I start working on my annual reflection articles in mid-November. I return to them over and over, remembering the various events of the year through the lens of different daily moods. I find and follow different threads; some weave into interesting patterns in my mind between writing sessions, and others get tangled. Some years, the patterns are clear, and a cohesive picture reveals itself, while in other years, it’s more of a patchwork.
This year was more of a patchwork as I took stock of the past year and thought about the year to come.
That first part, taking stock of the year past, is one that often gets skipped over in the rush to set new goals, but I think it’s the most important part of setting yourself up for whatever success means to you (more on that shortly).
When you take the time to look back, you allow yourself to:
- Celebrate successes you might have zipped past on your quest to the next big thing.
- Examine the more challenging times with the benefit of a bit of distance.
- Reminisce and appreciate the more mundane experiences of your year.
- Decide what you want to keep doing in the new year and what you need to stop or let go of.
I enjoy looking back through the days and weeks. My calendar holds the dates and times of events, and my daily reflection has the context for what happened and how I felt. My journal is where I give voice to my worst days when I need a place to unload my emotions.
As I look back, I keep an eye out for those common threads.
As I’ve mentioned in previous annual reflection posts (which you can find here for 2021 and here for 2022), I don't do traditional New Year's resolutions; instead, I like to set an annual theme which acts as more of a general guide than a specific path with an outcome.
Part of my reflection is to evaluate if I honoured the theme I set in the previous year and find any other themes that may have come up.
Some things are consistent year over year; many of the rhythms of this time of my life are pretty standard. But what’s interesting and most rewarding are the things I need to examine more closely for the year ahead. Every year doesn’t necessarily have profound revelations, but each one does have the opportunity for discovery.
Here is my annual reflection for 2023 and my discoveries to take into 2024!
A theme for always
My theme for 2023 was Space and Grace. It meant doing what I could each day, being flexible when things needed to change, and having whatever I did be enough. I set this theme while navigating my first MS relapse. While it was originally meant to be a frame to give myself permission to rest and recover, it ended up being an apt approach to the year in general.
Space and Grace were things I needed to give myself for my health and also for our house renovation when our home was a chaotic mess. For my brother's month-long ICU hospitalization, with daily hospital visits and the exhaustion, fear and helplessness of watching someone you love suffer. They were needed when I started my new MS medication and felt pretty rough for weeks as I adjusted to it. I returned to them during the depths of Canadian winter and the everyday trials of entrepreneurship, and I shared them in my client sessions, and with family and friends as I supported them through some of their challenges.
The theme of Space and Grace came up in so many different ways that it’s become part of how I approach my life. It became a theme for always.
Keep space for what matters and have the grace to let go of what doesn’t
Another way Space and Grace showed up in my year was in the more minor, daily ups and downs.
There are all the small annoyances, frustrations, and inconveniences that add up to a hard day, week, or month. They can start to take up rent-free real estate in your mind, making you cranky and sucking the joy out of otherwise perfectly acceptable days.
I looked through my daily reflection and was reminded how important it was not to let that kind of clutter collect in my mind. To be able to give myself the Space and Grace I needed for other things, I had to let those things go.
Did it matter that traffic was bad, or I was late for something, or that Costco was a zoo, or that my cats were hellions, or I forgot to order something on our grocery list, or a consultation no-showed, or I dropped a plate, or I did a yoga workout because I was too tired to run, or my skin was broken out, or someone took two weeks to answer an email or… whatever flustered me on a particular day?
Letting them go came down to this: There are things that matter and things that don’t.
In the grand scheme, there are a handful of things worthy of space and energy and endless things that are not. They are the things to give moments to, but otherwise, let them slip away.
This year, through ups and downs, big and small (and perhaps most importantly the small), I worked to ensure I kept space for the things that mattered and tried to have the grace to let go of the things that didn’t. I wasn’t always successful, but I am getting better. 🙂
Make space for your wins and have the grace to celebrate them
One of my clients asked me how I measured a “successful” year. In a business, there are hard metrics for revenue and other kinds of growth. But how do you measure your life? The question rolled around in my head for a while, and, as is so often the case, I think the answer is… it depends.
