My thank you letter to 2020

This was far from a typical year, so it’s fitting this not be a typical post. This last column of 2020 is as much about my learning as yours.   

I’m just back from my annual ‘Reflection Retreat,’ three days of solitude during which I rested, recharged and reflected on 2020.

Before finalizing plans for the coming year, I want to squeeze all the learning from this one. Otherwise, all misses are sunk costs. Taking time to extract your lessons from the year has real ROI because it ensures that you never fail, you either win or you learn.    

[More: Year in review: Pandemic edition]

In this last column of a daunting year, I’m sharing the exercise I used to capstone this year — I wrote a thank you letter to 2020.  It may sound silly, but it I assure you it can produce striking insights.

You begin by listing out every person and situation that challenged you this year. When candid, this can take a few pages. Next, go down the list giving serious thought to what you learned from each item, only moving to the next item once you’ve noted all the learnings for which you can be genuinely grateful.  

Once done, you write out ‘Dear 2020, this year I’m grateful for…’ and you write out a letter thanking the year for each of the valuable lessons you learned and how it will help you experience greater success and satisfaction in the year ahead.

You conclude the letter with “In 2021, I’ll reap the full return from these lessons by…” and list out how you intend to use the learning and what actions you will take as a result in 2021. 

For the macho among you, Jocko Williams is a massive fan of gratitude journaling.  For the philosophical and the profit seekers, Harvard happiness researcher Shawn Anchor notes working from a positive state increases productivity 31% and boosts sales 37% and improves every other business outcome measured.

You might, for example, no longer resent the prospects who questioned your fees because they led you to clearly define your value, raise your fees accordingly and choose to work with a niche group of clients who are happy to pay for your trusted advice. 

For me, 2020 reinforced two lessons that are so basic they are almost always lost in the process of meeting the daily demands of running a firm. Your lessons for 2020 will be your own, but I think you might find mine feel familiar.

Deep work time makes a difference.

My greatest frustrations centered around disruptions to my ‘deep work’ schedule, and the resulting imperfections in execution.  

The top performing advisers I coach — those with two to three times growth working 25-30 hours a week and taking months off a year — all follow the focus-oriented regimen I coach, with schedules cycling between periods of deep work, recovery and training time.  

These advisers all had their best years ever in stark contrast to the thousands of advisers who I spoke to over the year who were seriously struggling to keep pace with the demands on their time.  

But even with all our efficiency, we too felt time was a stress point this year, which highlights how basic and necessary managing one’s time is to our overall success and well-being. It also reminds us how quick we can be to let it go when challenged by the very circumstances in which we most need to demand control over our time.

Imperfect action is the next best step. 

This year brought COVID-19, massive complexity and profound uncertainty to us all. It also brought an unprecedented amount of imperfect action on my part.   

In spite of no damage reports to speak of, the voices in my head responsibly took note of each imperfect action and more than usual attempted to remind me of the cost of said mistakes. 

With a team spread across three countries, four hospital stays and two surgeries in my family, two serious illnesses on our team and those 10 Air BNB stays I mentioned at the outset, I can easily cite the circumstances behind these imperfections.

But that’s not the learning. The learning came when I reflected on how I felt during those difficulties. In the moments of mayhem I reminded myself that imperfect action with best intent was the standard, not perfection. In those periods, in spite of wild discomfort, the value of imperfect action became so profoundly personal to me that I penned a column on it.

Like many, I initially resented the changes the pandemic thrust upon us, but I quickly came to look for the opportunities. I constantly reminded myself that taking imperfect action is actually the only path to the ‘more and better’ that calls to us. 

While it may feel easier to write 2020 a Dear John letter, I invite you to instead take the time to write a thank you letter to ground you in the lessons that will put you into high gear as you head into 2021. 

If your letter is anything like mine, you’ll  likely realize that your biggest blessings usually come wrapped in sandpaper.  Here’s hoping 2021 brings a finer grit variety to us all.

Stephanie Bogan is a business strategist, high-performance practice coach and founder of Limitless Adviser Coaching. Register here to attend her new webinar on the 2021 Coaching program. Learn more here.

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