felt great pangs of regret and even guilt for breaking the streak.

The truth is, it’s hard to start something worthwhile, harder still to keep it up over a prolonged period of time. We’ve all embarked on one-day diets or thrown ourselves full force into what proved to be a two-week workout regimen. My wife is one who works out six days a week (every day but Sunday), even when—or I should say, especially when—she doesn’t feel like it. If she’s sick or sore or injured, she refuses to give into the discomfort. “I’m afraid that once I let myself off the hook it will be too easy to stop altogether,” she explains. “And I can’t afford that.”

Several years ago, my son Luke went his entire freshman and sophomore years without missing a day of Early Morning Seminary. He hadn’t set out to have a perfect record, but once he was two years in it became a matter of pride to him. No matter how tired he was or how good an excuse he might have had, by his junior year he refused to miss. Every day, no matter what, he arose before 6 a.m. and made his way down to the church. It was impressive.

Then one day in his junior year it happened: He somehow slept through his alarm and accidentally missed Seminary. He was very upset that his perfect string had been broken. But once it had been broken it became very easy for him to miss again. He still attended, but once he got out of the pattern it didn’t matter as much to him to keep up the consistency.

So it is with many worthwhile endeavors: eating right, visiting the elderly, attending Sunday services, working out. Starting is easy. Stopping is easier. It’s only through consistent follow-through that we can turn good intentions into quantifiable results.

You know why I bring all of this up, don’t you? As we embark on a new year, we’re pondering resolutions and commitments and (if you’re like me) contemplating what we can do to make this year better than last year. The next few days will be filled with good intentions. The question is this: A year from now, which of those good intentions will have transformed us and which will be mere memories? It’s time to start something. And when you do, don’t stop.


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