- Is it the amount of money you made, the places you saw, the days that were more good than bad?
- Is it good health, the people you spent it with, the food and drinks you enjoyed, the shows you watched?
- What about experiencing firsts with your kids, old traditions, music and art?
- Or new hobbies, time outside, finishing something hard, or being better than you were the year before?
- Maybe it’s sticking to something, quitting something that wasn’t working, or being better at setting boundaries around what’s important to you.
- No pandemic 😅?
It could be any or all of these things and more. Your answer depends on your values and how those values show up in this season of your life.
The key is to know what’s a win. What matters to you? Not what you see on social media, not the things we are told on TV, in music and in movies. What matters… to YOU?
To me, a successful year is one where I make space for my wins and have the grace to celebrate them. Here are some of the wins, in no particular order, from 2023:
- My brother recovered from his illness and is back to his wonderful self
- I wrote and wrote and wrote, and I published 24 articles at 1200-1500 words each
- My newsletter subscriptions grew, with subscribers in 52 countries worldwide (which is SO cool to me!)
- I worked with clients all over North America and a few in the UK (also wild, learn more here if you are interested in working with me!)
- I nearly doubled my revenue from last year and did twice as many speaking engagements (learn more here if you are interested in booking me to speak)
- My fitness streak is up to 2194 days as of publishing (six years and two days!)
- I ran 88 times, covering 462.3 km (287.3 miles)
- We renovated our home for the first time (after 14 years!) and it looks lovely
- I started a new medication, and my MS flair-up went into remission
- I made a few new friends and stayed connected with old friends
- I got to go on trips to Fernie, Canmore, Las Vegas, and Vancouver
- My husband and I buddy-read two book series together, which is not something we’ve ever done and was a fun thing to share
- I read or listened to 85 books
Most days, I got to do what I wanted with the people I wanted to do them with. Many hours of video games were played, basketball was watched, coffee was drunk, and pizza and pancakes were eaten. Cats were snuggled, hugs were dispenced, and laughter was inspired.
It was a successful year by all the measures that matter to me.
My theme for 2024: Resist Less
In early November, I read It’s good to remember: We are all on borrowed time by author Anne Lamott in the Washington Post. On the cusp of turning 70, Lamott reflects on the many indignities and graces of aging and the more frequent reminders of how little time we have as we age.
One particular phrase she wrote stuck with me. She said,
“My parents and the culture told me that I would be happier if I did a certain thing, or stopped doing that, or tried harder and did better. But... it’s not about trying harder; it’s about resisting less.”
It’s not about trying harder; it’s about resisting less. Resisting less.
I’ve thought about what it would mean to resist less as I considered my theme for 2024.
It made me think of another quote, this time from David Foster Wallace,
“Everything I've ever let go of has claw marks on it.”
I hold tight to things, struggle with swift change, and lean toward anxiety when facing the unknown. The idea of resisting less made me think of:
- Noticing the things that make my hackles go up or provoke an immediate no.
- Being more open to change, taking chances, and trusting I can manage in the unknown (I always have!).
- Being more conscious of what I can and can't control.
It made me think of loosening my grip a little, retracting those claws.
How resisting less shows up in my day-to-day remains to be seen, but it builds on my previous year's themes interestingly.
- 2022 was Keep it Going, Keep it Steady: Stay consistent and work to keep life at that 80%.
- 2023 was Space and Grace: Make space for what matters most (be it rest or joy) and have the grace to accept and celebrate those things.
And now, for 2024, Resist Less: Notice the places I grip hard and see if I can let go or at least loosen up.
Each of these themes are pieces of the puzzle of living an intentional, calm life. Not a life without excitement, but a life without chaos and burnout. It’s never perfect, but each year, I strive to be the architect of the life I want to live.
So far, it’s going pretty well.😊
What will your theme for 2024 be?
As you begin 2024, what will you do to be the architect of the life YOU want to live? Let me help!