Hi writers! How are you doing right now?
Somehow, we’ve made it to the end of 2022 (well almost, anyway).
Now that the end of the semester is around the corner, I bet that your stress level has shot through the roof.
Even though I’m no longer in the academy, nearly all of my clients are and half of them rescheduled their most recent session with me because they are trying to fit so many things in.
I also know what it’s like from my time in the academy, which I was part of from the age of 24 to 45.
As I moved from being a grad student to a postdoc to a tenure-track professor to a tenured faculty member, the end of fall semester always felt exactly the same.
Like insanity and chaos!
All of a sudden, my long to-do list would double as I prepped final lectures and students who hadn’t attended all semester started popping back up again, wondering what they could do to pass the course.
Then there was planning finals and of course, grading. A teacher’s most dreaded task!
At my previous university, the grading period went nearly until Christmas Day, so I would always spend the first part of my holiday giving feedback on essays that nobody would ever pick up later.
So now it’s the end of my first “semester” out of the academy and I notice that I’ve been feeling oddly calm.
And I realized a big part of it is because I have no grading to do! No more dreading or putting off or trying to bribe myself to grade.
No more spending precious vacation days working and resenting my life choices while everyone else has fun.
I’ve reached a kind of balance that just was not possible when I was a professor. For me, not having to grade anymore is a symbol of my newfound freedom.
And since I’m sure you’re still in the thick of it, I want to give you a few moments to reflect thoughtfully about the past year and think about where you’d like to go next.
I’m going to give you some questions that will help you process the roller-coaster of 2022 in all its glory and reflect on everything you’ve accomplished!
Why Do a Year-End Reflection?
So let’s first talk a bit about why it’s important to take the time to reflect on your year.
The main reason is that it can help you put your life into context and to find the through-line that makes it all worthwhile for you.
You can get reacquainted with your own priorities and the things you value, and bring them front and center again moving forward.
By the end of the year, we forget so much of what happened, especially since we’re all still managing the toll that the pandemic has taken on our mental health and well-being.
You might even think that the year went really badly in terms of achieving your writing goals.
However, after you reflect on the following questions, you will likely realize you did much more than you’re giving yourself credit for.
Furthermore, being intentional about what has happened and envisioning what you would like to happen inspires motivation and helps you design meaningful new goals and create plans to meet them.
Setting Things Up
Before you start, make sure you give yourself the space and time to reflect.
Try to find a quiet room or space where you can be with your thoughts without anyone disturbing you and make sure to put your phone on mute.
Although, let’s be real, I know you’re probably listening to this while you’re doing something else like exercising, household chores, or commuting.
That’s totally fine, but ideally you can write out your reflections on paper.
There are tons of benefits of writing things out by hand.
It slows your mind down and allows you to come up with creative new thoughts and conclusions.
As you slow down your mind, you boost mindfulness and create a sense of calm that is similar to what you get from meditation.
It also increases clarity. That’s why I think it’s no coincidence that when I’m engaged in book writing, I always handwrite my initial outlines with pencil on paper.
Alright, so let’s get started.
Let me just say that you can choose to assess your year more holistically or just focus it on your writing goals, which I’m going to do. But anything works.
I’m going to offer you 5 thematic questions.
Each one contains multiple smaller questions, so I encourage you to pause this recording throughout so you can freely write down whatever comes to mind.
1) The first question is about your successes.
What did you specifically achieve in 2022 that you’re most proud of in terms of your writing? Why were these particular things the most meaningful to you?
The second part of this question is: what are the exact skills and self-beliefs that were most helpful in you being able to achieve these things?
This question gets at the need to celebrate your achievements, both big and small.
As I talk about a lot, academics usually don’t take the time to acknowledge their own successes and milestones.
So instead of really appreciating what you have done, it becomes more like a box that’s been checked off and the resulting feeling can be more like relief than pride.
Fight the urge to allow the broader culture of overwork in academia to dictate how you feel about yourself!
As for myself, I’m extremely proud of having finished my third sole-authored book proposal, which I’ll be sending off to my editor in a few days.
It went through four different drafts and involved a huge amount of reading, conducting interviews, and incorporating feedback from my developmental editor.
It also required me to prioritize. I set aside time that I could have used to build my business or coach more clients, but I made a commitment to this project because it matters to me.
