‘We do not learn from experience…. We learn from reflecting on experience’ – John Dewey
As we madly dash towards the end of the year, it is all too easy to become caught up in the silliness and business of the season. Christmas parties, end of year work and school activities; annual catch-ups and break ups; Christmas day planning and coordinating are all vying for our attention and time. Before we know it we have closed out one crazy year and are fixing our gaze firmly on the year ahead.
Amidst all of the busyness and celebrations it is however so important to take time to critically reflect on the year that has passed. What do you deserve a ‘high-five’ for; what were the challenges; what are the opportunities that lie ahead; and most of all WHY, WHY, WHY?
Taking the time to critically reflect on your year and career to date opens up the pathway to higher level learning, deeper engagement and provides the platform for informed and confident decision making. James Zull once said ‘ it is hard to make meaning of experience unless it engages our emotions’. So the exercise of reflecting on your previous experiences and subsequent level of fulfilment is critical if you are to create a career and business you love.
Reflective thinking and judgment are powerful tools for you to keep in your leadership toolkit. Not only are they effective catalysts for deep and lasting learning, but also vital elements in supporting change; transformation and growth at both an individual and business level. However they also often prove to be challenging and unfamiliar to many. As leaders our challenge is to create a climate that promotes this level of reflection at a personal level as well as a project and business level. To do this effectively we need to assist individuals not only understand the importance of reflective thinking but also provide the frameworks and strategies to do this.
So what are the key elements for critical reflection to use when thinking back on my career over the past year?
- Feelings: What you thinking and feeling? What were your reactions and feelings toward the events of the year? What did you enjoy, what were you challenged by? What events offered you a higher degree of frustration, fulfillment? Rather than analysing these feelings simply recall what your thoughts and emotions were in response to these events.
- Description: What is your current situation? This is a factual account of your year What were the major events that occurred throughout the year that have lead you to be in the position your are today. Don’t make any judgments or try to draw conclusions, simply describe.
- Evaluation: What is working / not working? At this point you can make value judgments. What was good or bad about these experiences and outcomes?
- Analysis: How is this part of the big picture? This is a crucial part of developing your career plan. Understanding and knowing how your past experience is influencing and complementing your future plan ensures that you are moving forward and not stagnating. What sense can you make of the experience over the past year? Were there other factors at play? Were other people’s experiences similar to yours?
- Conclusion: What are your options? What can be concluded about your own specific, unique, personal situation or way of working. What do you need to do differently to ensure growth and change occur in the coming year? Is it time to consolidate / step up / change what you do or how you do it?
- Action: What steps do you need to take? If we are to create genuine growth and/or change in our careers, we need to understand what steps we need to take on the basis of what we have learnt over the past year. What can we do to leverage our experiences to maximise opportunity in the coming year?
As we enter the end of the year, it is a natural time to reflect personally on where we are at with our careers and businesses. I would encourage you to schedule some time over the break period to do this and make it more than a list of what merely remains unfinished from the past year, but an in-depth review that will support both your personal and career success and fulfillment in 2015.