I'm not going to shrink my hips or grow five inches in 2011. I didn't in 2010, 2009, or 2008, despite my penchant for making New Year's resolutions that defy common sense and human physiology.
The only thing more depressing than a personal pledge unmet is one so unrealistic it couldn't be kept even if plastic surgery was free. That's why this year, I'm following Chaz Howard's lead to turn New Year's resolutions inside out.
"What if," he asks, "we made resolutions that were about serving and caring for others?"
What if he and his merry coconspirators challenged strangers to "put more good out there," publicly and passionately declaring their intentions no matter how modest?
How fast would the word spread, and where? What would people pledge? Would anyone care?
Chaz is the University of Pennsylvania's chaplain.
He's a soft-spoken clergyman who describes grand plans as "fresh," a 32-year-old Ph.D. who teaches "hip-hop and faith" to seminarians, an occasionally frazzled father who laments bad news - like a child's case of strep throat - as "whack."
Howard's typical resolutions? Eat less, exercise more, get up earlier.
"I'm not sure I ever made it out of January before he," says the chaplain, affectionately patting his soft middle, "comes back."
Last year's blown diet led to this year's achievable dream when Howard hatched resolution11.org with his friend Len Matty, along with an altruistic music producer, a classmate-turned-web designer, and a Penn student who speaks social media as a second language.
"It started as a casual conversation among friends about how we could do more," explains Matty, a Malvern father of three who works in pharmaceutical marketing.
"It's foolishly simple, pitifully basic," Howard adds over tea in his art-and-book-filled office on Locust Walk. And yet, he knows many people may be intimidated by the call to "discern what means a lot to you and make a commitment to do something about it next year."
To ease those fears, there's no hard-sell, no money involved, no following-up, no organization. If people post their goals, great. If they'd rather lurk on the site and swear silently, that, too, is "fresh."
Spreading the word
How news travels at the end of 2010: A Native American Penn grad working in China hears about the resolution revolution at Thanksgiving and tells Facebook friends around the planet.
"He was the most quiet and solemn kid in class," Howard marvels. "He didn't even make a resolution, but he's pumping this thing up."
The viral experiment generated 500 hits a week before Howard's essay in Friday's Huffington Post. Those resolved are a mix of young, ancient, spiritual, and dreamy.
A high school student wants to collect shoes for the needy in Haiti. A set of twins will stage a 5K run to benefit Philly homeless shelters. A California couple will adopt.
One stranger with a day job in insurance and a night passion for poetry slams asked Howard for help choosing to be resolute. Eventually, the young man decided to write one piece a week to perform.
"He recognizes he's not mentoring a child or raising money to build wells in Sudan," Howard explains. "But he's good at what he does. He inspires with his art."
I tell Howard that I'm moved by the teacher who says she'll attend more of her students' extracurricular events. She's giving those kids the gift of self-worth just by engaging them outside the classroom.
"That's a big step for a lot of people," Howard says. "Not everyone has time to build a playground."