In 2004, my family and I decided to move to Southwest Florida, for what at the time seemed like perfectly good reasons. Three years later, we decided to move back to Northern Virginia, for what seem even now to be perfectly better reasons. One of the chief better reasons was the diminished change of seasons. We simply did not realize how pervasive the climate down there would be. It was not just that you can wear shorts all year round — something that seems appealing out of context. It was also the constant greenery, flowers always in bloom — no autumn reds or yellows or winter grays. It was mall stores where “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” was in danger of being drowned out by the roar of air conditioners. Even the yearly fluxuation in the daylight hours was muted, owing to the proximity to the equator — it was never dark when we left for work in the winter, nor light at 9:30 p.m. in the summer. There were really just two seasons — rainy and dry — and to someone raised in New England, over time it began to feel like a kind of limbo, a place to which people fled late in life in the hope that time really was standing still there. As Mr. Tumnus might say, it was always summer but never the Fourth of July.
There was a little seasonality to my job — the year end and April 15th do affect tax practitioners to varying degrees. But as I was working in estate planning, even those effects were fairly mild; most people manage to put their wills and trusts in place without even considering such deadlines. For the most part, work in January was very much like work in June, and this contributed to my overall sense of stasis. But, unrealized by me at the time, there was something more going on.
When we came back “north” (such a relative term!), I could sense the hands of the clock coming back to life. Leaves fell and sprouted again; we were blanketed with snow and then later with humidity; a year could pass and it really felt like a year had passed. Eventually — just over a year ago, in fact — I came to work where I am now, a place in which I feel I have done and learned more in the last twelve months than I had in at least the last few years. With the arrival of the winter solstice and the blessed return of the lengthening days, it is only natural for me to look back and mentally note my accomplishments, errors, and discoveries as they took place over the obvious passage of time. Winter, spring, summer, autumn — each presented its own challenges.
And now that I am back in winter here, I realize something else about passage of seasons. The regular change of seasons can help us feel that time is moving forward, but that may just be a pacifier, fooling us into mistaking passage for progress. The real value of the seasons is in their repetition, which can help us to measure how quickly we ourselves are moving forward. December being distinct from September provides a refreshing change, but it also allows me to think about where I was last December, and to consider how I have grown and how I plan to face the demands I now know are coming in January. As a practicing attorney — even before I moved to Florida — I was much less engaged in my work. I was happy with the variety that the seasons offered, but paid no real attention to their value in measuring myself. Perhaps my time in Florida helped me to grow dissatisfied with that: the removal of the natural stimulus of seasonal progression revealed my own stagnation all the more plainly.
Now that my work matters to me, I appreciate winter both as a change from the fall, and as a reminder that I was in one place last December, and have moved further down the road now. And, hopefully, will make even more progress by next winter solstice. Consider whether you feel the same way about your professional self over time. Because, ideally, it is not just our environments that should change over the course of time; it is ourselves as well.