An Annual Review that Actually Works

In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, I want to advocate for a particular part of the process that often gets left out. We make and establish goals by often doing some internal soul-searching and deciding that what we see isn’t what we want.

I wrote a post around the new year talking about a methodology of goal-setting so that you don’t get overwhelmed with too many things to take on, but what I failed to mention is that this did not and should not happen alone.

As humans we require each other to show us our blind spots, to “mirror” for us. We cannot always see all the facets of who we are so we require friends and community members to help us see them.

This is not just about having more insight into our areas that need development, but also our strengths. How many people do you know who have no idea they are exceptionally good at something?

I used mirroring to create my own list of goals for 2015. It is only by conferring with my people that I was able to understand what I wanted and, more importantly, why I wanted it. I felt a need to purge our house of unnecessary items. I knew I wanted the house to be less cluttered, but I thought it was just part of my training of growing up with a parent with OCD. Turns out I had deeper, better motivations around this, specifically wanting an ease for future nesting and not wanting to cramp my not-yet-created children’s lives with my stuff. I didn’t really get this until I had a more in-depth and honest conversation with my husband that revealed this.

So, you may already have your goals for 2015, but whether you do or don’t I have to advocate strongly for a process of mirroring, or, for the more traditional, seeking feedback. You don’t operate in a vacuum, so it’s important to seek a deeper understanding of how you impact those around you.

In the US, we have a culture of giving and receiving feedback that is often negative and built mostly around telling a person they are less than and need improvement. As a result, we have been trained to think that getting feedback means you are not enough, or that we give the person giving feedback too much power. Feedback is very black and white for a lot of modern Americans.

To properly mirror with someone else, you first need to make sure you are doing it with someone you love and trust. Think of three people you turn to with problems, successes, and ideas. Ideally, each of these people would be in different parts of your life both personal and professional. My three people included my husband, my best friend, and my dear friend Jenae from school. I have shared a lot of personal details with them and if I died and someone had to come up with my biography, I trust the three of them to have all the necessary information to write something pretty epic. All three of them I have personal relationships with, and my best friend and Jenae have both seen me in action while working in multiple jobs and with different types of people.

Once you have your three people, you only have to ask two questions:

1. What is one thing I could change about myself that would make me happier?

2. What is one thing about myself that I don’t know?

From these two questions, a whole host of information can be revealed. The first will show you how you are perceived externally when it comes to areas that make you anxious or stressed. The second will reveal an area of power that you are either unaware of or don’t use as often as you could.

Isn’t that helpful information?

The key is that while asking these questions, keep some distance from the answers. Treat it as if you are a data collector in an experiment with monkeys. You are an external observer and are solely responsible for getting the information, not processing it yet. This allows you to explore and inquire deeper without fear of what it means for your personal worth. Despite the fact that your three people are awesome and loving and trustworthy, this is simply an exercise in information, not assessment.

Once you have asked these two questions of your three people, read through all the data and use your keen eye and understanding of them to sort out what you need to know.

First of all, did anything seem severely out of place or out of character?

About 6 years ago, I got feedback that I don’t listen to people when they talk to me. My supervisor used the evidence that I often forget small details she’s given me. I took this deeply to heart before talking to my advisory board (then it included my mom, best friend, and another close friend) about it and wondering what was wrong with me. Members of the board reminded me that I come from a family of absent-minded scientists and to employ better data capturing techniques like taking notes. So, it had nothing to do with my ability to listen, but rather my ability to retain. So if you have a strong reaction to something that was said, note it and put it through your filters to see if the reaction is because it is super off base.

Second, while examining your data, did anything you get reflect what you know your people are working on themselves?

I have a friend who is constantly aware of presenting as “put together” and capable. As a result, she tends to overskew her feedback to me about self-management. By reminding myself of that, I can temper her feedback with this information and see if it’s actually true or just something she’s particularly sensitive to.

Once you have filtered and examined your data, now is the time to find the goals. Reading through it all. Are there common themes? Did all three of them tell give you a variation on the same idea? If you have themes, goals are easy to pick out and form. If you can’t find themes, find the ones that resonate the most for you. These are the ideas that when you read them cause a little ping somewhere in your heart or gut. Using that information, shape them into SMART goals and capture them somewhere you can reference regularly in your 1-3-5 list.

A final note, if you feel a particularly painful ping or a particularly loud ping when reading or examining these goals, proceed carefully. You absolutely should take on these goals, but the louder/sharper the ping, the more help you will need. Tell your three people about your goals and then see if you need to enlist any more help like a coach or therapist.

Like at work, a personal annual review is important to keep us on track and growing. Without regular loving examination, we could be stretching in directions that ultimately won’t serve us or keep us from affecting change in areas that need more help.

So do it! Self-examination is difficult for many of us, but ultimately can be so rewarding and helpful if we do it with love and tenderness.

Be well,