Alice: “What road do I take?”
Cheshire Cat: “Where do you want to go?”
Alice: “I don’t know."
Cheshire Cat: "Then, it really doesn’t matter, does it?"
We are at the end of the Gregorian calendar, an appropriate time for reflection and planning. Most of us are familiar with (and have made a few of our own) New Year's resolutions, While they have their place, resolutions often prove to be too lofty and insubstantial when pressure tested in life. Instead, I prefer doing a year in review and using the insights gleaned to more realistically structure the next year. I like to put things into three categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The good is obvious. These are the experiences, decisions, and acquaintances that brought us the most joy in the last year. When we think of these moments the first reaction should be to smile. In 2023, it was time spent with my family, outdoor hikes, going to the dojo, work put into the business, dedicated hours in the gym, evening meals with friends, every book I read, practicing guitar, bow hunting, and consistently writing this post.
The bad is also obvious. This is everything that we regretted doing (or not doing). When we think of these moments the immediate reaction is revulsion. For me these are few in number and usually occurred when I had a breakdown in judgement or when I expected something different than what actually resulted. Betrayal, disappointment, and feelings of inadequacy all live here, but there is a silver lining. Because we have been burnt before, we can choose to avoid these in the future.
The ugly is less than obvious. These are all of the instances that seemed bad at first but turned out to be revelatory. This is what I call the "good kind" of stress. It is the difficult conversations that we have around the future, relationships, career, and feelings. It is the struggle that we must endure to produce positive outcomes. It is the reality that things don't always neatly fit into boxes like good or bad. The ugly is all about embracing the paradoxical nature of life and learning to trust in the process that takes us forward.
Take notes (either physically or mentally) on what parts of your year fall into which categories. Seek to maximize the good, minimize the bad, and allow space for the ugly. In this way we can consciously grow into better versions of ourselves, all the while not forsaking the past that gave rise to it all. Be kind, yet honest as you do this review. Compassion is complete only when it also includes the compassion-giver. Remember, that we are always our own harshest critic. See you next year!