This time of year naturally urges reflection.
At work, you probably see it in the number of strategic planning and budgeting meetings that creep onto your calendar or the emails in your inbox with reminders about goal setting. In your personal life, you might see it in expressions of gratitude during the holidays or talk about adopting resolutions on January 1.
All this is useful for prompting us to examine the past and consider the future—but it doesn’t always have the intended effect. Too often, we rush through these “tasks,” checking them off as things we have to do. We rarely give them the time and space they deserve.
Real, meaningful reflection isn’t an annual activity. It shouldn’t be triggered by an email reminder or calendar notification, and it doesn’t have to happen only in the context of performance appraisals or new year’s resolutions. Meaningful reflection is done with purpose. It occurs when we pause and engage in exploration and examination of our perspectives, our experiences, and our actions.
Ideally, we’d engage in continual reflection to gain understanding and insights that inspire our personal growth. But that may not be realistic when we’re navigating the day-to-day, hustling from place to place, and just barely squeezing in a good night’s sleep.
I’ve noticed that my reflection is usually triggered by an event or a milestone. Sometimes it’s big, and sometimes it’s small. Often, it’s correlated with an inflection point.
What exactly is an inflection point? It has roots in mathematics, where it literally refers to the point of a curve at which a change of direction occurs. In business and in life, I think of it as a time of significant change or a turning point.
On these occasions, we’re prompted to take a step back and consider where we’ve been and where we’re going, who we are and who we want to be. These are a few of the inflection points in my career that have led me to pause and reflect:
Becoming a leader
I’m not one of those people who aspired to leadership. Rather, it was bestowed upon me for the same reason so many other people find themselves in the same position: I was just really good at my job. I’m still filled with gratitude for the opportunity, but the people who put me in the manager’s seat hadn’t really considered whether it was the right fit or how successful I’d be. Luckily, I recognized that and engaged in some introspection by asking myself:
- What do I admire in other leaders? What traits do I share with them?
- What capabilities do I need to strengthen to be a better leader?
- What’s the difference between managing, leading, and inspiring people? And which am I doing?
Changing jobs or shifting careers
Coincidentally, some similar questions rose to the surface when I prepared to change jobs—and the answers led to my stepping aside from people leadership in favor of roles that allowed me to share my talents as an individual contributor. Even though I knew my greatest fulfillment came from doing things rather than leading people, I struggled with the idea of this change. It forced me to ask myself:
- How has my role been interwoven with my identity?
- What will be different if I change the nature or scope of my work?
- How might letting go of one thing make room for others?
Readying for the future
I still have (quite) a few years before I contemplate retirement, but I’m already one of those people who says, “I’m never really going to retire.” What would I do with myself? I’m notoriously terrible at relaxing, and I just don’t do well with idle time. I know, though, that 10, 15, or 20 years from now, I’m going to take a step back and ask myself some questions:
- What work has been most fulfilling to me?
- Whom do I enjoy working with most?
- Is there a “passion project” or hobby I want to dedicate more time to?
As we approach the end of the year—or any inflection point—here are four questions that may spark insights for you:
- What is something you accomplished this year that you are proud of?
- What was the most challenging part of this year for you?
- If you could change one thing that happened this year, what would it be?
- What are the three most important things you learned this year?
In a world where you can choose to do or be anything, choose to be a person who invests in yourself through introspection. I’ve learned that a self-reflective mindset takes courage and requires vulnerability, but it also cultivates gratitude and allows us to become more authentic versions of ourselves.