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January 1, 2023

New Year Day's infamous resolutions

My New Year’s Day resolutions were very clearly explained to me early on: lots of small things I had to do to improve my situation. “Watch your figure and lose a few pounds,” Aunt Magella would say. “Be nicer,” Dad would tell me, “and help your mom before she has to ask you.” Grandpa Frédéric was the only one who encouraged me to read. He would collect paper clippings and give them to me. It was also he who prompted grandma to give me her small dictionary so I could improve my vocabulary.

What I remember from those days is a persistent impression of never being congratulated for anything. There is one exception, however. The nun who taught French at my elementary school had told my mother, in front of me, that I wrote very well, but that my writing was always filled with mistakes.

Thank heavens I started reading night and day to improve my vocabulary. As a teenage girl, I would go through the big Larousse dictionary at bedtime and write down every word I didn’t know in a notebook. In college, I had become a serious young girl with a goal: improve my writing and become an author. Perhaps because my passion was so great, it crushed my dream? And, just like that, like a cake without baking powder, the marriage that followed was a total fiasco. Nevertheless, life followed its course like a river churning with clashing currents and continued to descend towards the ocean, carrying along its amazing children, bitter sorrows and tiny swells of hope.

Penniless, I still managed to become a happy liberated woman in 1980. I remember it clearly. I was 33, with three children who would soon be teenagers. We had “a bright future ahead of us,” I promised them. Unable to find work that suited my academic diploma I had earned 15 years before, I was soon hired in the restaurant business, like most single mothers at that time.

In those days, my list of resolutions were typically focused on losing a few kilos, exercising at a gym or parking five streets away from the restaurant so I would have to walk the distance there and back. I had to improve my looks, wear nicer clothes, get in better shape, increase my salary and eventually live in a nicer apartment.

Conscientious and hardworking, I was promoted from hostess to evening manager, then day manager and, 10 months later, general manager of a large popular restaurant that forced me to work six and a half days a week. A few years passed and I worked on my list of trivial goals until one day, a waitress brought me a magazine that a business customer had left behind during the lunch hour. She didn’t know who, so I kept the magazine aside for a few days in case they returned to claim it. Seven days later, I fell asleep transformed and happy.

The magazine presented the results from a fascinating study conducted by researchers at Harvard in Boston. The study was on the effects of writing down one’s goals. It turns out that 3% of the students who had written down their goals throughout their studies earned, on average, an income 20% higher than the other 97% of students. The small group of students also shared a common desire: they were eager to learn and determined to go further.

A divine hand had just planted a seed in my mind. I was going to be a lot more serious and proactive because I was also eager to learn and determined to do everything necessary to improve our situation. After a little bit of research on the topic, I began to understand the power generated by writing. According to the well-known author Henriette Anne Klauser, committing your goals to paper puts your future in motion; your goals become real and tangible.

At the beginning of 1984, the resolutions on my list had become more aspirational than just improving my looks. Like brave soldiers ready to win the war, they were all consistent with the creation of our own small business. I have the document still today, tucked away somewhere. It contains the brief outline of a modest business that the children and I would have one day.

I remember it very well: a sort of coffee shop where we’d sell danishes, homemade cakes, scones and biscottis. We’d call it “La Clownerie.” We would also sell birthday cakes and clown costumes for kids. I was already sewing nice ones for my own children. Even 30 years ago, mothers were too busy to sew their kids’ costumes.

The seed sprouted and we had to wait until 1987 for it to appear in front of our incredulous eyes. It was a small diner serving amazing breakfasts, with a bright sun for its trademark.

My list of yearly goals became increasingly serious after we opened that first small restaurant. For years, my list had contained numbers I wanted to lower; now my resolutions were all about surpassing the numbers I had written down. In January 1994, when the kids and I were already operating nine restaurants and we were looking into becoming a franchisor, my list of resolutions turned into an ANNUAL BUSINESS PLAN.

Our individual personalities were swallowed into this amazing tsunami without us truly realizing what was happening. Each of us had the difficult mission to become the very best. And we were, I suppose, becoming well known, earning awards for excellence and making solid sales. And then, as naturally as heavy tree branches bending gradually towards the earth, I slowly found myself on the side road, taking the backseat to let someone else take the wheel. He’s the one who today gives his annual plan to a team of professionals. And he’s very good at it, even when faced with the terrible disruption that has hit the restaurant industry in recent years.

For me, thinking makes me wiser and writing takes care of the rest! The infinite wisdom of the universe organizes my days. Some days I feel like a tightrope walker moving across an abyss. Leaving a paragraph behind, I stand, ready to take the plunge. I try to hold onto a star and then the wind saves me. I no longer have to plan for anything. I don’t have to write my list of resolutions or make any promises anymore. I only have to wait for the dawn, when the sun rises above and sees fit to fill me with hope for another day.