Your Year End Review

By Caitlin Williams

Given the staggering workplace and economic challenges of 2009, it makes good sense that many of us can't wait for 2010 to start.  We yearn to be optimistic about the new year, and put resolutions, hopes and plans in place to make certain that next year will be different from the one that's just ending.  But in our eagerness to put this year and its anxieties and disappointments behind us, we may fail to gain the wisdom that these last 12 months have taught us.

The Value of Comprehensive Reflection

Whether your organization experienced a budget crunch or a downsizing, or whether you personally experienced a layoff, a missed promotion or fewer opportunities to grow and expand your own career in the ways you had hoped, taking a comprehensive look at how you spent your work life this past year will better position you to grow your career in the year ahead. Just as Bill Bridges has taught us for many years now, times of transition represent priceless opportunities to reflect on what is ending, and to better understand the disorientation we experience as we move toward whatever new beginnings we hope to embrace.  This same perspective about transitions can be applied to our own professional development as we close out 2009 and prepare for the start of 2010.  Why not follow the lead of organizations, large scale initiatives and thoughtful leaders everywhere who do their own "year-end review" to take stock of lessons learned and to better prepare for tomorrow?

The section that follows offers some questions to guide you as you do your own year-end review and reflect on the activities, skill-building opportunities, and connections that have been a part of your everyday work routine and professional development efforts over the past 12 months.  To get the most out of this review, gather your appointment calendar from 2009, any products or new initiatives you worked on, classes or seminars you attended, presentations you made, performance reviews you received, letters of appreciation, and any records of your community involvement.  

Now, set aside a couple hours of uninterrupted time so you can think deeply about how you have spent this past year of your life and give this review the attention it deserves.  This is not an activity to be squeezed in between appointments or done while eating lunch at your desk.  Just because we can multi-task doesn't mean we should do so indiscriminately.  Research has shown that the quality of our efforts may suffer when we attend to multiple tasks at one time.  This review deserves your time - it is your opportunity to thoughtfully reflect on how you have grown, changed and learned over this past year - and it can be your compass for guiding you in the new year.  If there was ever a time when we needed a compass to guide our careers, that time is now. 

Here are seven questions to guide you in your own year-end review: 

  1. List all the professional development opportunities you have participated in during the past year. Your list can include conferences you attended, and webinars, podcasts, or CDs you listened to. These activities may have been sponsored by your organization, or they may have been ones you initiated. Next to each item on this list, write in a few words summarizing what you learned. Push yourself here - if the topic was a new one, ask yourself what you learned that you can incorporate into your own work. If the topic was one you already had knowledge of, ask yourself what you learned that changed the way you previously thought, or how it updated information you already had on the topic. And if you believe you learned nothing new from this activity, ask yourself what questions remain unanswered for you, or determine where else you can go to better gain new knowledge that you can leverage in your work.
  2. Out of all the new connections you made this past year, consider five people who have impacted you the most - those people whose words, ideas, philosophies or work has stood out for you. What most influenced you? How has your connection with them changed how you go about your work? Your life? What more would you like to ask these people? Learn from them? How can you continue these connections in the new year?
  3. What skill, competency or quality has someone else observed in you over this past year that you were not aware of before? When you were acknowledged for this skill, competency or quality, what was your response? Have you been able to incorporate this strength into how you see yourself as a professional?
  4. What contribution have you made over this past year that you are proudest of? It may be a contribution you made at work, in your community, in your professional association or within your circle of family or close friendships. What makes this contribution so important for you? How have you grown by making this contribution?
  5. What risk(s) have you taken, either professionally, personally, or as a community member over this past year that surprised you? Whether or not this risk was "successful" in the eyes of others, what did you learn about yourself from taking this risk?
  6. Of all the values you say you hold dear, which value has most shaped the way you have gone about your work this past year? Does this value bring out the best in you and your beliefs? If it does, how can this value continue to be a compass moving you toward the life and the work you want to pursue? Are there other values you believe are equally or more important that you would like to use to guide you going forward?
  7. As you reflect on all the different facets of your job and all the work-related activities that you have participated in over the past 12 months, consider which ones you approached with the most wholeheartedness. Which ones made you feel most alive? Which ones did you dive into without holding back and without feeling it was "work" that drained you? Consider the activities and the people you worked with that truly resonated with your best and brightest self. Poet David Whyte and author David Steindl-Rast remind us of the value in finding and pursuing work that enriches and expands us. By identifying the work that is most meaningful to us, we can begin to seek out more opportunities to "opt in" rather than "burn out".

Consider this year-end review as a gift you give to yourself.  Taking the time and effort to thoughtfully reflect on these elements of your own career development can help you appreciate the hard work you've done and the ways you've grown.  The wisdom you gain from this exercise can make you even more helpful to the clients you serve. 

Additionally, teaching your clients to do a thoughtful and detailed review will give them a better sense of their capabilities and help them build their sense of resiliency - both of which are sure to be key career strengths in 2010. 


Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life's changes (2nd edition). Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Steindl-Rast, D. (2008). Common sense spirituality: The essential wisdom of David Steindl-Rast. NY: Crossroad Publishing Co.

Whyte, D. (2001).  Crossing the unknown sea: Work as a pilgrimage of identity. NY: Riverhead Books.

Caitlin Williams Caitlin Williams, Ph.D. is a career development consultant and coach in San Jose, California. She teaches in the master's program in Counselor Education at San Jose State University and she also is Associate Editor of Career Convergence's Organizations department. She can be reached at caitlin@DrCaitlinWilliams.com


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