It doesn’t seem like we’re in the habit of asking each other this question around the holidays. We ask things like “what are your plans for the holiday?” and even get so bold sometimes as to ask our friends about their new year’s resolutions. But rarely “How was your year?”
Perhaps this question seems too sweeping, or too intrusive. Perhaps we don’t ask others… because we aren’t sure how we would answer it ourselves.
Before we rush into 2018 with fresh goals, I’d like to offer a framework for looking back, to determine what kind of year you actually had. I built this framework as I was scanning through end-of-year emails, sending out some final invoices (and payments to partners) and reflecting on the totality of 2017.
There are the three lenses I’m using to determine my success and the success of Helpfully this year: Financial (return on investment), Memories (fulfilling moments) and Impact (leaving a dent in the universe).
Financial - This lens isn’t exciting or new. But it is as important as it is straightforward. Did you meet your financial goals? Are you reviewing your Quickbooks statements now, instead of waiting until tax season?
However you measure the financial health of your business and your personal financial situation — whether by monthly recurring revenue, users, clients, revenue, profit, or portfolio gains — you need a hard number as the foundation of the business. I’m inspired by Profit First, a book by Mike Michalowicz. His view of why and how to measure profits is helping me get clear on what I mean when I say our business is "doing well".
This is also the place where you’ll need to assess your partners and vendors. And the oodles of software subscriptions you have (okay, that’s me projecting... maybe your 2017 wasn’t filled with productivity and operations software. I have a ton of software systems that I use to run Helpfully, so I’m carefully weighing each one this week). Are they working for you from a financial perspective?
Take a moment to figure out if the same things that worked (or didn’t work) for your business in 2017 will continue to work in 2018. This is an opportunity to challenge your own past assumptions, and enter 2018 better prepared.
Memory - By nature, people reflect on their year through what memories they made, and the personal and/or familial side of their lives. I was reflecting on all of the fun memories I made this year that are invisible in Quickbooks (or Cushion, another planning app I like). It’s easier to measure the dollars and cents of your year, but there’s not an app that shows the emotional ‘bank account.’ When it hit me. There is an app for that. It's your camera.
One of my favorite ways to really gauge my relative level of fulfillment is by opening the photo app on my phone and scroll through it. Start in January and just roll through the year. When you do this, choose the photos that make you recall truly “epic” days. This year I got to go to Epicurrence and join an amazing community. I got some wonderful surfing days in. I got a lot of time with my family. I have great photos of all of these.
A sense of meaningful contentment is key to a good year! Take note of the high-quality events or days when you really felt like you were living your best life and expressing or sharing that best self over the last year. How many photos did you choose? If you only notched a few… Does that mean you need to adjust where you’re spending your time? Or, it could just mean you need to take more pictures?
A word of caution: It might be tempting to run through Instagram and build your personal ‘top nine.’ But remember, this activity is taking stock, not the “highlight reel.” Just as you need to review financial losses in addition to profits, you need to view the whole year, not just the very best parts. The leaky pipe or a fender-bender (or worse), the photos of the mundane, those are important too. Sometimes the blurry photos are the best at capturing real life, even if they’ll never be shared on social media.
Impact - This is a separate lens to analyze our time together on this planet and it’s one of my favorite aspects of running Helpfully. We can get overly introspective about ourselves, our goals, our failures, and our feelings. Even financial impacts are, in some real way, internal to your business or job. But to really determine the success of a year, we must consider our outward influence as well.
Through Helpfully, I get to have impact in the world. Alongside a great team and great clients, Helpfully gets to bring new things that should exist into the world.
I asked myself, who did we positively impact this year? Was there anyone we negatively impacted? Family members, coworkers, young people who may look up to us, even strangers? When using this lens, consider what wisdom were you able to share with the world. Did you spend most of your time fishing, or teaching others to fish? Personally, this year my impact-meter felt quite high because of this one moment pictured below - feedback from a young student after a classroom presentation I made:
So even though you usually can’t answer the question “How was your year” with a satisfactorily simple “good” or “bad”, it’s my experience that if you had a generally positive year you probably nailed two of the three lenses above. If you made a lot of money and had positive impact on many people around you, that’s probably a pretty good year, and in 2018 you’ll focus on ways to be more intrinsically fulfilled. On the other hand, if you ONLY felt fulfilled about your work (for example the paintings that you created in your studio, but never shared them with anyone, or sold any of them), you probably wouldn’t feel like it was a very successful year either.
So that’s my framework. What’s yours? How was your 2017?