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Entries in goals (46)

Wednesday
Jul132016

The Monthly Postmortem

Setting up in my home office-nook for my monthly postmortem. June 2016.

In January 2014, I began a process of sitting down to postmortem the month just passed.

In writing “postmortem,” I use the same business jargon you may have heard in the office after a project for which the team wants to review what went well, what went badly, and how to apply the lessons from the effort in the future.

My personal monthly postmortem extends beyond business, although I do include my professional efforts in the mix. After all, work takes a lot of space in my life, but work doesn’t consume my entire life—or it shouldn’t.

All this preface to say: You should try it.

The Basics

I schedule my monthly postmortem shortly after the month ends. With so much underway at any moment, I can easily forget what happened only a few weeks before.

Call me old fashioned, but I do my postmortem in writing, with pen and paper. I have my reasons:

  • The process feels more reflective and meditative. I can type much more quickly than I can write anything by hand.
  • I rarely write by hand. Infrequency makes taking the time to sit down and scribe out my thoughts in pen on paper, as they arrive, special. Further, typing and writing by hand have a different tactile sensation and use different motor skills, which rarity makes feel more intense.
  • It seems as though I internalize what I’ve written better when I’ve scrawled it out longhand. Science may back up this impression: Subjects in a Princeton−UCLA study about, yes, studying found that people who wrote notes by hand had a better conceptual grasp of the material.

Setting Up

To get started for each postmortem, I pull up my goals list for the year as a refresher on my key areas of focus and my calendar in Outlook, which gives me a quick reminder of the month and its major moments. (Even shortly after the month ends, I seem to easily forget what happened during the course of it.)

I have a dedicated notebook for my postmortem musings, so that I can go back and review previous months and see patterns.

The Postmortem Process

To get the bad stuff out of the way first, I start by outlining what I call my “losses,” which can refer to actual losses and setbacks and also can include steps I didn’t take, mistakes I made, and opportunities I missed.

Rather than develop a simple laundry list of woes, I assess each one in turn with the following questions:

  • Why did this happen?
  • What can I list as key takeaways? What can I say I learned?
  • How will I apply my learnings to address or avoid a similar situation in the future? Or how can I ensure important steps in my forward progress don’t fall off my radar going forward?

Starting with the bad gives me the chance to end on a high note—with my “wins.” What did I handle really well? What did I get done that keeps me on course?

As with the losses, I review each win with an eye to preserving the positive:

  • What did I learn?
  • How can I ensure I keep up the good work or behavior?

Results

More than I expected I would, I’ve found that I internalize the lessons from my postmortems each month.

When I flip back to past months to review historical wins and losses, I see that my reactions to given situations have improved—sometimes without my even fully realizing the positive change. Problematic behaviors have eased and good behaviors feel so entrenched that I almost don’t remember reacting in any other way.

Why?

Mostly, I credit taking dedicated, focused time to think through needed changes and externalize my thoughts in writing. I feel the surveillance factor has a role as well. After all, who wants to have to write down the same failures each month? Or, when reviewing past postmortems, see the same missteps over and over again?

Do you do any sort of postmortem?

Saturday
Jan022016

I Made It: Bring on 2016

Proof-of-life photo. Somehow, I managed to survive 2015. October 26, 2015. Houston, Texas.

Maybe every year is peculiar in its own way. A lot happens in twelve months.

Yet, unlike many other years I can remember, 2015 had soaring highs and lows. Amid a lot of intense, nearly overpowering craziness in my personal and professional life, I stood witness with all of you to mind-boggling insanity in the world near and far, from race relations traumas to the rise and entrenchment of terrorist groups.

Goodbye, 2015.

Each year, I set goals. In this process, I review the year past to look for successes and failures and to reset my thinking for the upcoming twelve months.

In review, working through my professional goals in 2015 took more bandwidth than I’d anticipated. Further, I had a few adverse-event surprises (maybe I’ll write about them someday, but not now, not in this post). Together, this double whammy knocked me off course in almost all life facets.

Including writing. I didn’t get back to it. At all. Not on this blog—obviously—or elsewhere. I can’t quite articulate why. I lost my writing mojo to intense stress and the concomitant mental exhaustion. Even today, it hasn’t quite come back.

Of course, we can only plan for so much. We can point our course in one direction and strive our best to head that way, despite buffeting from winds, weather, and sea monsters.

