The Days are Long but the Years are Short – How to Reflect on a Decade

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The end of the year is a great time for reflection, the end of the decade, is the sort of milestone that only comes around a handful of times in our adult life and is special indeed. This is a rare chance – if we choose to take it – to look back, reflect on what’s changed, what’s worked, what hasn’t and all the things that lie somewhere in between. A decade is the sort of span of time when dreams can be realised, enterprises grown out of nothing, families started and communities established. It’s the sort of period of time where you really can put a “ding” in your small part of the universe, if you choose to. What have you really spent your last 10 years doing and what stands out, how far have you come, what will stand the test of time?

The question is, will you take the chance to reflect or just let it pass you by?

Sure you say, I know that and I’ll reflect at some point, on the train home one day or one evening on the sofa perhaps. But REAL useful reflection ought to be a bit more deliberate than that. I think the following steps can all help:

  1. It can help a lot if it is guided in some way (for example around a specific set of questions that you answer one by one before moving on) . Don’t overthink the questions though, quick-fire is your friend here
  2. A decade is a long time, and a lot happens. There are plenty of lists to remind you of all the things we take for granted today that didn’t exist 10 years ago (spolier alert, it includes Uber, Instagram, One Direction and the word Brexit). It might help ease your way into it by reminding yourself of some basics – where were you 10 years ago (physically and metaphorically), can you remember any of your hopes, goals and aspirations from back then?
  3. Actually writing answers down provides a fascinating record to come back to and – if you’re anything like me- might give you a chance of remembering it more than 5 minutes later. Even reviewing answers 6 months later is incredibly interesting. Imagine how fascinating it would be to review your answers in ten years time. Don’t pass up a great chance to write a little message to your future self.
  4. Doing it with others, and revealing your answers can be really helpful in actually internalizing the thoughts, and following through on any actions, and deepening out the insights through a bit of discussion (now I know it might not be everyone’s idea of fun at the christmas lunch table … but humour me)

So here’s some of my favourite questions to spark off a bit of a retrospective on both a professional and personal level. These questions work pretty well anytime, but have added resonance when looking back over a long period such as an entire decade. I’d love to hear any other ideas you have! These aren’t really specific to the end of the decade, but that just happens to be a really good trigger to ask yourself some deep questions on what really stands out and what has mattered …

The questions are deliberately designed to be a little open ended and spark off ideas so don’t over-think the question, just go with responses that come to mind. The magnitude of the task of reviewing an entire decade can get in your way here and be the enemy, best not to let that happen if possible by going with your quick responses.

  1. Name your big 2 or 3 professional highlights of the last 10 years
  2. What were your 2 or 3 professional lowlights of the last 10 years?
  3. What’s that one thing you just didn’t quite manage to get done?
  4. Which project or piece of work pushed you the most?
  5. What book or publication had the most lasting impact on you?
  6. Can you think of one thing that you changed your mind on at work?
  7. What’s the one thing that surprised you the most?
  8. Which colleague or professional contact did you really build a relationship with that really mattered?
  9. What is one big thing you learnt over the last 10 years?
  10. What’s one thing that’s a big deal that you didn’t see coming 10 years ago?

And from a personal perspective:

  1. Which people have you most enjoyed spending time with?
  2. Which activities most made you feel “off the clock” where you lost track of time?
  3. Which moments from the last decade will you remember in 10 years time?
  4. What thing (however small) have you made or built that will stand the test of time?
  5. When you look back what made you most proud these last 10 years?
  6. What’s that thing you were always hoping to do but just didn’t get round to it?
  7. What’s one thing that made you laugh the most?
  8. Which of your hobbies or pastimes gave you most satisfaction over these last 10 years?
  9. Which place that you visited had the biggest impact on you?
  10. With whom have you really developed your relationship?

I hope you all can think of some good fulfilling answers to many of these questions, but of course it’s only human nature that they will leave another deeper feeling within us and that is of the projects that went unfinished, the challenges that fell by the wayside or went un-started and the ideas that never went anywhere. This is natural. But just have a think about what you want to have on that list in another decade’s time. It’ll be here before you know it.


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