Linda Case is recovering from surgery. This month we are rerunning her January 1998 column.

I love the fresh start of the new year. The hard work, roadblocks, and disappointments of last year are forgotten. The slate is clean, and we can plan, create, and hope again.

Just as each new year calls for a new business plan, people often use this time to create new personal goals. For most of us, that means the dreaded New Year's resolutions — those obligatory but short-lived nods to things we “should” be doing. I've given them up altogether.

Age helps provide the long view of change. Substantive changes don't come overnight. It might take you a couple of years to give up smoking, instead of the 30 days you'd prefer. And it could take you even longer to stick to that healthy diet. But in the long run, making such a major change — even within two years — is a great success.

During my years in remodeling, you have taught me many lessons. Here are four of the most important. I hope they'll help you decide what to change and what to leave alone.

Play to Your Strengths You are as different from the next remodeler as Jack Benny was from Bob Hope and Ellen Degeneres is from Rosie O'Donnell. They're all famous comedians, but each has become known for his or her own personal style. Figure out what makes you special. Most of us were taught to work on our weaknesses until we get them up to snuff. I've found that to be inefficient. Moderate your weaknesses — you'll never erase them. If you aren't all that good at detail but are super at the big picture, just be the visionary and hire others to track the small stuff.

Live Your Principles Thomas Jefferson advised, “In matters of style, go with the current. In matters of principle, stand alone.” Sometimes we feel we have to be tougher, sharper, or less principled to succeed. I don't believe that.

Business is just one more manifestation of your life. Your employees, clients, and family need to know what you stand for. They need a strong culture in which to flourish. By following your own path, you'll sleep well at night and be a hero to those you really care about.

Take Care of Yourself Remodelers are attracted to a field that asks them to make people happy — one at a time with a custom product. Without perspective, remodeling is a road to burnout. Too often company owners pay themselves from the crumbs of what is left. They work long hours. They don't take vacations. How can a worn-out owner expect to lead and inspire employees? In his noted books, First Things First and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey speaks of “sharpening the saw.” You must maintain the tools that get you work. Most particularly, that tool is you.

Get Outside Help If You Need It It may be a consultant you bring in to work on a business problem or it may be a therapist to resolve some inner conflict. At a recent meeting of successful remodelers, the group encouraged a member to seek therapy for specific purposes. Over half of the 11 company owners told how they had gone for psychological counseling at some point in their lives. This is not sissy stuff. This is what sturdy, effective people do to break a psychological logjam.

So enjoy the new year. Grab on to your biggest challenge, but don't try to change it in the next two weeks. Change it over the next year — or two. —Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5620;;