A lot happened this year. A gunman in Tucson, an act of God in the Pacific Rim, a single moment of defiance in Tunisia sparked a region wide uprising.
A legend of innovation died, a legacy in Penn State College crumbled, political battles raged.
An out-of-control actor started “winning,” a pair of 20-somethings tied the knot across the pond and a mastermind of terror met his maker.
So much happened in 2011, yet oftentimes it felt like very little. On the eve of a new year, it feels as if we’re standing in place. Waiting.
Things seem sluggish; people aren’t excited. We’re all looking around the corner for the big moment. We’re waiting for a political savior, an economic visionary, or some world-shaking, life-defining occurrence that we all long to be a part of.
If you watched the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street crowd or any other big gathering of people this year, you picked up
on a common theme we aren’t hearing a lot about.
There is a desire among many to be part of the revolution. I don’t mean revolution in the political sense, although that is what is happening in the Middle East in some cases. People want to be part of big moments in history and they want to feel like these times they live in are important and meaningful. They want it so badly they’ll turn anything into something of great significance.
Have you noticed how every election since 2000 has been “the most important election of our lifetime?” Or how about how the vitriol in Washington “is worse than ever before?” And we can’t forget how “this is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”
Everything is the “Game of the Century.” All news is now “breaking news.”
We want to think our time matters more than any other. But this is not 1860. It’s not 1941. It’s certainly not 1215 or 1776. It might not even be 1968.
The truth is, we won’t really know what 2011 means for 50 or 100 years. History isn’t written in real time. It takes decades to understand how a given moment fits into the larger context of an era.
You can’t turn your own time into a revolutionary moment just because you wish it to be so. We’re not all destined for great things. Some people have to live in the Era of Good Feelings.
The ironic thing is we actually are living in a pretty significant era – it’s just not the one we think it is. For all the talk about political and economic changes, the real change happening is technological.
We’re in the midst of a 25-year period of unimaginable shifts in technology and information. First there was an agricultural revolution, then an industrial revolution. Today, we’re the middle children of the Information Age.
Historians will look back on 2011 as part of an era that ushered in radical changes in how people communicate, do business and live their lives. But to us, it doesn’t feel like much. The iPhone has Siri now, but last year there was still an iPhone.
You don’t usually catch important moments when you’re part of them – that’s the amazing thing. For all the people standing in the streets during 2011 who tried to will something great to happen, they missed the fact it already was. Slowly, but surely, the world was changing around them.
They’re just too close to the puzzle to see the picture that is forming around them. We do live in important and meaningful times but they aren’t meaningful for the reasons we think or the reasons we want.
You don’t get to choose the time you live in or the place you’re born. You can’t be part of history just because you want to be. That’s my advice for the year.
Recognize that significant and meaningful things happen slowly and deliberately. Lincoln didn’t wake up one day and free the slaves – it was destiny fulfilled after a long, painful struggle in our history.
Big moments are often the combination of a million little, boring steps that don’t feel important. It’s only after you take the final one when you realize how far you’ve come.