Though incredibly goal-oriented for most my life, I largely gave them up 10 years ago when I realized that goals don't always lead to real change. Rather than trying to lose 10 pounds or set a revenue goal, I set a theme for the year, something to guide my learning, helping to fuel lasting change. I've also found the theme helpful when I'm going through a transition.
As a part of setting a theme for the coming year, I do a retrospective. Sometimes I sit down with a journal, taking notes. Other times I look through spreadsheets of my revenue and how I spent my time. I even look through my physical calendar. (yes, I'm old school) Mostly though, I meditate and ruminate on the past year. This is the result of my 2015 review.
2015 Theme: Boundaries
In December 2014, I did my first beach yoga class. As the waves lulled my ever-moving brain into submission, I relaxed into the moment. The yoga teacher invited us to be fearless with our practice. She urged us to relax the expectations we set for our bodies. After the class I thought a lot about expectations and even more about boundaries.
I kept thinking about boundaries, eventually making my 2015 theme. It wasn’t one I consciously wanted, but it was the one that kept coming back over and over again. Frankly, it was a little uncomfortable. I had solid boundaries so why did I need to focus on them again?
Given a propensity for over-responsibility, setting strong boundaries has been critical for me. When you lack strong boundaries, your business suffers. When I first started out, my boundaries were atrocious. My hunger for business allowed my boundaries to wobble and bend. You don't even want to know what I accepted as payment when I started. I'll write about it at some point.
Luckily, I quickly learned that having your own business makes stellar boundaries critical. Having worked on this skill over the years, I thought I had boundaries licked. Still, I trusted my instincts. So in 2015, I focused on the lines I drew.
Early in the year I discovered that my boundaries with others were solid—I stuck to my guns—even when others didn’t like it. The problem wasn’t boundaries with others — the problem was within me. I’m a notorious “and, and, and” person. I want everything—and I want it now. This habit meant trouble with internal boundaries. If I had a great idea, I followed it — even when I had 5 other projects. When I wanted to buy something, I did. I’m being a bit facetious but compared to where I am now, this is a fairly apt description of my attitude.
My theme also showed me where I needed more boundaries with my work. I'd worried about putting all my business eggs in one basket—even though it was a basket I’d been building for most of my career. I was holding onto side projects rather than focusing on a deeper, more important one. A few months in, it became clear why my instincts chose boundaries as a theme.
How I Bet On Myself In 2015
Focus. In the beginning of 2015, I was brimming with ideas. Too many ideas. Somewhere around May I got very clear that I wasn’t going to be successful at any of them unless I focused my attention on one. I picked Bet On Yourself. Outside of client work, I spent the entire summer focused on writing a first draft of the book. My deadline was XOXO, a festival for independent creators, held in mid-September. I printed the manuscript the night before I left. I’d been trying to write this book for over a year. Once I dropped the rest of my pet projects (ahem, distractions) the task was far easier.
Well-being. Chronic health issues that left me constantly fatigued lead me to go on the Whole30 eating plan in March. Whole30 has strict guidelines, but really, it's about paying attention to your relationship with food. The insights were astounding.
I tend to eat too little. Some foods disagree with my constitution no matter how much I love them (goodbye, beloved cheese). I even saw how easily I succumb to my workaholic ways, shunning self care. The shift in the way I treated myself lead me to kept going for 90 days. Though I’ve eased my eating a bit, Whole30 is now a way of life for me.
After spending most of 2014 with a foot in a surgical shoe due to injuries, I was looking forward to a healthy 2015. But I still struggled with my health due to chronic illness. I finally realized that my condition was something to be managed rather than wished away. Though it was disappointing to deal with these health issues, it helped me strengthen my boundaries.
Biggest Lesson Learned
Internal boundaries are just as important as external ones. This year the importance of outer and inner boundaries became utterly clear like a squeaky clean window. If you want real change, you have to look inside, not just outside.
What I did in 2015
- Got a bookkeeper and a strategic financial advisor for my business
- Started doing yoga again 5x/week
- Highest year of revenue
- Finished a Whole30 cycle and continued on for a total of 90 days
- Transformed my eating and relationship with food
- Wrote three essays for a popular blog
- Finally reached inbox zero (for the very first time)
Why Having a Theme Matters
By focusing on making deep change, I actually accomplished more than when I had long lists of goals and resolutions.
The irony is not lost on this reformed goal setter.
Really, all these accomplishments are secondary to what I learned by paying attention to my theme. Boundaries are closely linked to making choices which meant I made better ones. Solidifying my boundaries also shifted my confidence dramatically. I looked toward 2016 focused and clear.
In the third post in this series, I share my 2016 theme and how to put your theme to work.
Want to read about the research behind the problems with goals or learn how to set your own theme? Check out the Anti-Goals Guide.