December can be a month filled with mixed emotions. We spend time reflecting on an entire year of personal and professional experiences. While for some of us, 2014 was a year of major success, for others, life’s challenges proved difficult to endure. That’s why when it comes to the month of December, any negative experiences are likely to become amplified by the ritualistic closing of one year and opening of the next. Sometimes we let the reminder of our failures, mistakes and stalled progress get us down. Why? Because while it is easy to celebrate the goals we’ve accomplished, those that we haven’t, are much harder to swallow.
Now it might seem easy to retreat to your couch, watch Elf on repeat and drown your sorrows with spiked hot cocoa, while telling yourself you’ll “wipe the slate clean in the new year.” It might also seem easy to mentally block 2014 and make countless New Year’s resolutions, hoping for better luck in 2015. But before you surrender to your snuggie, there is an opportunity for you to really look back on the year. Identify what mistakes you made, or risks you took that flopped; face those truths, and learn from them.
Let’s reframe the New Year’s resolution. It’s a bad cliché to use the term “clean slate” to describe the New Year. Just because your planner reads January 1, doesn’t mean December 31 didn’t happen. It also means the status of your life from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day most likely didn’t change. It’s that simple. Nothing earth shattering happened, your life’s slate is still in tact, and you’re still in control. So instead of making resolutions that mask your failures – instead of “starting over” – embrace your original efforts and build on them.
The first step is to acknowledge that your 2014 plan may not have gone 100 percent according to that plan. With that acknowledgement, comes the difficult task of letting go of what people think. This is something that even the strongest women struggle to deal with, but is necessary to move forward. Take Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg as an example. Before she experienced success as an executive and best selling author of Lean In, Sandberg experienced challenges in her marriage. She said, “Being willing to admit that this was a mistake and that we both needed to go in a different direction was actually important, and it got [me] to worry less about what other people think. Because at the end of the day, you can’t live your life by what other people think.”
After admission, comes the learning process. Failure is actually a key to success – in every aspect of life – and is a valuable opportunity to identify areas of weakness. Your mistakes may end up rebounding you faster and farther than you’d have gone if you hadn’t experienced them. Founder of SPANX, Sara Blakely, actually encourages failure. “The most meaningful advice I ever received was my dad reframing my definition of failure growing up, by encouraging me to fail.”
Lastly, you must trust your own journey, as hard as that is to admit or understand right now. Reshma Saujani, founder of tech nonprofit, Girls Who Code says, “You have to fail fast and fail hard.” For example, “apply for a job you’re not qualified for, now. Learn from the journey rather than trying to do a job before you get it.” Moving forward, take risks and own your past. Step out of your moments of worry and think about the bigger picture. You don’t know what experiences today will shape your future, and your most significant disappointments may determine the rest of your life.
As the end of the year comes to a close, our emotional and mental strength is surely tested. During the whirlwind of holiday parties and cookie exchanges, take moments to enjoy the positives in your life. When it comes to reflecting on the negatives, the sooner you acknowledge and learn, the sooner you will be able to embrace life as a journey and enjoy the ride – with all of its ups and even its downs.