Since I switched from full-time employee in tech companies to freelancer over one year ago, I’ve discovered that my life wasn’t mainly about work. I’ve learnt to take a better care of myself. I’ve slept more, I’ve exercised more, I’ve started meditating. I’ve took interest in personal developments topics. I’ve put a strong focus on following my passions in freestyle sports. Lastly, I’ve also let loose and had a lot of fun with my friends.
But at the same time, I lost one of the key advantages of working in a company with a manager who takes care of you: Work-wise, I don’t have someone who gives me goals and drives me in achieving them. In the companies I worked for, I had the chance to get annual, mid-year or even quarterly reviews. In those reviews, my manager and I would assess my performance on a certain number of criteria but also set goals for the next 6 to 12 months as well as review if I had achieved my previous goals.
Although I’m not a fan of too much “grading” (it reminds me of school), I have to say those reviews were useful to give me some perspective on my professional evolution: What role could I pretend to have in the company in one or two years from now? What skills could I develop? And what do I need to reach it?
Being a freelancer, the borders between “work” and “life” started to get blurrier than before. Some of the free time I gained vs. my full-time job is now dedicated to side projects or taking care of myself.
So this year, I needed some way to review what I’d overall achieved in my recent life, and set goals for my near future.
It’s not about making your whole life about measuring performance
Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to turn this into an overly scientific planning and performance review of my entire life. For life to be enjoyable, I believe not everything shouldn’t be over-planned. Many good things happen out of pure chance. But some of the “important but not urgent” things often never become a reality because of a lack of clear life goals: We tend to procrastinate on those things (if you’re interested in the topic, if you haven’t done it yet read the very good blog post “Why Procrastinators Procrastinate” on Wait But Why).
I recently read the excellent book Search Inside Yourself — inspired by the 2-day training provided at Google— which provides a method on how to integrate mindfulness and emotional intelligence in your daily life and your work. The book suggest 2 exercises that I found really useful to understand what’s driving me in my life and where I want to go.
The “core values”
In this exercise, you come up with your 5 top values. The book doesn’t give you any concrete tips to help you find what your values are, but the slide deck available on the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute website provides some guidelines:
- List the top 3 people who inspire you the most in your life. They can be anyone, from celebrities to family (5 minutes)
- Then for each person, write what traits you admire, and in what situations they displayed these traits (5 minutes)
- Then at the end of the exercise, you should find common values between those 3 people. Create a list of 5 core values that you hold.
Discovering your ideal future
In Search Inside Yourself, Chade-Meng Tan explains it’s much easier to be motivated in life and at work if you can picture where you want to go. Most people usually have a very blurry idea of where they see themselves 5 years from now.
Here’s the question Search Inside Yourself suggests you to ask yourself to discover your ideal future:
“If everything in my life, starting today, meets or exceeds my most optimistic expectations, what will my life be like in 5 years?”
And here are some related questions to help you project yourself in 5 years from now:
— Who are you and what are you doing?
— How do you feel?
— How are your relationships with others?
SIY recommends to spend at least 7 minutes writing down your answers to the above questions. I found the exercise really mind-blowing: It helped me clarify where I want to focus my energy at least for the upcoming year.
Identifying the important topics in your life
Doing the exercises above enabled me to identify topics that are important in my life. These are the following, and I’m pretty sure they will resonate with a lot of people:
- Work: Am I working on fun and exciting projects? Am I developing the skills that I want?
- Side projects: Do I have enough time to explore side projects and turn them from ideas to reality?
- Passions: Do I dedicate enough time to my passions / hobbies?
- Fun: Is my life fun enough?
- Friends & Family: Do I spend enough time to connect with the people who matter in my life?
- Love: Is my love life satisfying?
- Money: Am I in a stable financial situation? Do I manage save money fur future projects?
- Personal development: Am I in good health? Am I learning new things?
Being grateful for what has been achieved this year
As a said in the beginning of this post, I’ve achieved a lot this year. But my unsatisfied nature still found ways for me to be frustrated because of the things I didn’t manage to achieve.
Search Inside Yourself explains why most humans often find themselves in this situation: that’s the negativity bias. It’s the notion that something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person’s behavior and cognition than something equally emotional but negative. According to Search Inside Yourself, the ratio is roughly 3:1 for an average human being. It means that a negative emotion or event will have 3x more impact than a positive one.
To counterbalance this psychological tricky I was playing on myself, I spent some time listing all the positive things that happened in my life and the things I’m proud of having achieved this year. This significantly helped me to be more self-aware.
Deciding what to focus on next year
As a result of all those 3 exercises above, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to focus on next year. It’s either doubling down on some of the topics I’ve been already focusing on this year, or start focusing more on topics that were left aside.
Using some personal development resources and especially some exercises and advice from the book Search Inside Yourself, I managed to be proud of what I’ve achieved this year and to get clarity on what I want to focus on next year. Why journaling? Because I’ve found writing ideas down to be way more efficient than just keeping them in a corner of your mind. They are more real, because you have to face them. Therefore they have way more chances to actually come to life one day.