I sat on my couch in the middle of my living room, looking at the new book shelves I had just built. They were built from scratch and I was proud of them. Sitting there, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by all I’ve not done, which felt odd considering I was staring at my most recent completed project. How can I feel so accomplished yet anguish over what is yet to be done? It felt like a never ending cycle.
It really is difficult to find your voice when you are trying to grow an idea into a story. The back and forth between inspiration and articulation makes for a bi-polar experience. It’s the same feeling trying to force your way into a meaningful contribution without outlining the steps to get there. You have a vision for what but haven’t necessarily covered the ‘why’ and can’t possible know a ‘how’ that won’t spin your wheels. That’s exactly where I’m at right now.
So I’m working my way through a journey to fully outline my leadership strategy. First steps will be defining Horizons of Focus and aligning a purpose with the daily actions I choose. The goal is to move from a wandering generalist to a meaningful specific. Along this path it’d be great to create an accountable environment with a small scope of influence. Aligning my first steps, I’ve worked through the list of things to do:
- Define my purpose, values and vision
- Create an Areas of Focus list
- Document my list of strengths
…you get the picture. The plan seems solid and well thought out. Lining my notebook are thoughts and brainstorms of where to focus and how I’d like to change the world. Everything seems to be in line. However, a thought keeps creeping back that I just can’t shake. “What of relevance have I even done this past year”?
Look back and learn: The importance of reflection
Reflection as a practice is not a new concept. Recent articles by the Harvard Business Review and Forbes highlight the need for reflection, especially on yourself, on a frequent basis. You will repeat less of your own mistakes, which will save you heartache and precious time. Fail forward only works if you actually don’t fail on the same mistakes over and over. That business turns into the definition of insanity. Keeping that in mind, it seems best to try and avoid wasting time in that painful repeating process and find a better way forward.
If hindsight is 20/20, reflection is a telescope. Looking back allows you to accurately focus on what’s happened to help you define and react to the future. I’ve added my 2017 reflections to give a quick example of what I’m documenting from my time looking back on the year. I’m using this to propel my thoughts to bigger and better in 2018 as well as give me some solace as I work on lasting projects that don’t materialize instantly. Understanding the correlation between where you’ve been and where you are going is the essence of why you reflect. Not by delving into the past, but by using it to propel you forward.
Reflection on phases/seasons of life
There is another side to capturing the relevance of your previous season. On top of the achievements, there are phases of life you walked through. Periods of time and lessons you learned as you walked through a certain season of life. This could be a single season or different phases to the year. Process oriented learning is a large part of the experiences we take with us and is important to capture in this process. Documenting the importance of life you’ve lived is often the hardest for type A personalities to identify. Keep in mind that the most lasting impressions and valuable lessons are often experienced through a season of life and worth understanding. Questions like “what changed me from that experience/time” will help you identify the process oriented lessons.
Here are the literal next actions I used to walk through this process. I’d be interested to know how it goes for you.
- Schedule 1/2 an hour to start your brainstorm
- Brainstorm using a pen and paper or online reference system like Evernote and write down everything you can remember from the year. (Accomplishments, things you did, travel, etc.)
- Outline the phases or seasons of life that you went through chronologically. Make sure you account for the season of life or phase of your journey that’s happening right now.
- Set up time with someone you are close with, I talked with my wife, to discuss the year and all that happened. Capture anything you missed from your brain storm.
- Start to organize your everything you have captured to try and pull out any key principles you want to define
- Write it all down in your personal reference system
- Read the next step about defining Purpose
List of accomplishments:
- Stabilized newborn daughter
- Key influencer in expense reduction project
- Finished renovation on house 1st home
- Volunteered as PM for neighbors kitchen renovation, saving them $20k-$30k
- Started new Small Groups leadership role for church
- Built a Small Group strategy with the team
- Son started pre-school
- Rebuilt the internal operating model of a wealth management product
- Developed my network in my current Fortune 100 place of employment
- Two exposure opportunities to C-Suite executives
- Bought our dream home in the woods
- Sold our first home for 57.42% ROI, 12% annualized
- Developed a personal finance prototype with internal innovation team
- Started GTD protocol with great early results
- Gained full control of a wealth management product P+L
- Crafted new built in bookshelves from scratch
- Received an amazing prospective opportunity as Director of Operations at a $100B+ bank
- Celebrated 8 years of marriage
- Read 28 Books
Phases I experienced:
- A painful process of uncovering a miss managed business and reducing the cost load
- Watching my daughter go from an infant to a toddler in her first year
- Working my perspective away from optimal productivity as a perfect state
- Struggling through the pull between being present and getting things done
Key principles I learned:
- Reading and applying the right books is the quickest way to success
- My network is the most productive thing about me
- I’m not defined by who I work for or what I work on
- Frequent reflecting on my strengths and value help direct my focus
- Prioritize, automate, and execute