An end-of-year inventory can be a powerful tool for ongoing career goals and growth in higher ed--take some time to evaluate your progress this year.

The most important thing you’ll do for your career this holiday season


An end-of-year inventory can be a powerful tool for ongoing career growth

Key points:

The holiday season can leave us frazzled. It’s the most wonderful time of the year—and the most exhausting. The last six weeks of the year are a blur, with countless holiday events, never-ending lists of things to do and to buy, balanced with the importance of spending time with family. Each of us is juggling so many responsibilities that it can be easy to get lost in the rush.

In the midst of your obligations to others, don’t forget about your commitment to yourself and your future.

The end of the year is a pivotal time to look back at all you’ve accomplished and consider what lies ahead. Awareness and intentionality are essential to your professional growth, making this an important time to reflect, slow down, and zoom out.

The most successful professionals establish rhythms of reflection. We all recognize the significance of strategic planning for our institutions, but often neglect this all-important practice in our own lives. The good news is that you don’t need to convene a board meeting or form subcommittees to undertake a professional inventory. Manageable steps make a difference. Don’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. A few hours spread across the month of December can have a profound impact on the trajectory of your career.

Set aside an hour or two, brew yourself a warm beverage, find a cozy spot, and spend some time asking yourself these questions:

  • What were my biggest accomplishments of this year? Recall the things you are most proud of. Consider the feedback you received from others—sometimes we undervalue our most meaningful achievements.
  • What was the biggest surprise of this year? Curveballs reveal our perspective and the opportunities that may be opening up before us.
  • What challenges did this year bring? Difficulties highlight our points of stress and hone our strengths.
  • How did my response show growth? How did you meet the challenge better than you would have five years ago? Avoid all-or-nothing thinking that sees either a failure or a success.
  • How can my response to challenges continue to improve? Telling yourself you will “just do better” is not helpful. Be as objective and specific as possible. Take the posture of a thoughtful coach, not a disapproving headmaster. 
  • What habits or practices are holding me back? Sometimes we’re well aware of habits that we need to let go. Other times, it’s harder to spot, since it may be a practice that served you well at a different season in your career. Try to view your situation from an outside perspective. You may even consider getting some feedback from a trusted colleague or mentor.
  • What professional aspirations have I been putting off? Our ongoing commitments consume our attention so much that our dreams and goals get pushed to the margins. Is this the time to be decisive and bold?
  • What additional resources do I need to grow? List the training, collaborators, and equipment that you need to unlock the next level of professional growth.
  • Where are my goals unrealistic? Setting poorly conceived goals is self-sabotage. Once you’ve articulated ways to improve your approach, clarified your vision for the future, enumerated your goals, and identified resources to get there, take a step back and consider your list honestly. Prune and prioritize your action items to make them attainable.

I find it most helpful to use a two-stage process for end-of-year reflection. Spend one session allowing yourself to explore and imagine. Shift from one question to another as something sparks your interest. Take a break for a few days or even a few weeks and then return with fresh eyes. Take the open-ended ideas you had last time and make the concrete and actionable. Two 60-90-minute sessions is all it takes to greet 2024 with energy, focus, and strategy.

An end-of-year inventory can be a powerful tool for ongoing career growth. Allow your reflections to build from year to year by using a dedicated notebook or file on your computer. You can garner valuable lessons through an annual retrospective. With some intentionality, you can make the most of what you’ve learned to make 2024 a better year, both professionally and personally.

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