In terms of the most helpful self-beliefs, I always come back to my favorite one, “I don’t have to have everything figured out yet.” My other favorite is, “Don’t worry about the whole thing. Just focus on taking the next right step.”
Both of these mantras help me focus on the here and now.
They also eliminate much of the mental chatter and existential angst that can come from trying to control a slow, arduous process.
So, if you finished your book proposal or a chapter of your manuscript or you’ve sent your materials out for review with presses, as a couple of my clients have done recently, please take a moment to feel that achievement.
And it’s so important to consider everything you did to make that happen so you can repeat it all again in the future and not downplay your successes as one-offs or just a matter of luck.
2) My second question is about your challenges and obstacles.
2022 was a crazy mother of a year! We have all had really, really hard times along the way.
So where and when did you struggle the most when it comes to your writing? How were you tested?
Sometimes the challenges are just as much internal as they are external.
I know that for a lot of you, writing time was extremely hard to come by. And along with that often comes major self-judgment and a long list of “shoulds.”
Judgments I hear from my clients all the time include, “I should have written more this year” or “I should have used my time better when it comes to my own research and writing” or “I shouldn’t be taking this long to write my book!”
Let’s try to put these inner critic thoughts to the side for a moment and think instead about how you can view your challenges as wise teachers trying to give you major life lessons.
What are the most useful lessons you can learn from your lowest points this year and how can those change how you approach your writing in 2023?
For example, if you’re plagued with self-judgment and carry a lot of imposter syndrome that is making it hard for you to write, a good lesson might be to be kinder to yourself moving forward (because being harsh on yourself is clearly not working!)
3) My third question is a creative way to think about this year and connect it with the next.
If 2022 was the chapter of a book, what would the title be? And what do you want the title of 2023 to be?
Think of your year as a whole and try to give it an overall title that encapsulates the major themes and the emotions you felt.
What memories stand out to you the most? Which ones make you smile or frown?
Once you have a title, think about your hopes for 2023 and try to capture that in a title.
Oftentimes my clients will come up with a first title that represents the tough times and obstacles they’ve faced, and the next one will represent empowerment and freedom.
The goal is to start developing positive intentions toward the upcoming year and recognizing that you have the power to change course and make things better.
4) My fourth question is about the future.
A year from now, what would you most like to be celebrating in terms of your writing?
Choose at least one big tangible outcome, like finishing three chapters of your book or sending your materials out to presses for review.
However, I’d also like you think about the person you want to become and the qualities you want to embody in the process.
If you’re feeling less than confident in your writing, one of your intentions could be to become more comfortable with your own style and developing a distinct voice.
Or if you haven’t been making big claims because you’re afraid of stepping on other scholars’ toes, then a goal could be to commit to writing for your ideal audience who is already on your side rather than for just a few critics looking to poke holes in your argument.
A year from now, I’d ideally like to have completed a draft of the entire manuscript, which will be six chapters long plus an epilogue.
None of this has been written yet, so I won’t be disappointed in myself if it doesn’t happen.
But in terms of who I want to become and what I want to embody in the process, it all comes back to my core values of authenticity, learning and growth, service to others, and creating community.
When it comes down to my core purpose, it’s not just about helping people get their writing done.
Underlying that is my desire to help people live more satisfying lives through giving them permission, as well as strategies, to ruthlessly prioritize the things that matter most to them.
So both in my writing and in my life, I want to be intentionally embodying this by doing only the things that matter most to me.
And one of those things is writing my new book.
5) My last question is about actions you want to take in 2023.
Now that you’ve defined at least one tangible goal as well as who you want to become and the qualities you want to embody, ask yourself what actions will move you towards these possibilities.
What immediate, small steps do you want to take?
And, what bigger, bolder and braver steps can you take that will get you closer to your goal?
Summing It All Up
That’s all of my questions. I hope you’ve enjoyed doing a year-end reflection.
I’d like to leave you with three points:
First, just by getting through 2022, you have already succeeded so please give yourself credit for that in and of itself!
Second, if you didn’t achieve everything you had hoped to, just know that nobody else did either, so give yourself grace for being human.
And finally, a new year brings with it the opportunity to be more intentional with your time, energy, and spirit. Every day you can choose to begin again.
Good luck wrapping up your semesters, and I’ll talk to you next time!