By any measure, the past year has been distraction-filled, challenging, and bewildering for most of us. Yet, it has offered experiences to reflect upon, lessons to be learned, and opportunities to grow. Of course, many of the experiences were stressful, some of the lessons were hard, and the opportunities were not always obvious.
Still, as we approach the end of the year, it’s worth our time to reflect on what the year has brought, what it has meant, and what we should take from it. It might be tempting to try to forget the journey and put it behind us, but doing so also risks losing any value it offered and ignoring how we have grown and what we can take forward to be better prepared for what lies ahead.
Of course, we need to decide where to start and how to frame our reflection. Here are six “lenses” we can use to focus our reflection and capture what may be most relevant from the year-long journey we will soon complete.
The first lens invites us to reflect on what we chose to lift up during the past year. What values did we defend? What principles did our actions reflect? What ideas did we discover, develop, and deploy? Whose lives did we make better? Who did we mentor? Who did we reassure and support? Among the most important roles we play is lifting up the lives, experiences, and aspirations of those around us.
The second lens asks who we let in. What relationships did we form? What relationships grew stronger through the experiences we shared? Whose counsel did we seek? How did we contribute to, tap, and build our network of support? During times of challenge and stress, the support system we have built and on which we rely can be the difference between barely surviving and powering through the experience healthy and whole.
The third lens offers the opportunity to reflect on what we let go over the past year. Times of stress and conflict can leave us with myriad conflicting emotions, many of which are not useful and do not contribute to our well-being. What worry did we release, realizing that we did not control the factors that would determine the outcome? What guilt did we let go of because it served no purpose and held us back from being our best selves? What relationships did we step away from because they were not healthy or helpful to our well-being? These decisions can be difficult, but they are often necessary if we are to move forward and grow.
The fourth lens asks what we chose to learn. What learning was necessary to navigate the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities we encountered? What learning did we choose to grow our knowledge and expand our skills? What learning was unplanned, but necessary? How did what we learned change the way we see our work and how we engage in it? How might we use what we have learned to be better prepared and more successful in the future? Learning is what determines whether an experience has value or is simply something we endured.
The fifth lens invites us to consider how we chose to leverage our expertise and influence to make a difference. Each of us holds a position of potential influence with those around us. We also possess expertise that can shift the nature, direction, and momentum of issues, conflicts, and initiatives. How did we use our influence to guide discussions in productive directions? Where did our influence make the lives of those around us better? How did we employ our expertise to help solve a problem, find a solution, or move a dialogue in a positive direction? We often possess more power to influence what is happening around us than we realize. What we choose to do with our influence and expertise is what matters most.
The sixth lens asks how often we found occasions to laugh during the past year. We might find this question curious as that past year may not have offered many situations where laughter would be a natural response. Yet, an effective strategy for navigating tragedy and grief can be laughter. Where did we encounter absurdity so great that it made us want to laugh? When did we step back and appreciate the irony of situations we encountered? What did we do to stimulate laughter in those around us? What did we do for pleasure despite the challenges we faced? How did we strike a balance between tragedy and comedy in our lives?
We can’t know what the next year will bring, but as we look ahead, we can put our reflections on the past year to good use. We can use what we learned, let in, and let go to prepare us for what lies ahead. We can commit to use our influence and expertise to make a difference in our work and lift the lives of those around us. We can also promise ourselves to find reasons to laugh, find balance, and seek healthy pleasure despite what the future may hold.