Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Back

The end of the calendar year is upon us. A lot of companies end the year by having employees complete an annual self-assessment. Now I've never had a corporate job, and have never had to complete this type of exercise with regards to my job. I've been told it usually entails looking back at accomplishments, describing areas that need improvement and goals for the coming year. I decided to try writing a year end review for my personal growth, to see where I've been successful and where I could improve. Then I can formulate some goals for 2011. Not resolutions, but concrete ideas of what I would like to work on next year.

I followed a pretty simple outline: 1. Did you set any goals for 2010? If so, were they met or worked on consistently? 2. What were your particular successes? 3. What areas could be improved? 4. Are there things you're allowing to limit your growth in some area? What is holding you back? I set aside some quiet time to reflect and journal on each of these questions. I was initially concerned that I would dwell on the negative and the failures. I was happily surprised to find this to be a positive exercise. I was able to recognize successes for which I wasn't giving myself credit. I was able to see progress toward goals even if they haven't been completely realized yet.

Then I started on my areas of improvement and attachments that are holding my back. I think in a work-related inventory, it can be tempting to list small things that are easily fixed rather than really being honest about our shortcomings. In a personal review, if you're not honest you're only lying to yourself. So, I really looked at myself. Not easy, but I took a compassionate stance and was able to avoid beating myself up too much. I found this to be really helpful because I can recognize some areas of my life where I'm stuck. Seeing where growth can occur allows us to foster these areas and make progress. Being compassionate kept me from ending every sentence with "you big dummy" or something similar. This is about moving forward, not dwelling on the past, after all!

Finally, I looked at goals for next year. I have a few that I recognize cannot be accomplished in one year, but I can start to work toward them. I also have some that will require a consistent commitment, something I'm not always good at. Now I can recognize things that could potentially hold me back, and create a clear vision to focus on my goals. I hope this clarity of purpose will help me stay motivated throughout the year, rather than losing interest in a few months, as usually happens with simple resolutions. I will be starting the new year pointed in the right direction, with the tools to help me stay on course.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What Matters

The holidays can be challenging for a lot of people. I am one of those who stress over the details. I was in an unbelievable tizzy last week because I couldn't find round pretzels to make candies. It was like I was watching myself from a distance as I ranted about the pretzels and worried that my dinner would be ruined without this key component. Seriously. I can let it go now, because I found the pretzels. No, what I realized was my emotional state was not about the pretzels. I was becoming frantic about small, meaningless issues, completely stuck in my head. Every year I fall into the same trap. I worry that I'm not making the right food, or that it won't be enough, or someone won't like it. I can honestly say, I don't think people really care what they eat. What matters is that we are together.
The details can become more important than the reason for the event if I'm not careful. If I focus on filling every one's glass and preparing too many desserts, I can easily miss the entire evening. It also makes me tense and irritable and I don't sit down long enough to enjoy the company. I may get a rave review for the meal, but I won't have any memories of our time together. I risk spending the whole time in my to-do list, and not present in the moment. This doesn't just happen during the holidays, of course. It's easy to lose track of what matters in any day. In the rush of trying to get everything done, we lose sight of what's happening right now. What matters is the present moment.
I know when I'm creating my own stress. As I said before, it's like I can watch myself from a distance, fabricating reasons to be anxious and worried, so up in my head I don't even notice what's in front of me. If I took the time to exhale (try it now with me: Ahhhh), I might find the urgency has lessened. I can slow down, re-focus, and recognize what's really important. Staying present means the holidays don't fly by too quickly, and we won't miss the best moments. This time of year, enjoy the company you're blessed to entertain, remember to breathe and you can be the one smiling serenely as others push past you at the mall.