Before 2016 gets too far along, I want to look back on 2015 and the hits (those things I am proud of) from last year, the misses (those things I am not so proud of), and those targets for 2016 (what I am looking forward to). I’m not one for resolutions, but that doesn’t stop me from getting caught up in the moment of the new year. And, if I am being completely honest this happens to be my least favorite time of the year. In fact, I frequently refer to it as “the doldrums”; the weather is cold, the days are short, and unlike November and December you don’t have any holidays to look forward to. Add on to this the fact that it is the first of the year so people are back from their holiday vacations and are hammering out performance reviews and dealing with all those “little things” aka personnel issues they didn’t want to deal with the month of December. So, no I do not look forward to January at all.
So, with that being said, I like to take a few moments and reflect on those things that went well this past year:
First off, I genuinely made good use of my available vacation time this past year. That’s not to say I went to Hawaii or backpacked through the Peruvian Rainforest. What I did differently this time was I allowed myself to be off and I truly came back renewed. I don’t think I ever turned my phone completely off, but what I did do was turn off all work-related notifications and gave myself permission to not check in and the crazy part is that the place was still standing when I got back.
This past year I didn’t just enjoy my time off, I made better use of my time. About half-way through the year I revisited David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which I have probably read at least three times before, and just as the times before I gleaned some new nuggets and gained some additional inspiration. One thing it prompted me to do was a brain dump – that is to get everything out of my head and into a “system.” This is not to say that I achieved mastery – there were definitely times when I fell face first off the wagon – but I definitely saw an improvement on what I was able to accomplish and the peace of mind that comes from not having all that stuff sloshing around in my head.
Next up, as part of my time management revival, I made a recurring reminder to read one professional article or blog every day – not just business days, but every day. Did I knock this out every day? I wish I could say yes, but it definitely made me more cognizant of keeping up with things in my industry and profession.
On the topic of recurring time management activities, I realized that if this was going to be my system, it had to be my system; I can’t create separate islands for my personal and my professional life as I have tried (unsuccessfully) for so long to do. To that end, I also realized that if I was to include what is truly important on the list, then my todo list needed to include what was truly important to me – quiet time, prayer, reminders to check on my wife if she wasn’t feeling well, todos to text Mom and entries to plan camping trips with my son. Remembering to get my expense reports in are important, but what about my spiritual, family, and friends? It is my system after all
If I glossed over this section I would be doing myself a major disservice. In fact, this is probably the most important piece in the whole exercise. Just as Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler reminded him in Batman Begins: we fall in order to get back up again (ok, so I paraphrased that). To ignore those things that didn’t quite go right is to miss opportunities to correct and improve. Not to say I will be successful the second time around, but that doesn’t mean I’m not getting back up again. Check back this time next year and see what I mean…
So the main miss for me is worrying too much about what other people think. It seems like a small thing, but it is a key domino that when it falls, it knocks a lot of other dominos down with it. This isn’t to say that I should wear shorts and flip flops to work every day because I don’t care what people think, or stop bathing or wearing deodorant. What I mean is that too often we get caught up in worrying what other people might think that we (meaning I) am too hesitant to speak up. To present ideas because they might be seen as radical. Because other people might talk about me behind my back. In short, pride too often gets in the way of my best work. Hopefully you know that if you are not making mistakes you aren’t trying hard enough. If you don’t know that – you are on notice – yet all too often we are afraid of making mistakes not because we are afraid of the repercussions from our boss, but rather because we are afraid of how we will be seen. This was made evident to me on a camping trip I took with my son to Garner State Park this past summer. For the uninitiated, Garner is perhaps the most popular of the state parks in Texas. In addition to tubing, one of its other big draws is the summer dances held every night. When we went, I thought, just as times past, that he would enjoy watching the line dances and two steppers, however, this time he decided to join in the action as well and dance. He danced the only way he knew how, which is to say out was a far sight from line dancing or two-stepping. Now there are a couple of things you should know about Jordan: First, at the time he was 13 years old but right at 6 feet, in other words, very tall for his age. Second, he has autism. Take those two ingredients and mix them up with his dance moves and you have a recipe for plenty of stares and turned heads. Sensing this, I stepped out and guided him back to our stone seat under a towering mesquite tree where we sat for a few minutes before he told me he was ready to go back to the tent. I told myself that I was protecting him from embarrassment, but the truth is I was protecting myself. The nice thing about autism (at least in Jordan’s case) is that he doesn’t really concern himself with what other people think. He was having a great time and not hurting anyone, yet I stopped him because of my own fear of what others might think. I realized very soon what I had done and what my true motivation had been. Once again my one and only son, the one with the “disability” had taught me a valuable lesson: How often have I stopped myself from asking questions, or speaking up because I was afraid of what others might think? How often had I not followed my instincts out of fear that I might be wrong? I should worry more about producing the best work possible and less time being concerned with what others might think. Worry more about pursuing excellence and less about negative feedback along the way. By the way, on the way back to our campsite, I told Jordan I was sorry for not letting him dance, and instructed him to not worry about what other people thought; including me. He nodded his head and said “OK Dad,” and patted me on the shoulder and told me not to be sad.
So I have talked about when I have hit the mark, when I’ve missed, so now let’s talk about some of the Targets I am going to aim for this year.
First: I am going to write more. A lot more. Not just this blog, but other projects as well – fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, cookbooks, romance, buddy comedies, screenplays, essays – whatever makes me happy. I have always enjoyed the act of writing, or rather the act of creating, but when I go back and look at what I have come up with I am never happy. I know I am not going to be up for a Pulitzer Prize any time soon, but I also know that I am my harshest critic. Just like the dance at Garner, I am afraid to get out there because I am afraid of what others will say. Well, I am sorry to say it, but those days are gone! I may not publish everything I write, but I’ll be dad-gummed if I am going to not do something I enjoy out of fear that someone might see it and not like it.
Second, I am going to nurture my professional network. In years past I have focused on expanding it, and while I don’t regret that, it is time to nurture and grow what I have. Like a farmer acquiring land from his neighbors, if he continues to only buy and doesn’t work what he has, he is missing out on the benefits his existing assets can yield.
This list isn’t intended to be all inclusive, for one thing it will definitely grow as the year progresses, and I am sure that I will look back around this time next year and gush (or lament) over something that I am proud (or ashamed) of that didn’t make the list. The main thing is that I expand upon the good stuff and learn from the rest.
Happy New Year y’all!!!