For Auld Lang Syne

John Masey Wright and John Rogers’ illustration of the poem, c. 1841.

It is hard to write something elegant about new year. Everyone’s used to lists of top resolutions to make and quips about what a farce it all is, how nothing has really changed other than the numbers on clocks and how for the next month we all accidently date thigs as being in last year. So I thought I’d try a right a quick piece about the new year from a slightly different angel which may, or may not, say something about career in the broadest sense.


Robert Burns For Auld Lang Syne still remains as the anthem of the new year despite most people only knowing one verse and chorus and not everyone knows what they mean. Still I think Burns has something interesting to teach us about facing the future. Just to make the crude link facing the future is an obvious construct linked to career but I think what Burns has to say about it is a bit different from the normal advice of today.


Standing on the brink of the future Burns is a worried man and he is worried that we may forget. Moving into the future runs the risk of loosing the past. We may tend to see the past as something we need to leave behind or get over but Burns sees it as vital to who we are. The past is precious, if we are to make something meaningful out of the future it will involve building out of our past and a worthwhile future will have the best parts of our past in it.


Let’s look at this another way. What does Auld Lang Syne mean? In this context it most accurately means for old times sake. Burns is worried about the future because he believes there is something about the past we desperately need in the future both on personal and cultural level. The past is an important resource for us as individuals and as society and we would do well not to overlook it according to Burns. To develop meaningful careers we need to get good at spotting what of our past we should move forward into our future.  


Interestingly Burns has a very specific answer for what bit of our past we should focus on. Above everything else Burns is worried about forgetting people. He imagines an ideal future as drinking a cup together with a friend. According to Burns what is worthwhile about life is not achievement or enjoyment or pleasure or self-fulfillment but other people. Do our individualistic lives and career make us even more likely to forget the importance of a life built around significant relationships?


Happy New Year!


Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and old lang syne?



For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.


And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!

and surely I’ll buy mine!

And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.




We two have run about the slopes,

and picked the daisies fine;

But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,

since auld lang syne.




We two have paddled in the stream,

from morning sun till dine;

But seas between us broad have roared

since auld lang syne.




And there’s a hand my trusty friend!

And give me a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll take a right good-will draught,

for auld lang syne.




One thought on “For Auld Lang Syne

  1. A good post, Tom. I like the link with narrative approaches, and with social constructionist assumptions that we become who we are through relationships. Both reflect the idea of coherence as well as change as we progress through career-in-life-at-large.

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