This is the time when many of us sit down to review the past year.
You may be doing it as part of a required workplace or HR activity. (Ugh!) Or as a process that you’ve put in place for your own business. It might even be a personal ritual of sorts. Something you regularly do at the end of the year as you look forward and plan for the coming year.
Reviewing the past year is important, IMHO because it helps you celebrate your successes.
It’s also an opportunity to learn about yourself—what kinds of processes helped you, which ones only made things harder, that kind of thing.
The challenge is when you look at your past year, and the list of accomplishments leave you wanting.
The berating of self starts when upon reviewing your goals (remember those dang New Year’s resolutions way at the beginning of the year?), you realize you didn’t get anywhere close to where you wanted to be.
When you didn’t achieve what you wanted to achieve, what do you do next? How should you plan for next year?
What do you do when you’ve missed your goals?
First, it’s okay to feel disappointed.
Okay. Let’s get this out of the way.
This is not one of those talks where I’ll suggest that you should never feel bad or disappointed about yourself; that you are to honor where you are in your journey; and to feel good because you’ve done the best that you can.
To be clear, I believe in parts 2 and 3 of that previous sentence.
It’s the first part that I have a little bit of trouble with.
I think feeling disappointed with one’s self is normal. It’s okay. Disappointment happens when you expect more of something, and it delivers less than that.
You expect a lot of yourself. That’s a good thing. Here’s what the great MJ had to say about that.
You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them. —Michael Jordan
When you don’t clear that bar that you set for yourself, it’s natural to feel disappointed.
Those first four tries when Diana Nyad didn’t meet her goal of swimming the waters between Florida and Cuba without a shark cage? You bet she was disappointed.
The key thing is that she didn’t allow her disappointment to stop her from trying again. Instead, she used her frustration to try better next time.
So, if you feel just a little bad because you didn’t achieve what you wanted to achieve, go ahead. Feel bad.
It means you aren’t satisfied with status quo. It means you want to do more or do better. It means you expect more of yourself.
(And while we’re on the subject, don’t you let anyone tell you not to expect great things of yourself.)
To make it useful, learn from it.
So, you’re feeling a wee bit disappointed. Don’t be too quick now to brush it aside.
I know it’s so much nicer to start listing all the things that went well. That’s a common antidote. Quickly! List all the things, no matter how small, that you accomplished instead.
This step is not only nicer; it’s important for our sanity and resilience.
But there’s a time for that. Right this minute, though? Not just yet.
For now, don’t let this valuable learning moment slip by.
I used to work for a smart leader who always forced us to conduct a post-mortem review of the projects we completed—no matter if they were successful or not. But especially if it was the latter. He reinforced the idea that those moments are the best learning tools. Sitting down with it—even if what we really wanted to do was sweep it under the rug and forget about it—would only help us do better next time.
Ask yourself why you didn’t achieve what you set out to do. And be honest with yourself, because guess what? No one’s looking!
Did you put in the work that’s required?
If the answer is no, ask yourself why you didn’t.
Did you not know enough (knowledge problem)?
Were you scared (fear/mindset problem)?
Were you just not interested enough (alignment problem)?
Was it too hard (could be a tactic issue)?
Did you feel lost doing it (could be a strategy miss)?
You see what I mean?
There are reasons why you didn’t do the work to achieve your goals. You want to understand those reasons so that you can address them and they don’t appear again next year when you try again.
Recognize that it may be better that you didn’t achieve your goal.
There were two goals on my list that I didn’t achieve this year.
One of them, I didn’t finish because I decided to start over. At some point during the process, I discovered the need for a major plot rework before I could proceed. I suppose I could have persisted with the original plot in mind. But in reviewing the year, I’m happy I chose to re-start with a clean page instead.
The other goal I didn’t achieve because I realized it no longer aligned with my priorities. Meeting that goal would have been a “nice to have” but it wouldn’t have gotten me closer to where I want to be. Considering that time is a scarce resource, I have zero regrets that I canned it.
In the process of analyzing why you missed your goals, you may discover that it’s actually okay that you didn’t meet them.
This is not a means of giving yourself an excuse or a way out.
Priorities shift along the way, and your goal may no longer be in line with your new focus.
You may discover that your goals weren’t the right ones to go after, to begin with. (Imagine someone going after a promotion at work to address a growing job dissatisfaction when perhaps the goal should have been to look for a new job that would be a better fit.)
Or you may realize they were totally unrealistic for your stage in your career or life journey. (Imagine a first time writer who’s never published a book, let alone finish a novel, setting a goal to write a NY Times bestseller.)
Part of the joy of setting up goals is imagining the moment when you get to check off the proverbial box and say “YES.” Missed goals are, naturally, downers. You don’t get to do the dance you imagined yourself doing at the end of the year. You don’t get to celebrate for clearing the bar you set for yourself.
But as dispiriting as it may feel initially, the moment you realized you missed your goals is a strong learning moment. You can glean valuable insights if you take pause and review why it happened.
Sweeping it under the rug and focusing on a newer, more exciting plan for the next year may feel more positive. But by going there immediately, you’ll likely miss the chance to pick up key insights that would be helpful for your next time at bat.