A Year Is Ending. A New One Awaits. What Did You Learn? What Will You Do Different?

What did the past year teach you? Before letting 2018 slip into oblivion, it can help to look back and reflect on the year’s events and any lessons they may carry.

‘‘Yesterday it was my birthday. I hung one more year on the line.

I should be depressed. My life’s a mess. But I’m having a good time.”

Paul Simon 

I tend to think of that song by Paul Simon, Have a Good Time, around birthdays and around year’s end. So we’re all about to hang one more on the line. But what does that mean?

I’m not a big one for New Year’s resolutions, but I do believe in going back over the year just passed, not for nostalgia, but for the same reason it would pay to go back immediately over notes from a lecture when I was in college, or still pays to review right away the notes from a meeting at work.

Timely reminders are good for the memory banks. What we don’t revisit, we quickly forget. It’s better not to forget things that can teach us worthwhile lessons. That’s why certain books are worth rereading at various stages of life — one such book for me is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. How many times have I got in trouble because I ignored or forgot one of Carnegie’s rules?

Making it a tradition

 For a number of years, my wife and kids and I made it a ritual on or around New Year’s Eve to glance back over the year. My wife would pull out the diary she kept, and we would touch on the notable events — the highlights and the lowlights. It was mostly a pleasant way to revisit and remember our blessings.

I’ve done something similar to that on a few occasions with my work life. It’s not difficult. You just take your planner or whatever you use to record appointments and page on through, front to back or back to front. Odds are you’ll encounter reminders of things you did that helped make you successful and mistakes you wish you could take back. Such items come in all shapes and kinds.

Let’s see. Here’s a time where I had a nasty flare-up with a colleague. It was so out of character for both of us that on reflection I decided just to erase it from memory — in much the same way, when compiling statistics, you throw out the one or two figures (outliers) that simply don’t make sense. In the words of a Spanish-speaking acquaintance, “No pasó nada. That didn’t happen.” It was a good decision.

Here’s a Friday where I had planned a fishing trip, but later put a big “X” through the calendar square because I thought I was “too busy.” I should have taken the long weekend: I was a burnout case in the office that Friday. With the break I would have come back refreshed on Monday. Lesson: When you need some free time, take it.

A lot to learn

How about your calendar? What can it teach you? Growth and wisdom are not just the sum of momentous events. More often they’re the slow accumulation of small lessons, the kind that we’ll forget if we’re not careful, and as they say, when we forget the past, we’re doomed to repeat it.

A look back can restore to memory those smaller teachable moments and help us make the learning part of who we are. So, one day before this month expires, consider taking a little quiet time to reflect. Find a comfortable spot, at home or at the office. Grab a coffee. Shut the door. Page through the year, whether on paper or digitally.

Have a notepad with you. Maybe you’ll recall a morale-building idea you wanted to roll out, but never did. Or a new technology that you saw demonstrated and never pursued, but that you still think would be helpful. Or a new supplier you’d wanted to check out. Write it all down and resolve to act on it.

Besides reviewing your own year, maybe it’s worthwhile to share the exercise with your team, the way I used to do with my family. It could be a great experience if you keep it light and keep it positive. Who knows what good things your people may remember — ideas you can use that otherwise might have been lost forever.

When you’re done, before hanging that one more year on the line, you’ll have wrung a little more value from it that you might otherwise have lost.


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