After seemingly endless months of biothreats, war fears, and sinking portfolios, it takes a resolute spirit to fend off the season’s many seductive invitations to get happy by buying things.
But instead of chasing pleasure with price tags on it, consider using this time of year to fill up your heart and soul by stepping back to take stock.
Reflecting on the past year will allow you to revisit your goals and gradually to realign your personal and professional life with your values. You’ll be able to figure out the best way to heal your clients’ wounds, learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself for your shortcomings, and commit to new growth. This process also can help strengthen your bonds with loved ones, colleagues and professional friends, clients, and your inner self.
As you reflect, I recommend first considering how each important issue affects you personally, then how it impacts your family. Next, move outward to include friends and colleagues, and finally your professional life. Feel free to develop your own topics for reflection, or consider exploring the following avenues of growth:
How do you feel about the past year?
Have you experienced the death of someone you loved, a divorce, a serious illness, or even a “good” stress such as marriage or moving? Are you reeling from events in the larger world?
Take some time to assess your psychological outlook. If you’ve been haunted by fear, anger, or feelings of vulnerability, think about how you might be able to move on and put these feelings behind you.
The need to integrate fear and hope was brought home to me recently at a unique D.C. theatrical event. MacArthur Grant-winning dancer-choreographer Liz Lerman invited the audience to share reactions to the trauma of the past months, both in words and in actions. When she led us through a “dance” of hand gestures and movements, I could see that I was divided. Part of me was still dealing with recent stresses, including the death of my father, while another part was moving forward, enthusiastic about upcoming family events, speeches and seminars, and other exciting developments. Liz’s simple exercise had the profound effect of integrating both parts of me.
By seeing where you may feel stuck, and where you are moving forward, you can strategize your own way of healing the wounds of the past. For example, you might express your anger by volunteering to help resolve conflict, calm your fears by taking steps to protect yourself and your loved ones, or assuage a sense of loss by honoring it with a suitable memorial. Try to let go of any self-recriminations about not having dealt with difficult situations more perfectly. In fact, it’s often helpful to contemplate this next question: What do you wish you had done differently?
What regrets do you have, personally and professionally, about the past year? Forgive yourself for any mistakes or failings, and decide what you will do in the future. Then let go, and move on.
For example, if you regret not having spent more time with your spouse or children, plan how you will remedy this, perhaps by setting aside a specific day or time for them every week. If you feel you failed certain clients, you could decide to meet with them one by one to discuss their goals and adjust their plans accordingly.
What do you want to accomplish in the new year?
This may seem like preaching to the choir, but many planners are so busy helping others identify and work toward their goals that they forget to do it for themselves. Reassess your short-term and long-term goals, determine what progress you intend to make toward each of them next year, and write down what actions you will take to make it happen. Don’t postpone this process because “there isn’t enough time right now”–that’s why so many shoemaker’s children went barefoot.
What are your sources of hope and healing?
If you’re carrying a lot of traumatic baggage from the past year, make a list of what helps you get “back to one,” i.e., reconnect with your more hopeful and serene self. For me, it’s a combination of joyful movement (ballroom and tap dancing), creative activity (making jewelry and giving it away), fun (playing Scrabble and going to the theater), emotional catharsis (schmaltzy show tunes), and closeness to the people I care for.
Whatever works for you, commit to doing more of it in the coming year. Be sure to make this commitment specific and concrete, not just a good intention.
Do you want to make more of a difference in the world?
If you feel hopeless or helpless about events, consider volunteering to effect social or political change. If you’re not quite sure what you want to do, open your mind and see what images come to you. When I decided several years ago that more volunteering would help me feel good about myself, a clear image of holding abandoned infants came to mind. I found a facility nearby that was seeking volunteers to do just that. My weekly commitment of time gave me back more than I could ever give.
Are you living out your ideals and values?
Think about whether the way you live your life, spend your money, support your community, or advise your clients truly reflects what you believe is important. If you feel guilty that you’re not “walking your talk,” don’t let it pummel you into abruptly or radically changing the course of your life. Instead, identify one action you can take to integrate your words and deeds more fully.
Are your relationships with colleagues satisfying?
Would you like to develop more mutually nurturing bonds with certain people among your circle of friends and colleagues? Consider regular get-togethers–lunch every Friday, perhaps–with one or more colleagues who support you in your work and your personal life. Or set up a “peer supervision” group to talk about your challenging clients.
There may be others in your life whose bad vibes are toxic to your well-being. If you can’t avoid or minimize contact with them, see if you can neutralize their impact. For instance, try a technique that some therapists use: visualize yourself surrounded by a sphere of golden energy that prevents you from absorbing the negativity of others. Another possibility is to visualize these people as damaged children who need healing, rather than as adult attackers.
What works in your worklife?
Are you working with clients who interest you and whom you enjoy helping? Do you feel in sync with your firm’s goals and values? Are you comfortable with your hours and your workspace?
Asking these questions may lead to fruitful new areas of expertise and job satisfaction. For example, if you like working with a particular kind of client (widows, say, or the newly wealthy) or with clients in a particular walk of life (doctors, artists, entrepreneurs), consider ways to expand your practice into this personally rewarding area.
By looking at your work environment, you may be able to identify small but significant changes that will give you time and energy to do more satisfying and important things. Someone who runs out of steam around three o’clock every afternoon might consider scheduling a 20-minute power nap at that time. Or if your motivation often flags in late morning, you could commit to a brisk walk before lunch to restore your momentum.
Are you learning and growing?
Expanding your awareness and expertise will enhance your own self-respect. But this doesn’t just mean taking a course on an unfamiliar topic. Learning and growing are a critical part of making a relationship succeed, whether it’s with your life partner, your children, clients, friends, or colleagues. Given the emotional and spiritual challenges of maintaining a healthy relationship, I’m reminded of the ultimatum “Grow or die.” By constantly working to develop new muscles, you can help keep these relationships vibrant and avoid taking your blessings for granted.
Do you appreciate the good things in your life?
For anyone suffering from burnout, depression, or anxiety, reconnecting to what’s good in your life is a powerful form of healing. I recommend keeping a “gratitude journal.” At the same time every day, make a list of things you feel grateful for. This doesn’t have to be extensive; just write down whatever is on top of your mind. The process will help you realign your thinking to a positive and receptive state where more good things can happen (and you’ll be better primed to notice them when they do).
For more ideas that may steer you toward New Year’s resolutions in the areas mentioned above, see my new Advisor’s Guide to Money Psychology (see Reader’s Note on page 22). The section on “Building Relationships,” for instance, provides examples of listening techniques and tips on understanding client resistances. For your personal life, I also recommend Sarah ban Breathnach’s book, Simple Abundance.
If you take the opportunity during this holiday season to reflect on your personal and professional mission in life, and find ways to connect with sources of hope and healing, you will create a core of serenity and security within yourself. Expressing your caring from this deeper place will help you and your loved ones nurture yourselves, whether the gifts you give are material or spiritual. In the process you will be able to bring the past to a healing close, and begin the New Year with greater energy and zest for life.