In and Out

Here we are at year's end, when newspapers and magazines print what is "in" and "out" for the next year.  Which celebrity is "so last year" and which is "up and coming?"  Which electronic toy is the "must have" for next year and which is practically "obsolete" after a year?  And so it goes, covering movies, books, TV shows, and vacation spots.  If I were a cooler person, I would make some predictions here, but alas, I don't have that capability.  Actually, it's just as well, because I disagree with the premise that we should wipe the slate clean at the end of each year.

New Year's resolutions too often focus on what we want to begin, to start anew.  (See January 14, 2008 post "Resolutions.")  This year I'll get more sleep.  This year I'll take art classes.  This year I'll volunteer and do more community service.  This year...

Planning the future is imperative (it is, after all, what I do for a living), and should be done realistically and specifically for the optimum outcome.  Want to get more sleep?  Be explicit--what time can you realistically go to bed?  What about weekends?  Want to take an art class?  Painting or pottery?  At an art school or at the community center?  Want to give back to the world?  How often--weekly, monthly, biannually?  Who do you want to help--children, families, neighborhoods?

As important as it is to plan the new, it is equally crucial to review the old.  As my clients know, I'm an advocate of reviewing the past for the sole purpose of learning what worked and what didn't.  Let's not reinvent the wheel every year--much of it was good and many lessons were learned from the parts that weren't so great.  Handled a difficult situation masterfully?  Put it in the "keep" list.  Not enjoying your book club?  Goes in the "toss" list.

Mistakes remain mistakes if we don't learn from them; when we do, they're called life lessons.  We can't change the past, so nothing is to be gained by self repudiation.  Coulda, shoulda, woulda are useful only if we use them to mature and sharpen our life skills.  Could you have handled a situation with your child better than you did?  Now you know.  Should you have responded differently at a meeting at work?  Now you know.  Would you have taken a different approach with a friend?  Now you know.

Knowledge is power.  The only way to know that a particular action didn't work well is to have tried it.  If we knew the outcome in advance, we would have made a different choice.  Learn and move on; doing otherwise keeps you mired in the past, preventing you from enjoying the present and embracing the future.

Some years are better than others.  In my family, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times (indulge me).  My daughter, Danielle, had one of the best years of her life; she spent a semester studying and traveling in New Zealand, and explored Australia and the Cook Islands.  She returned home and resumed her studies at the college she loves surrounded by her friends.  Danielle ended the year with a remarkable trip to Israel.  My son, Ethan, had the very worst year of his life; his car accident in April (not his fault), which totaled his car, required staples in his scalp and his arm in a sling, was followed by the onset of a serious illness in August.  Three surgeries in seven weeks left him weak and in dire pain for months, forcing him to withdraw from his freshman year of college.  Two children, one family, opposite years.

As their mother, I would have chosen for both Danielle and Ethan to have had wonderful years, but apparently the universe didn't ask my opinion.  Random events occur and the unpredictable happens, for better and worse.  Regardless of the type of year, there is always rich material to mine.  Danielle certainly learned a lot academically and her world expanded from her travels.  Ethan's education far exceeded that found in any textbook.  Although Ethan's 2008 stunk (technical coaching term), he learned phenomenal life lessons, none more important than he can survive extreme hardship and come out whole at the other end.

What did you learn from this past year?  What lessons will you take with you into the new year?  What do you want to shed and what do you want to keep?  The lessons are there for all of us.  The key is to learn them without fixating on the events and becoming stuck.

So go ahead and plan for next year, but first review last year.  You'll never get a better education.