There is a popular tendency, amplified perhaps by social media, to catalog all current events by the year in which they are happening, and when these current events are what we might call ”bad,“ to then blame the year itself for being a bad year. 2020, by this reckoning, feels like the worst year of our lifetimes.
But you and I, brilliant creatures that we are, both know that events aren’t dictated by the earth’s rotation of the sun, and we know that the human concept of time is arbitrary. Right? Rationally, we know this. We don’t have bad years, just as we don’t have good years. Or even very good years. Physics tells us this, Frank Sinatra notwithstanding.
Don’t get me wrong: just because 2020 isn’t a garbage year doesn’t mean 2020 hasn’t been full of garbage in many ways. It just means that things have been garbage in ways that have nothing to do with the calendar.
So by now perhaps many of us are looking at 2021 like a drowning passenger on the Titanic would have viewed a floating bit of wooden debris (which was clearly big enough for two, but I digress). From this vantage point, we’ll be grateful just to have it, right? Would it be folly to expect more from it than mere survival?
I’m going to go out on a limb, or a float, and suggest something bold: 2021 could easily be your best year yet. What?! What kind of brash swagger is this? But think about it: the world is eager — antsy, even — for renewal, for regrowth. For something, anything good to replace the stinky, rotting carcass of 2020.
How often do you have the opportunity to have such a fresh start?
If I am a hoarder of anything, I hoard ideas. My Evernote is stuffed full of clippings collected from articles, social media, books, random overheard snippets on the subway — and drafts I’m still developing about them. And among my favorite categories of things to hoard are observations on how to be your best self, do your best work, set meaningful goals, hold yourself accountable, and so on. In short: what some folks reserve for New Year’s resolutions, I have a habit of squirreling away all year long. One of my Evernote notebooks is, in fact, called “Better Living Through Big Picture” with only the very best of all these odds and ends.
The most important note in this big-picture notebook is an epic set of my big-picture goals, vision, and planning for myself, re-done each year and sometimes several times throughout the year. (You can safely bet that I overhauled the one for 2020 this past spring after the pandemic changed my work so substantially.) It begins with the year’s big specific goals and vision, articulated as vividly as I can. I include an overview of the year by month, noting significant dates and events already scheduled for at-a-glimpse preview (and review) of what I’m working toward. It also includes some high-level revenue goals and tracking.
When I find good thought-starters (like “What are you most passionate about?” — the answer to which, for me, is a tie between fairness and opportunity) I grab them and stash them in this note.
This note has become my fixed orientation that bobs up through the turbulent waters of urgent busyness always threatening to drown my day. I review it every single morning, without fail. Yes, truly: every day. And if I have anything to offer to you by way of suggestions — not so much advice, because if you’re like me you prefer ideas to advice, and to draw your own conclusions about how to apply the ideas in your own life — I would offer that you try your own version of this grand, epic note.
2021 is going to be a great year. We have the chance to make it one. Let’s enjoy this rare chance at a major do-over. Just remember to keep your head above water.
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Kate O’Neill, founder of KO Insights, is an author and speaker focused on helping humanity prepare for an increasingly tech-driven future, and making technology better for business and for humans. Her work explores digital transformation from a human-centric approach, as well as how data and technology are shaping the future of meaningful human experiences. Her latest books are Tech Humanist: How You Can Make Technology Better for Business and Better for Humans (2018) and Pixels and Place: Connecting Human Experience Across Digital and Physical Spaces (2016).