Without doubt I will be sitting down with my family in the next few days to watch A Christmas Carol. Alongside It's A Wonderful Life, Elf and Love Actually it's a non-negotiable of the Bicknell family's run into the big day. I am really looking forward to it as work winds down now. Over the last week I couldn't help thinking about the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future as I started to shape some ideas I wanted to share at the back end of this year.
I then found this lovely quote from Agnes M. Pahro, an American writer and artist from the mid-20th century. I think it captures the sentiment I wanted to share really nicely.
I want to encourage people to find some space over the next couple of weeks to look back on 2021, find some presence and stillness and to look forward with hope & excitement to the coming year. The personal and professional are more intertwined than ever these days as we work and live in the same space much of the time. My hope is that you can take some simple steps to show up in all aspects of your life as the best version of yourself, creative, energised and ready to move into the future with impact and with great happiness.
Reflection is vital for us to learn and to make progress. We need to do it through a lens of kindness and empathy for self and others. The goal is not to admonish but to connect the dots, to gather the insights and to really learn. What went well personally and professionally? What lit you up in 2021? What challenged you? Why?
2021 was a year of ups and downs. Like many I probably expected life to return to something approaching normal following the shock of 2020 but normality evaded most of us this year. We now know that we are living a new norm around our work and life.
For me 2021 saw the continuation of my journey into building a new portfolio career. I was blessed with being able to work on some brilliant projects with wonderful people and teams. I designed and ran a Start-Up Bootcamp, supported companies through Strategy sprints to create, clarity, direction and momentum and as a mentor I supported and worked with a lot of individuals with entrepreneurial ambition and plans. I am also part of a founding team working on a new FinTech proposition.
I have learnt a lot and I have really got clearer where I can impact best for others and myself.
I also know that 2021 presented challenges too. Speaking with and listening to family, friends and people in my community I am struck by the exhaustion, sense of loss and an unshakeable sense of loneliness that many continue to feel and are trying to process.
Adam Grant really captured this 'zeitgeist' in his New York Times article on 'languishing' published earlier this year. He identified the mental health impact of the ongoing presence of the pandemic on our lives:
It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.
Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
There has also been plenty written about the strange, discomforting irony of how despite the continuing growth in social media and digital connections many people have never felt more disconnected. True connection, our fundamental human need and yearning for in person contact with friends and family, has been set aside for many over the last 2 years. We now face this difficulty again this Xmas as a new variant forces us to step back and reconsider our social connections.
People are trying to find their feet with parenting, staying connected to loved ones, worried about their parents. Of course, we will come through this just as we have for the last two years but it is not easy and we need to recognise this and give ourselves a bit of a break.
I think its worth spending a little time actively reflecting on this year. Be kind to yourself, recognise the highs and the relative lows. Let it sit with you and give some space to drawing the learnings and insights that help you shape your path forward.
My personal mantra for 2022 is the same one I tried to take through 2021...
Through my life I have always looked forward, trying to see around corners to the next opportunity, the next project, something new and exciting, always curious ..... and yet, it can be bloody exhausting.
I have tried to be more intentional through this year to find time to breathe and feel my feet firmly on the ground. I am always struck by how many of the people I admire and have learnt from are intentional in creating space in their day to simply breathe. Be it through movement, exercise, meditation, reading and learning, these individuals are intentional and create space, to recover, to come back to themselves and to recharge.
I am at just at the very start of my own personal journey and I wish I'd started earlier in my life but I have a daily practice that has really helped me through 2021.
While I am encouraging you to reflect intentionally on 2021 and the recent past and to look forward to next year with excitement I think the best possible return on your time is to spend some time every day just being, breathing, maybe meditating, walking, moving. Feel your feet firmly on the ground underneath your feet. Embrace your own presence. It will draw new reserves of energy you didn't realise were accessible too you. It will support clarity of thought, creativity and a calm, open approach to engaging with others at home and at work.
I hope that you can find space and time this next couple of weeks to be still, to breathe, to find your feet. Xmas can be really busy and can pass us by. Give yourself the gift of creating some space for you. It is a valuable gift to yourself.
I very recently had a really enlightening conversation. I was explaining to someone the challenge I'd experienced through the last few years. Working for myself I face the inevitable ups & downs of developing new opportunities. On the days you 'win' i.e. engage a new client or project, everything feels great. But, on the days when you 'lose' i.e. that exciting new prospect goes cold, you're not feeling so great .... at all.
Professionally and personally life will always serve us the ups and the downs.
If you let your energy, your mood, even your sense of self, depend on the ups & downs of any particular day, when much of the perceived 'wins' and 'losses' are often outside your immediate and direct control, then working for yourself, aspiring to be an entrepreneur or even (let's face it) parenting teenage kids might not be a good idea.
The person I was speaking to about this challenged me to think about how I anchored myself in hope and the future. He pointed out that there are different dimensions of hope.
The first dimension, "I hope we have a good day today" ..... depends upon what comes our way on any particular day. Anchoring ourselves so close by is risky. You have very little control on what's going to show up.
Another dimension entirely is this idea of ultimate or infinite hope. Martin Luther King's words above were spoken in a Washington, D.C., address in early 1968, just two months before he was assassinated in Memphis. He was making the point that the challenges we face today shouldn't stop us from imagining a better future. Our setbacks are just a part of our road toward what he called “the promised land”. Whatever our own particular "promised land" is will differ but this idea is liberating and can bring people together with a shared sense of hope and progress.
Taking time out at the end of this challenging year to look forward with 'hope' and excitement is so valuable. Standing here at the end of the year we have all come through our own ups and downs and we deserve to look forward to the future with real hope.
Bringing this together.....
If over the next couple of weeks you can spend an hour taking stock and reflecting you will capture some learnings and insights to help clarify your way into next year. Then prime your energy through spending a little time mindfully, feeling your feet on firm ground. With these clear insights and this sense of grounded energy you have every right to look forward into 2022 and beyond with real hope.
I wish you a very Peaceful Xmas and a Happy New Year.