Although I didn’t reach my destination for 2015, I made good strides in some areas—progress I wouldn’t have made without a general direction in which to strive. I learned quite a bit in the process. I made some positive personal and professional changes based on my experiences. And though I got knocked down, I didn’t get knocked out.

And amid all the ridiculousness, the good and the bad and the crazy, some truly beautiful things emerged. As they will, when you pay attention.

Let’s focus on the good things.

  • The People. Circumstances in 2015 forced me to watch my friends and family step up in times of need—and I felt astounded and humbled by each person who provided physical and moral support. The people in your life influence your physical wellbeing, your happiness, your contentment, your fulfillment, and your personal and professional growth. Choose your associates wisely; all of us have limited time to invest in building relationships. And please: Tell and show the people in your life what you value and appreciate about them. We never have enough time to say and do the things we’d like to say and do.

  • The Work. I’ve nearly completed some large professional operational changes. I have a few finishing touches ahead, yet the heaviest lifting is complete. As with all changes, I wish I’d made these a long time ago. You know how it goes. Hindsight, 20-20, and so on. Having it mostly done, even later than I’d have liked, feels really, really good.

  • Service. At midyear, The Johns Hopkins University named me the chair of its Second Decade Society, one of the boards of its school of arts and sciences. I’ve had an incredibly rewarding experience that has deepened my appreciation for the institution. I’ve met some amazing current students, faculty, administrators, and staff; I’ve built connections with incredible fellow alumni; and I have learned more about my alma mater than I feel I’d known even as a student. As a result, I’ve gained far more than I’ve given, even though I’d intended the opposite upon accepting the role.

  • Ramona. The two of us? Still a dynamic duo. We beat the doctors’ timelines. Maybe she sensed that in this challenging year, I couldn’t face her departure; she rallied well after we sorted her medications. Yet I still haven’t come to terms with the fact that she will die, just like all of us. And I don’t think I ever will.

So what does 2016 hold?

Let’s hope for goodness and beauty. For us all.

This 2016, I’ll focus on loving more, experiencing more, deepening more. In the last few years, I’ve grown immensely professionally through some rough knocks. In 2016, I will stay the course to carry through the initiatives I put into play at work in 2015. Yet, now that the intense generative effort has gained the momentum needed to assume a life of its own, I’ll take time to nurture myself, experience a little more of the world, and appreciate ever more deeply the amazing people I’m lucky to know.

And maybe, in the process, I’ll find my way back to writing. Even a little.

Tell me: How does 2016 look for you?

P.S.—For all of you who read this and engage me in dialogue as a result, thank you. You enrich my world.

Thursday
Jan012015

Shrugging off 2014 and Staring Down 2015

New Year's Day should always include the bright, optimistic green of matcha. January 1, 2015.

Like some sharks, humans must keep moving to survive.

A date marking the start to a new year—an arbitrary designation—has only the significance we give it. Though I recognize that one day looks much like any other and agree that no one should wait for any given date to start or stop anything, we all need prompts.

Since I started truly setting and tracking my goals a few years back, the end of the year has served as my prompt.

Reviewing 2014

I didn’t come anywhere close to achieving my goals in 2014.

However, a year-end review showed more progress than I’d noticed, even if it did highlight a few spectacular failures and starting-point mistaken notions.

Though I slaved away professionally in 2014, I didn’t make my professional goals. (Far from it.) And because I worked ridiculously hard all year, I failed at hitting my spiritual targets. (I define “spiritual” as mental wellbeing and happiness.) As I’d weighted my professional and spiritual life facets most highly for the year, much of my frustration with 2014 came from my failures to make the progress I’d wanted my most critical areas.

Silver linings:

I hit my health goals out of the park, doing better than I’d have expected on all targets, even the hardest ones. (In a recent yoga class, I mused that I may have hit better health in 2014 than I managed throughout the last two decades.)

Further, I met most of my financial, family, and educational targets—although I can’t give myself much of a back-slap there, as I hadn’t cast any of those facets as stretch areas.

And I met my social goals, yet I see in hindsight that I didn’t set my targets well in this area. With my professional life running rampant over every other aspect of my existence in 2014, even meeting my meagre social goals left me feeling that I didn’t spend nearly the time I would have liked with the people who matter to me most.

I See You, 2015

My professional goals still get top billing in 2015, as a few epiphanies over the past year have begun to blossom. I feel solid enthusiasm about what I have underway, though I’ve stayed realistic about the challenges and possible obstacles.

