Last year, one of my most significant accomplishments was to stop complaining—it has been much more difficult than I expected, but my quality of life improved immeasurably once I stopped griping. Before, I vocalized nearly every sensation of dissatisfaction. When something triggers me now, even if my mind presents a ready-made complaint, I say nothing. In fact, this project has shown me just how often complaints used to dominate my thoughts and words.
I began this project after doing a little math. An eighty-year lifespan works out to just 29,200 days—some of us get more while others receive fewer. That number may seem big at first, but try calculating how many days you have left before you hit 80. Of course, a long life isn’t necessarily a better life: you must also look at the quality of your life, something we will explore a bit here.
I trained myself not to complain because I believe it expresses an ingratitude for the day given to me. Small inconveniences don’t outweigh the gift of a day, a week, a month, or a year—even one that includes a pandemic. Each one is precious, as someday, the last grain of sand will topple into the bottom half of the hourglass.
2020 Will Change You
Time Magazine made Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the Person of the Year. My choice would have been COVID-19. We still have much to process about the pandemic, but I am confident that it is going to change us more than we can imagine, much like the Great Depression changed the people who lived through it. My grandmother, for example, raised five children by herself on a secretary’s salary. She poured the bacon grease into a jar to become salad dressing in the future. Hambones went into a large pot, boiled until all the meat fell off the bone so it could be used to make bean soup. Waste not, want not.
We might only be halfway across the river right now, and the current keeps taking us off course. But we have to keep going, even though we are tired and uncomfortable. When we look back, we will experience greater clarity about what’s essential in life and, if we are lucky, a greater appreciation for our real gifts.
I miss the road. I miss airplanes and hotels and getting together with a group of smart people to work on better results. But spending most of this year at home with my family was unbelievably valuable: it may not have happened without a pandemic, but it’s something we’ll continue in the future.
There is no hot without cold, no good without evil, and no up without down. Your experience of life is how you frame the events.
What to Do with a Year
In less than a week, you will reach the starting line of 2021, making this the perfect time to reflect on your past year and plan your next one. It’s a good idea to draft a long-term plan that covers years and even decades, but a year is the perfect length of time to make significant progress and, if necessary, change your trajectory.
For my own annual review, I write down a balance sheet: one list of assets (positives) and one of liabilities (negatives). There were many more positives than negatives for most of us, and recalling and writing them down will help you recognize all the things for which you should be grateful.
- What did you accomplish in 2020?
- Which of your goals did you achieve or exceed?
- What positive events created the meaningful memories you will carry forward?
- What did you do in 2020 that puts you in a better place going into 2021?
Take account of everything good in 2020.
Next, look at your liabilities.
- What did you fail to accomplish in 2020?
- What changes did you intend to make that didn’t get enough of your attention?
- What habits prevented you from the better results you were capable of creating?
- What caused you to waste time that you could have used to expand your assets?
You want to do this accounting of the past year before you work on your plan for next year, because it will help shape your 2021 Balance Sheet before the year even starts. You have a whole year to work on building that asset column, provided you use your time to bring your goals and ambitions to life. What do you want to see there in December 2021? Similarly, any year will have its share of negatives. While you may not know what your liabilities will be at the end of 2021, you know what you don’t want to show up there. Which of this year’s liabilities are you going to eliminate?
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