Your Guide to End-of-Year Self-Reflection

Take the important lessons from this year and leave the rest behind.

Published: Dec 22, 2020

Jacqueline lost her job early in 2020, and looking back over the past year brings up some painful memories for her. While she’d rather put this year behind her and move on, she knows there are valuable lessons to be learned if she reflects in the right way.

According to a Harvard Business School study, you learn from experience more effectively when you take time for intentional reflection. “There are natural points in time to pick your head up, look around you, and gauge where you’re at—and the end of the year is one of those times,” says Sean Carney, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.

Below, we lay out four questions to think about and journal. You’ll end up with a list of specific things you want to do more of, or do differently, based on your experiences in 2020. Turn this into your 2021 development plan, and share it with someone who will hold you accountable: a coach, your boss, your significant other, etc.

Turn this into your 2021 development plan, and share it with someone who will hold you accountable: a coach, your boss, your significant other, etc.

What are you doing well?

When you look back on this year, where did you succeed? The big wins will come to mind, but make sure you don’t overlook the small ways you did well. Things you would have taken for granted in other years count as an accomplishment in 2020, such as meeting deadlines, growing your network, or getting yourself and your family dressed and fed every day.

Carney also recommends asking your boss or a trusted colleague for some feedback on where you shined this year. Hearing another person’s objective perspective helps you know what to do more of.

What might you do differently?

Reflecting on your areas of opportunity isn’t about focusing on what’s broken or what you’re bad at. It’s about creating a plan to evolve. “Wallowing in what went wrong isn’t going to help you in 2022,” Carney says.

As painful as it may be, think about any negative feedback you got or times you dropped the ball this year. Then reframe those mistakes: With the hindsight you have now, what are you going to do differently in the future?

What did you learn?

2020 brought us one unexpected event after another. The silver lining is that you likely have much to reflect on. Whether you had to manage a remote team, lost your job, or even contracted COVID-19, there are lessons to take out of those challenges. What do you know about the following areas that you didn’t know before? And what changes might you make to your personal and professional life to better fit what you know now?

  • Your personality and priorities
  • Your needs and preferences
  • Your company
  • Your working style
  • Your boss and stakeholders
  • Your health

Who did you help?

This year has shown the importance of our communities more than ever before. Whether you bought business books from a struggling independent bookseller, donated to an organization that aligns with your values, or simply practiced social distancing and wore a mask this year, you helped individuals and our society as a whole. Write down all the ways you helped—and the ways other people helped you.

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