The final week of 2009 starts today, and amidst all the travel and gift-giving and family drama, be sure to make time for the ultimate life hack: an honest, year-end self-assessment.
Photo by StarMama.
Don't get me wrong: you can stop and take stock any time you want. But, the 52nd week of the year is ideal for a few reasons. Things at the office are slow, phones are quiet, calendars are clear, everyone's on holidays, you're getting zero email, and you can get away with ducking out at 4pm without anybody noticing. Maybe the family's in town or you're travelling to see them, and at some point you get to sit around, relax, make merry and catch up on what everyone's been up to all year. Don't let yourself get carried away by last-minute gift purchases and holiday party stress, though. Before you take the 2010 wall calendar out of its shrink wrap, take this week to step back and reflect on where you've been, where you're at, and where you're going to go in 2010.
Looking Back at 2009
First, Rockstar McSassy, you get to put on your bragging hat. What did you pull off in 2009 that makes you most proud? What did the "Atta boy"/"Atta girl"'s you got look like? How did you show up and represent the best of yourself to your friends and family and co-workers? Even though you were unsure you could pull it off, what did you walk in and do anyway? The last 12 months held stuff to be proud of, stuff to be grateful for, stuff that will blow up your head so big you won't be able to fit it out the door if you think about it enough. Indulge yourself, and take time to pat yourself on the back for killin' it this year. Feel good? Good. You deserve it.
Now, come back down to earth. What happened this year that you're not so proud of? What could have gone better? What would you like to say you did, but can't because you didn't see it through? What bad decisions did you make? If you're taking honest stock of where you're at, the pat on the back has to come with a reality check as well. There are more than a few ways I let myself down this year — a diet abandoned in the face of chocolate cake, an article I should have improved with better research and more focus — and no doubt it's the same for you. Don't beat yourself up, but do acknowledge your personal letdowns of 2009. Think over this year's mistakes, especially the reasons why you think you made them.
Of course, a binary list of "2009 successes" and "2009 failures" oversimplifies things. There's a little failure in every success, and a little success in every failure. I finished my first triathlon this year, but I walked part of the run; I lost a contract but learned a whole lot about negotiation. Mull over your 2009 highlight reel as well as the stuff that makes you cringe — and reflect on what made those things memorable and what you learned. If writing helps you think things over, jot it down. The point is to process 2009's biggest hits and duds so that they can inform next year.
Looking Forward at 2010
Now that 2009's in the bag, it's time to plan for next year. One thing the toothy-grinned self-help experts are right about: most dissatisfaction and unhappiness stems from the disparity between the life you think you should have and the life you actually have. Given all your accomplishments and letdowns in 2009, what will you make of 2010?
A good way to answer this question is to go into the future and look back. Imagine December 31, 2010. What will your list of accomplishments look like? Write those down. Then, make a list of steps you need to take to make 'em happen. This is the week for serious goal-setting. I'm not saying you should plot out every day of the rest of your life — but even planning to not have a plan, and pursue the stuff that makes you happy is indeed a plan. You want to run a marathon? Write a book? Go freelance? Become a coder? Save up for a deposit on a house? Decide on your goals, break down the path to them into tiny steps and get walking.
This is the ultimate life hack: knowing who you are, deciding who you want to be, and spending your time and attention the best ways you can to get there.
So, what were you thinking about on New Year's Day, 2009? How will that be different on January 1, 2010? 'Fess up in the comments.