Letter from the CO-CEO: What Lullabies and New Year’s Resolutions Have in Common by Lynette Lim
Many of you who have had kids will remember this very popular song:
Are you sleeping, are you sleeping,
Brother John, Brother John?
Morning bells are ringing! Morning Bells are ringing!
Ding Dang Dong! Ding Dang Dong!
The origin of the song is French and it is called "Frère Jacques," which translates in English to Friar John. You can easily imagine that it was written somewhere deep in a monastery on a particularly snowy day in the French Alps, by a fellow brother in a half-jesting, half-mocking way to tease a very sleepy monk who could not wake up in the mornings.
It is a little ironic, I think, once you actually notice the lyrics and realize that they have exactly the opposite intention of a lullaby! Those who have had to look after babies will remember the horrors of trying to get a baby in distress to sleep. You try anything, including downloading a sound byte of a washing machine (it did not work) and putting her in a harness on your back and walking back and forth for an hour every day. There is a certain necessity and urgency when you are living that stage of parenthood of babies and diapers. You adapt and learn to live with little sleep, sleep at will when the baby is sleeping, and celebrate the good days while preserving your energy for the bad days. Getting your baby to sleep through the night becomes the only goal. And if you get to sleep too, then you’ve hit the jackpot.
So as the year 2020 comes to an end, what are your goals for 2021? Any New Year’s resolutions that were carried over from the year before? While 2020 threw all of us a curveball regarding our plans, what will 2021 look like? For many of us, I imagine we are not in a state of mind to have New Year’s resolutions or make plans. We are, figuratively speaking, dying for this COVID-19 nightmare to end so that we can get back to our lives. Hence, with or without a plan, our unsaid ONLY goal is to survive 2021.
I recall that one of my colleagues once said to me that she never made New Year’s resolutions because she did not want to be disappointed if she failed. Then in my mid-twenties, I dismissed her comment thinking it so odd -- I could not fathom why someone would not want to aim for a betterment of oneself. Why wouldn’t someone want to trade for an upgraded version of oneself: a slimmer body, more knowledge, etc.? Now I am beginning to see the reasoning for her lack of New Year’s resolutions. The downside of not meeting the goals and disappointing herself was far greater than the achievement itself would be. Perhaps she knew herself and knew that it was better not to even try. The other possible reason for her behavior is that deep down she did not think she really needed to change anything at all.
More than twenty years later, I faced the same sort of resistance among my colleagues when we decided to adopt OKRs as a way to measure our progress toward company goals. The methodology of OKRs was started by Andy Grove from Intel and has been used extensively by tech companies. In a simplistic way, you could say that OKRs are a company version of New Year’s resolutions, except that now you as an individual have no choice but to set one and be measured by it. 😊
As I reflect on my own personal New Year’s resolutions throughout the years, I observe that there were some personal ones which I have never managed to reach, e.g. being my pre-kids weight. If I were to examine my own intentions, I don’t think I really wanted to lose the weight or make the effort to do so. I think some part of me just thought that I had to. There is a certain completely unnecessary suffering that goes away when one realizes that one still has choices in life, including not wanting to change one’s lifestyle to lose weight.
“You never know when you are asleep.” Jack Frazier, 4
So, back to the title of this letter and the relationship between lullabies and New Year’s resolutions: they both have to do with sleep.
I think that New Year’s resolutions will only be successful when you have been asleep and are now awakened. You have a clear awareness and conviction of how your particular habit or behavior has been for you and how you want that to be changed for the better. There is a gut feeling that you do not want to tolerate this anymore. And when that happens, there may also be regret and sorrow. But that too will pass, and you will realize you only have today and tomorrow to control and plan. And what you decide to do, you will do. You will find the ways, the “key results,” to do it, but the first question to ask yourself is, are you sleeping?
Merry Christmas and have a happy New Year!