This article first appeared on Happify
Congratulations: You survived 2020! That’s no small feat, regardless of how little or how much you were affected by its events. Take a moment to take that in. You’ll need it as you plan ahead for a year that holds both hope and uncertainty.
As I began reflecting on this piece, I was taken back to the time I was pregnant with my twins. It was the year 2000. I was nearing the end of my second trimester, and feeling excited and energized about what was to come. Much as we all did around this time last year, my husband and I planned for the best year of our lives.
And then, my world flipped over. At a regular checkup, it was discovered that I was close to going into labor—and that night, I actually did. The doctors managed to stall the delivery with medications, but I’d been shaken to my core. And all I could see ahead was uncertainty and struggle. Hospitalized and bedridden, I tried to make sense of my world. Collectively, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing as we’ve sheltered in place, dealt with our emotions, and watched our old lives slip through our fingers.
I think I grew a decade in the weeks that followed. My earlier excitement around how I wanted to decorate the nursery and what I would ask for at my baby shower was replaced by a more adult sense of agency. I hooked my sight on the vision I had for my family, and planted my feet firmly on the ground of reality. And from there, I took one step at a time; sometimes, one contraction at a time, to brave through the final trimester.
We all grew a decade in 2020. Our goals from yesteryear may feel immature, like those of an excited, emotional, and ambitious adolescent. We’re seeing the world through the eyes of an older, wiser adult. One who can visualize a better tomorrow, and one who is ready for the hero’s journey ahead.
To set goals that harness the slow metamorphosis of 2020, and step into 2021 and beyond as the best version of yourself, here are five distinctions that will serve you:
Must vs. Should
Get clear on the domains of life that are important to you. Too often, we engage in domains that other people value, or that society rewards. It’s a draining journey that leads to an unfulfilling outcome. Perhaps the pandemic shifted your priorities somewhat. Perhaps you realized you want to be more involved in your community. Or that you need to actively take care of your physical health. Think of domains tied to what poet David Whyte calls the three marriages of life: Self, Work, and Relationships.
Best vs. Perfect
Create a vision of the best version of each domain. Be mindful of confusing the best with the perfect. The best version of a certain relationship may be less than ideal simply because you have no control over the other person. Or the best version of your financial success may not include riches and cruises, because that’s not what you most value. The clearer you are on what this vision is for you, the more it will draw you forward, keep you guided, and provide you with a safe landing when things don’t go well.
Driven vs. Drifting
Rate yourself on each domain. One way of doing this is to draw a circle that represents your life, with equal slices for each domain. The outer edge of the slice represents the vision you just created; the part toward the center represents where the domain is as bad as it possibly can be. Then, color in each slice at the point where you currently stand in this domain. So, for example, if you’re closer to realizing the vision you’ve set for yourself, you’d color closer to the outer edge. If you’ve made some strides but haven’t yet reached your goal, you’d fill in the middle of the slice. I like doing it this way because when you color in your rating, the ones that need your greatest attention jump out at you. Choose three to five to work on, no more. When everything becomes a priority, nothing stays a priority.
Realistic vs. Ideal
With this clarity, it’s time to set goals. Goals are the milestones you’ll reach on the journey toward your vision. When things are uncertain or challenging, our goals need to be small and not too far in the future, so our wins keep us motivated. We also need to set ourselves reminders, know how we’ll deal with the challenges that may come up, and create a system of support and accountability, so our emotions don’t derail us. In a world where so much is out of our control, it’s important to be on our own side!
Whole vs. Divided
Any meaningful goal has a spiritual aspect to it, one that’s aligned with a higher version of ourselves. And yet, there’s a human inside, us as well, with desires, impulses, fears, and emotions. Some call it the soul—that essential part of our individuality. We have to take it along on the journey if we want to live with both joy and meaning. Think of who you are at your most authentic. What makes you come alive? What are your superpowers? And based on these answers, what will you do more of, and what will you let go of?
In Kafta on the Shore, author Haruki Murakami writes: “And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
He may as well have been talking about 2020. And our lives beyond it.