The well-tempered person

Celebrating the New Year is one of the most universal holidays. All cultures have some sort of New Year celebration. The year may start at different times for different people, but the point of the holiday is the same. Celebrating the New Year puts our lives in perspective. It's easy to get caught up in the mundane aspects of everyday life, and even easier to forget there is anything else. The New Year forces us to look back to where we have come from, and reminds us that we won't always be in the same place we are now.

The New Year makes us think about the future, which makes it a time of opportunity. Who knows what success and fortune might come along in the next 365 days? However, the funny thing about opportunity is that while it can lead to achievement, it can also result in terrible disappointment.

When facing these types of risk/reward situations it is popular for a person to say they are "steeling themselves" for the coming trials. Of course, this phrase refers to the solidity of steel. A steel blade can smash against all kinds of things and not lose its shape. In the same way, when we steel ourselves we are preparing to face disappointment without falling apart. More important than its toughness, though, the phrase refers to how steel is made. It doesn't start out invincible. It has to go through a process in order to get that way first.

When making steel, the alloy is often heated up to extreme temperatures, then immediately submerged in water to cool it down. In a nutshell, this allows carbon atoms to move around more easily and mix with the iron when the steel is warm, then locks the atoms in place when it is cooled down, making the steel stronger. This process is called tempering. Without tempering, or when tempering is done incorrectly, the steel cannot achieve its potential. It will become brittle and easily broken - countless hours of work rendered useless.

Like steel, human beings can also be tempered. No, this does not involve dropping people in boiling water and then throwing them in the freezer in order to develop bulletproof skin, although I think the Defense Department might be working on something like that. Rather, humans are capable of tempering their emotions, which can be more brittle and easily broken than even the most poorly forged tool. I know that when I am facing an opportunity that can really pay off, but could also end in miserable failure, I go through a process of emotional tempering.

In this process, I go from really excited to more subdued, to really excited again, and so on. Like carbon atoms in steel, this tempering allows little bits of confidence to spread through me, and then solidifies them in place. Not even the meanest comment or most disheartening failure can shake the confidence particles from their new position, allowing my emotional state to remain intact through a tough situation.

A well-tempered sword, like a well-tempered person, might not be able to break through absolutely everything, but it can stand resistance without being broken itself.

Of course, if I had the option, I would rather be a light saber than even the most solid steel sword. A light saber can simply slice right through anything, and it doesn't need any tempering at all.