I don’t know if you’re one of those folks who make New Year’s resolutions or not. Some people believe resolutions are doomed to fail, while others believe that resolutions are made to be broken. Still others feel encouraged and energized by the thought of a fresh start.
I’m not a New Year’s resolution guy, myself. Why wait for January 1 when you can just buckle down and change and improve any time you want to?
Of course, “change and improve” is harder than it sounds. It often requires a change in routine, a change in mindset, a change in thinking, a change in behavior. It requires resolve.
That’s where Stonewall Jackson comes in.
Jackson guided his whole life by this North Star idea: “You may be whatever you resolve to be.”
According to Jackson biographer James “Bud” Robertson, Jackson found “this most famous of his maxims” in an 1851 publication, Lectures to Young Men, on the Formation of Character by a Connecticut minister, Joel Hawes. The quote resonated with Jackson strongly enough that he wrote it down in a little book of aphorisms that he kept as his own personal manual for living a decent and upright life.
Jackson was 27 or so, and by that point in his life, he’d been long committed to the power of resolve. “What I willed to do I could do,” he once said. Robertson, exploring the background of the “resolve” quote in Stonewall Jackson’s Book of Maxims (pg. 86), cites several similar examples where Jackson extolled the strength of determination and will.
At first blush, the idea that a person can achieve anything through personal will might seem either simplistic or foolish. Perhaps it’s intentionally hyperbolic, and of course no one takes it literally. Maybe it even strikes you as quaint.
But the key to understanding the quote, at least as it pertains to Jackson, is to understand what “resolve” really means—what it really means.
“You may be whatever you resolve to be.”
When reading through the quote, it’s easy to pass right over “resolve” without giving the word the due consideration it requires. We tend to think that to “resolve” means to make up one’s mind about something or even to make a firm or determined decision. However, “resolve” carries far more weight than that. To “resolve” requires commitment—complete, total commitment. Deeper than bone-deep. Heart, body, mind, and soul.
I’m not convinced that such commitment had to be unwavering. Jackson, as a deeply religious man, often prayed for divine guidance and strength. That suggests to me that he sometimes felt like he needed help—or at least reinforcement—which in turn suggests that maybe his resolve wavered or flagged at times and he looked for a way to double-down and push ahead.
That’s what resolve requires. If you are committed, you find a way forward. Failure is not an option.
So, if you’re one of the folks considering New Years resolutions this year, and you’re serious about making them stick, don’t treat your resolutions as a wish list or a to-do list. Consider Stonewall Jackson’s approach to resolve and how that might inform your own. 2017 is here, and in this new year, you may be whatever you resolve to be.