The Story of January

Okay, quick etymology lesson …

For those of us who live in a part of the world with a language influenced by Latin, the first month of the calendar year is invariably called something like January. Januari. Januar. Janvier. Enero. Eanáir. Ionawr. All derived from the name the Romans used, which was Ianuarius.

Fun fact: January didn’t used to exist. Neither did February. The Romans weren’t big fans of winter (me either), and so their first calendar ran only ten months, from March to December. Which is why September, October, November, and December all have names based on the Latin numerical prefixes for seven, eight, nine, and ten. Once winter came along, they simply stopped keeping track of dates for two months, until spring arrived.

Eventually, the Romans decided to round things out and acknowledge the full lunar year by adding January and February. Which is interesting for a couple of reasons …

One, because it meant they were finally acknowledging that even the coldest months deserved to be counted and recorded. More on this in tomorrow’s post.

Two, because it dethroned March, which was named after Mars, the god of war. In other words, prior to the ascension of January, the Romans aligned the start of their calendar year with the start of the season for warfare. Which makes a kind of sense, right? After all, they were a militaristic empire. For them, it mattered when it would be warm enough to go out and fight.

By contrast, January was named for Janus, who was a much older, more revered god. Janus is always depicted as having two faces, one looking backward into the past and one looking forward into the future. He is the god of beginnings, of transitions, of time, and of doorways.

Which has a much different feel to it than a month named after a god of war, right? The role of a general tasked with leading soldiers into battle is to never look back, only forward. To conquer. To grow by force. Imagine running a business with that philosophy.

What a change, then, to view the start of the new year as a time for reflection. A time for looking not only forward but back. To consider the story of the path we’ve been on as well as where that path will take us.

This is a commonplace notion to us now, of course. It’s how many of us think about the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Right now, the media is busily churning out “Best of 2019” lists for books and music and movies. People are chronicling everything they accomplished last year, personally and professionally, to put it into perspective. We’re all in some way celebrating what worked, pledging to do more of it, and happily saying goodbye to whatever didn’t.

The story of a business that starts its year with a mindset of January is much different than one that starts its year with a mindset of March. It’s a matter of reflection instead of conquest. Of being able to see any moment, not only the first of January, as one of transition. As a doorway between what has been and what will be.

So what were you in 2019? What do you hope to be in 2020?

Feel free to share in the comments.