No false confidence here.

The dissolution of toxic professional stress will make achieving the goals I’ve set in other facets easier as well. (How could it not?) I’ll reenter the world of the living. I’ll have more flexible and free time. I’ll see a little more of the world—and even my own little corner of it. (Yes, beyond the office.)

I’ll read more. I’ll actually get some of these nagging writing goals tackled, goshdarnit.

My poor house, which needs some love and attention, will get it. I’ll keep at the health and financial improvements. And I’ll serve as a much, much better friend and family member.

And I’ll get back to this blog, from which I took a much needed break at the end of the year. I had to cry uncle somewhere.

Will I write as many posts? Maybe at times. Will the nature of the content evolve? Probably.

Yet everything moves, evolves. As it should. People and things that stop evolving stop growing. And when they stop growing, they stop fully realizing the possibilities of their existence.

Goal setting pushes growth.

What do you see on your 2015 horizon?

Friday
Oct312014

Friday Links #5: Great Stuff Worth a Read

Assorted awesome reads splayed on my coffee table. October 2014.

Ready to get the Friday great-reads party started?

Without further ado (because I don't believe you read the introductory text, anyway), the below bullets list the outstanding writing I’ve read these past couple weeks:

  • The mind picture created by researchers completely recreating an era long past and immersing in it people who would have considered that time their prime of life—and the results of their experiment—completely captivated me. (And gave me hope as well.) Is age just a mindset, after all?
  • Once sentimental about physical things, I shed them now without compunction. Well, when I remember to clean out my closets and cabinets and drawers, I do. Marie Kondo’s system of extreme “thing” dispatching and intensive home organization inspired me. Now just to find the time—and the dumpster—to purge all my accumulated stuff.
  • Positive thinking can only get you so far, because envisioning drains you of the drive and energy you need to achieve your vision. Better, Gabriele Oettingen found, to daydream an objective, consider the obstacles to realizing it, and develop plans through which to surmount them.
  • Ah, asking for salary increases. Interesting that in 1931 Walter Benjamin provided sound advice on the topic that people still haven’t learned nearly a century later. How many times have employees come into my office just as Benjamin’s Herr Zauderer did? Take heed, folks. Take heed.
  • Should I call Richard Rodriguez’s piece in T Magazine, “Naked in a Digital Age,” an essay or a collection of musings? Either way, it captivated me—and will you—through evoking a complementary string of meandering thoughts about age and culture and fashion and beauty and community.

What have you read recently that I should read?

Saturday
Oct112014

How We See Ourselves—and How it Hurts Us

A confessional blogger who has frequently written funny stories about her dating experiences for XO Jane stated she’d never write another article about her single status because she wanted to find a relationship. She felt that the more people see her as “the single woman” or “the woman with the funny dating stories,” the longer she’ll stay solo.

If you identify as a single person, she wrote, you’ll stay that way.

The post reminded me of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, a book it took some convincing for me to read. (A book intended for adults written from a dog’s point of view? No, thank you. But count me highly glad someone convinced me otherwise.) In the book, the protagonist—a race-car driver—states that if you think about the racetrack wall, you’ll hit the racetrack wall. Look in your desired direction over the feared outcome.

In other words, he wrote, we manifest what’s before us.

If you think of the worst, you’ll realize the worst. You’ll manifest it. Likewise, we become what we think of ourselves. If you consider yourself shy, you’ll stay a wallflower—or turn into one. If you think of yourself as unattractive, you’ll come across that way.

And in the XO Jane author’s vein, perhaps the way you think of your relationship status—single or paired—accounts for the recently divorced’s tendency to hook up again so quickly: They don’t see themselves as single. Whereas people who have stayed single for a long time, who think of themselves as single and talk about their singlehood, tend to stay that way.

Positive, willful thinking can’t overcome all obstacles. But certainly it can prevent quite a number of pitfalls and a passel of trouble.

After I read the XO Jane author’s post earlier this year, I stopped writing about my relationship status, thinking about myself as single, and talking about my dating experiences. I may have made brief mention of singlehood and dating, but only in context of another subject and only when necessary to making a point.

Further, I reviewed other life intentions to think through ways I could think and act differently to avoid self-sabotage. I’ve got some work to do.

Don’t we all?

What about your life would you like to change? What should you change about your self-concept that would help that change happen?

What do you think?