I don’t make new-year resolutions. Instead, I make old-year reflections.
At the end of December or in early January, I make time and space to reflect on the past year. I was inspired to do this by a challenging and grueling year filled with too many unkind and unexpected twists and turns: first, my dad passed away. Six months later, a friend—who I was days away from moving into a new apartment with—also died. It was a year full of grief and loss; a year when you think things can’t get any worse, but they do.
I wanted to make sense of what had unfolded, or to at least find a glimmer of light and hope within such a turbulent time. And so, the idea was born: write down the ugly, the painful, and the messy. What did the year teach me? How had I grown and risen from the ashes? That year I learned (among many things) how much I gave my time and energy to others, but abandoned myself in the process.
Some people may never want to think about 2020 again, and I understand. But I’ve found in my life that often the most difficult and uncomfortable experiences are where the big insights and lessons can be gleaned. I like to find meaning; to find the light within the dark. Unsurprisingly, for me, 2020 was filled with incredible difficulties, changes, and limitations. It was a transformative year during which I began to look within, let go, practice more self-care, value myself, listen to and respect my body, and (slowly) learn how to just “be” instead of always “doing.” I’m still untangling and unlearning.
In Western society, we don’t often pause to recognize our achievements—to acknowledge what we’ve learned, how we’ve grown, or even which fears we’ve confronted. Instead, the focus is on the next best thing. We’re always reaching for something new.
I’ve found that slowing down, or stopping entirely, is necessary and beneficial. It provides perspective. So I reflect on my personal and professional experiences, and both the highlights and lowlights of the year. If we’re constantly running to the next destination without a break, how can we see how far we have come? Slowing down doesn’t come easily to me, yet I always enjoy this reflection time because I realize how much I have achieved, changed, learned, and pushed through my own barriers. It’s a time when I honor myself.
I usually need several hours to do this; some years, it takes me various afternoons to write out everything that I want to recognize and remember. Sometimes I start jotting down ideas on a piece of paper days in advance. When I’m ready, I sit on the couch and get cozy with a warm mug of tea. I light a candle to honor the space. Then I open my computer and create a document titled [Year]: A Year in Reflection. I begin by writing a blurb of the experience and then delve into what happened and what I learned, doing my best to make it succinct. I end with the main takeaway or lesson, typically a sentence or two.
Sometimes the lessons of the year come pouring out. Sometimes I need to browse my journal or go through photos to help jog my memory. My goal is to embrace the positive and the negative—whether it was celebrating that I tried something new, acknowledging that I reached a goal, or thinking about how I would act differently if a similar experience came up in the future. Writing it out is therapeutic, especially for the experiences that I haven’t come to terms with or haven’t let go of yet. Ten years later, I still find this process empowering. And it gets me excited about the blank canvas that awaits in each new year.