Since the passing of my father, the Hyphen Nation has made bi-annual trips to visit our family in Neosho, Missouri. Despite the 18-hour road trip, the family looks forward to heading west. The drive could be shorter, but we’re traveling with kids… and a dad with a teeny bladder. We visit for a week during the summer and for a week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The summer trip is full of fun with cousins, swimming at Aunt Karen’s pool, checking out the county fair, family pictures and an afternoon visiting the mouse (the one with pizza and arcade games… not the one with the big castle). The Christmas trip is very different; no cousins to play with, Aunt Karen and Uncle Joe are out of town, and swimming would be followed by a hypothermic trip to the ER. Instead, we read a lot, ride through town looking for Christmas lights, watch movies, and visit with Granddaddy and Grandmother indoors. If we’re lucky, there is at least one afternoon of playing in the snow.
The busyness of the pre-Christmas retail season doesn’t allow much margin for this business owner to celebrate and reflect on Jesus the way I would like. I feel like I have to fight for every unhurried holiday experience. The baristas are bustling at the coffee bar with endless cups of pumpkin spice and gingerbread lattes. The music staff is assembling drum kits, tuning guitars and sending them out the door as soon as they come in. Students are performing at Christmas events on the downtown square… event after event after event. Then come the parties with family members, the ones with business associates, the ones with employees, the ones with close friends, and all the other ones that sneak their way onto the calendar. By December 25th, I’m exhausted.
Really, it’s nothing unique. I’m just another guy trying to balance family, friends, faith and business demands in the midst of the holidays. It’s all very pedestrian. Nevertheless, it’s busy and loud and taxing.
Every year, I look forward to the quietness of the Christmas trip. While in Missouri, I inevitably end up reviewing the past year and looking forward to the coming one. For a week, I have hours begging to be filled with reading, praying, journaling, conversations and movies.
In the moments alone with my thoughts, my contemplative self kicks into high gear. What goals did I achieve in the past year? Where did I fail to do what I set out to do? I am incredibly goal oriented, so this exercise is part therapy and part torture for me. I often look at my long list of unachieved goals and ask myself, “Why do I even try? I fail more than I succeed.” In these moments, I need a healthy dose of perspective. My encouragement usually comes from my wife and scripture. Here are the three things I do to survive my Year In Review pity party.
1. Celebrate wins and refuse to sulk over losses.
I hate to admit that my success rate with annual goals isn’t awesome. If it were a batting average I might could play in the major league, but only achieving three out of ten goals doesn’t sit well with me. As I pour over the seven goals that I failed to accomplish or only partially achieved, it is easy to completely forget about the three that I knocked out of the park. My failures want to overshadow my successes. However, when I shift my focus from my failures to my successes, my perspective changes completely. When I set goals, I set significant ones. To accomplish even one goal from this list is a milestone victory and every success deserves a celebration. Setting and achieving goals is not a game of averages. I’m trying to do things that change my life and the lives of those around me for the better, not get a good grade in algebra. Every achievement is just that… a win. Any goal left unachieved is not a failure, but an opportunity to grow that remains on the table. Just because the year is over doesn’t mean that the goal has expired. To set ten goals that matter and achieve three is better than setting ten that are insignificant and achieving them all… or more commonly, to set no goals and simply drift through life. I choose to celebrate my wins and not sulk over my losses. I am going somewhere important, even if I am getting there slowly.
2. Take careful inventory and be thankful.
As time marches on, it is easy to forget how much has changed in the past year or two… or six. As a first-time entrepreneur bootstrapping a risky business model in a small town, every year we do more than survive is a reason to party. Maturing as a business and as a businessman means moving from one set of problems to a more challenging set of problems. So, as we grow, we are constantly overcoming obstacles. Every problem that has been solved deserves a celebration. I could constantly sing with John and Paul, “It’s getting better all the time.” There may be goals that were not accomplished this year, but this year was better than last year. We served more customers, provided more jobs, expanded into more sectors of our market, and made a bigger difference in our community. Did some aspects of the past year really stink? Sure. But considering that half of all new businesses fail before the five year mark (and that’s a conservative number), the fact that my business is thriving is a massive reason to be encouraged.
Not every year will be a growth year. Even in difficult times, thankfulness is a game-changer. It is important to take inventory of the contents of our lives, not just our businesses, and give thanks for all of it. We enjoy the good and grow from the bad. All good gifts come from above, and every circumstance contains a gift if we are willing to see and receive it. Whether this was a year of growth or decline, consider the contents of your life with a thankful attitude and you will find more to be thankful for than you expected.
3. Remember that life is more than a list of goals.
This is where Jesus and John Lennon come to my rescue. John sang it to his son Sean, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Jesus preached it to the Jews on the Mount of Olives (and to me today) in Matthew 6, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
I want to live a life of accomplishment, a life of success and significance. However, in my striving and struggling for these things, I can easily forget the most important thing: to live the life I have. Jesus came to give us more than survival, even more than success. He promises abundant life. This life will not come from my list of goals, even if I achieve every one of them. This life springs from a spiritual source deep inside the believer. I do not want to live from my list of goals. I want to live from this deeper place, a place full of life that cannot be contained in a mere 80 years… or 80 accomplished goals.
As I review this past year and wrestle with the books I didn’t read, the weight I didn’t lose and the miles I didn’t hike, I choose to celebrate, to be thankful, and to really live. Here’s to a great new year and every lesson to be learned, win to be earned, and adventure to undertake.
Do you take time for an annual Year In Review? Do you set goals at the beginning of the new year? How do you deal with unachieved goals?