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How To Create A Great Future: Taking Stock And Moving Forward

As each day brings us closer to the end of 2020, it’s a rare person who isn’t cheering for the close of this terrible, horrible, very bad year. But before you slam shut your daybook or agree with yourself to repress the majority of your experiences this year, take time to take stock.

Hard times are—well—hard, but they do force us to find new solutions and cope in new ways which foster innovation and resilience. Going through really tough situations together is also one of the primary ways we strengthen bonds with others, and this connectedness can be especially good for our wellbeing.

This might have been the year when you were laid off, or took a pay cut. Perhaps the new job you’d landed was cancelled or your promotion never came through. At the same time, 2020 may have been the year when you spent more time with your family, finally saw the payoffs of your at-home fitness equipment or started your own Etsy store. It’s been a year of downs, for sure. But it may have had some ups as well.

Now is the time to reflect, regroup and take stock so you can hit the ground running again when the time is right. Here’s what to consider as you look back and look forward in order to get a great start to your future:

Consider Where You Started

Give conscious thought to what you were doing (and, if you can remember, what you were thinking) at the beginning of 2020. It may feel especially far away—practically when dinosaurs roamed the Earth—because this was, of course, before we had a clue about the wallop the pandemic would pack. But as much as possible, get clear on that starting point. What were your plans and hopes? Give yourself an extra pat on the back if you accomplished all your goals in spite of the pandemic. But give yourself a break if you didn’t achieve all you’d hoped—for obvious reasons. Use your original aims as a starting point for where you’ll go from here, building on where you’ve been, and refreshing intentions for where you’ll go.

Consider What You’ve Achieved

Reflect on all you’ve accomplished in the last 12 months. Think broadly about your work, your family, your volunteer contributions, your network and your wellbeing. Define your achievements in more than just traditional terms. Success anytime, but especially in 2020, doesn’t have to mean you wrote a best-seller, received three promotions or won the Nobel Prize. Give yourself credit for the ordinary. You may have maintained your sanity, kept up your motivation for your job, helped a child with at-home learning or gotten groceries every week. In 2020, even the easy things became hard—so give yourself credit for all you’ve slogged through.

Consider What You’ve Helped Others Achieve

Any high school or college student will chide their parents to get a life of their own, but in truth, the accomplishments of our friends and family really are relevant. We are all part of a community and the connections created and sustained are still worthy of praise— as is the support given to others—whether up close or from a distance. It’s not about taking credit for others’ deeds, but it is about reminding yourself about your role in the community. If you donated to the food bank, helped a coworker or wrote letters to elderly residents of a nearby care facility, you’ve made a contribution to the whole—and to their success.

Consider What You’ve Learned

Post traumatic growth is a psychological concept which suggests that traumatic times can result in positive outcomes. Perhaps you’ve learned a new skill (how to teach a child, how to knit, how to coach grandma about her video technology). Perhaps you’ve gained a new window on yourself—what you can handle, how much you can endure and what matters to you most. Perhaps you took on a project at work outside your normal responsibilities. Perhaps you’ve gained greater empathy for those around you. The brain is plastic, not elastic. When it is stretched, it doesn’t go back to the way things were, it develops to a new level—and you can begin 2021 from this new, expanded place. The things you learn are especially valuable to take forward and tap into for the future.

Consider What You Leave Behind

To clear space for the new lessons you’ll take along, you can also leave things behind. This will be especially rich for 2020. Consider what you want to ditch, purge or eliminate. I know a large company who was moving to a new building and they had a bonfire event for employees. Each person had the opportunity to write what they wanted to leave behind on a piece of paper, so it could be tossed into the fire. It was a celebration and a reminder of all they were intentionally choosing to let go. Perhaps you want to leave behind an old mindset or a belief that was holding you back. Perhaps the job that was eliminated wasn’t that great for your career anyway. Perhaps you can decide to turn your back on fear or anxiety or even those extra few pounds you attribute to the pandemic. Getting clear about what you no longer need can be powerfully positive for your wellbeing as you move forward.

Consider What’s Ahead

This is the best part. Take time to dream, hope and ideate about the future. Your ambitions don’t have to be big. And in fact, sometimes small is best. Give thought to new habits you want to cultivate, new behaviors you want to foster and new horizons you want to explore. Beyond the obvious goals you may set for career, finances and physical health, also consider how you want to develop new skills, new connections or new ways you can contribute in your community. Remind yourself about what’s working and what you’re proud of. Plan to invest energy in maintaining these areas of success, at the same time you look toward reaching, stretching and growing forward.

There’s a saying that applies here: “In the end, it will all work out. If it hasn’t worked out yet, it’s not the end.” Everyone gets an asterisk for 2020. It’s been a tough year. If your career dipped or plateaued, if your sales plummeted or if your emotions were in the dumps, you know circumstances had a lot to do with these conditions. But we humans are nothing if not adaptable, so with the end of 2020, you have the opportunity to pull yourself up, focus on the future, maintain hope for all that will come next and begin again.

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