By Deanna Parkton and Ed Hunter
As we embark on another year, the new year brings an opportunity to reflect on the past and move forward to the future. Our recent blog post Your Work Life: Reflecting on the Past Year focused on using reflection to identify opportunities and challenges. Now it is time to use that reflection and take action!
Growth Opportunities versus New Year’s Resolutions
For decades, New Year’s resolutions have been a cornerstone of our culture. For good reason – it is in our human nature to continue to grow and better ourselves. The intention of a resolution is a valid and commendable one. The challenge with resolutions is that they tend to be broad statements that lack focus or action. Jack Canfield, originator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, said, “Resolutions are just a want, a wish, a vague idea — there’s no hard deadline or specificity to the goal. It’s something that you’re vaguely putting out in the universe. But the universe rewards those who are specific. The fact is that vague goals produce vague results.”
For example, the common resolution to “lose weight” lacks a plan to do so. Goals tend to be more specific and include a plan to meet the goal.
Growth opportunities look at goals in a more holistic way. While your goal may be to lose weight, think through what your growth opportunities might be in relation to losing weight. What are some specific growth opportunities connected to losing the weight? For example, the rewards of better discipline in waking up earlier to exercise, or the stress relief that a workout provides, allowing you to be stronger physically, mentally and spiritually.
You might want to start with a reflection exercise, like the one we posted last month at Your Work Life: Reflecting on the Past Year. This is a tool to identify both challenges and opportunities related to your goals. Challenges are essentially growth opportunities! If you listed a challenge as lack of time for self care such as exercise, a growth opportunity is to prioritize your time for self care.
If you have not reviewed the reflection exercise in Your Work Life: Reflecting on the Past Year, be sure to do so so that you can best implement the ideas listed below.
By reflecting on what worked or did not work for you last year, you are taking a strategic and intentional approach in identifying your goals. It ensures that your goals are rooted in evidence and reason, based on your past behavior and experiences.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
The purpose of the reflection exercise is to identify patterns in your habits. To start, identify wins and challenges in five different areas of your work life:
- Personal health and wellness: physical, mental and emotional health
- Career satisfaction
- Key relationships at home and at work
- Time and priority management
- Personal and professional growth and learning
Now, for each work life area, make note of your answers to the following questions:
- What am I doing well, that I would like to keep doing?
- What am I doing that I would like to change, or stop doing?
- What were my wins in 2020? What am I proud of?
- What were my challenges? Where am I stuck?
The next step is to identify patterns. For example, as you were identifying challenges related to your personal health and wellness, you might have noted a lack of time to focus on this area. You may also note a lack of time related to professional growth and learning. Lack of time would be a key pattern to identify.
It is no accident that we have also listed a life area called Time and Priority Management. Priority Management is a challenge for most people. The key is to prioritize your time. This may mean waking up earlier to make time for exercise or a healthy breakfast to start your day off right. While lack of time would be a pattern across your life areas, it would also be a life area to really hone in on based on it being a recurring theme.
Maybe a challenge for you in your career satisfaction is setting boundaries; for example, checking email at night or allowing client complaints to affect you emotionally. This challenge could easily translate into other life areas such as key relationships at home (“a lack of work boundaries results in me being grumpy with family members”), or personal growth (“a lack of work boundaries has impacted me emotionally and physically, I am stressed and not moving forward in my personal growth”). Lack of boundaries would be a pattern.
Highlight key patterns or themes based on the reflection exercise to help you to move forward in your next step – identifying goals.
Based on your patterns, identify personalized goals that resonate with you and your life. Choose goals that are attainable, and could fit realistically into your lifestyle.
If Time/Priority Management was a pattern that resonated in your reflection, you would want to create goals around prioritizing your time. This may look like: “Wake up an hour earlier to make time for _____(fill in the blank with specifics).”
Do this for each pattern or theme that came out of your reflection exercise. Try to choose between 3-5 goals to avoid overwhelming yourself. Remember that you can list ideas and action items under each goal to hone in on specific actions.
Identify Growth Opportunities
To make your goals tangible, list out the opportunities for growth related to each goal.
This might be the “why” or the elaboration behind each goal. For example, if your goal is to focus on your professional development by attending at least one conference per quarter, the growth opportunities might be networking, expanding your industry knowledge and sharing your learning with colleagues in a presentation format.
Growth opportunities are similar to action items in the sense that they identify specific actions related to your goal. They are the intentions behind your goals. This helps keep goals meaningful and relevant to you!
Looking at goals as growth opportunities also reframes past challenges. Rather than looking at challenges as a failure, you are instead looking at them with a growth mindset. A growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure as an opportunity for stretching our existing abilities. Rather than looking at your past behavior with frustration, look at it as a learning tool that has helped you move forward and grow.
Keeping Goals at the Forefront
Despite our best intentions, it is easy (and common) for goals to fall by the wayside as life gets hectic. Here are some tips to stay in the game:
- Try writing down your goals and growth opportunities and keep them in a spot where you will see them regularly.
- Set weekly, bi-weekly or monthly reminders on your calendar to do a self check-in.
- Schedule time on your calendar to reflect on how your goals are going and then identify action items that relate to your goal and growth opportunities.
- Be gentle with yourself and adapt as needed.
Finally, revisit your reflection exercise throughout the year. You may find some of the same patterns surface over and over. That is okay! It will be further evidence that this recurring theme needs some attention and focus.
Based on life’s curveballs, new challenges always emerge. Life is nothing but a series of constant changes, and you have the ability (and the tools) to tackle whatever comes your way. Just remember to keep taking action, and move forward.
Now go, live long and prosper!
For more ideas on how you can reflect on your work life and identify growth opportunities, consider working with a career coach. A coach can help you identify strategies to face workplace challenges head on. Check out our executive coaching services and sign up for a free consultation here.
Deanna Parkton is a writer, career coach and educator with a passion for professional development and work wellness and happiness. With a focus on self-reflection, she works with individuals in their quest to reach their career goals as well as satisfaction in work-life balance. You can find more of her writing at workinglivingwell.com and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ed Hunter is a Professional Career and Executive Coach and principal of Life in Progress Coaching. He is certified by the international Coaching Federation as a Professional Certified Coach.. He is also a Certified Executive and Leadership Development Coach. Ed has coached over a thousand professionals to create authentic careers and balanced work lives, and has a special interest in career development for adults with Autism. To connect with Ed, schedule a free consultation here.