Looking Back (Honestly) at the Past Year

In case you haven’t been on Facebook lately, you may have missed that everyone and their brother is sharing a photo collage of the past year.

Facebook: Year in Review
Facebook: Year in Review

One friend pointed out that hers was entirely inaccurate, though. “No photos of me crying on the kitchen floor over another failed recipe,” she said.

I love that.

There’s this sense, I think, that we ought to be showing our best selves online. And maybe we are missing the point when we do that.

  • On Instagram, we display well-edited versions of our best moments.
  • On Twitter, we post our pithiest remarks and save the stupid things we say (hopefully) for offline chatter.
  • On Facebook, we share what we want with whom we want to see it.

We are not living our true selves in front of the world, much less in front of those who matter most. We are curating memories and moments as if they were pieces of art to be hung on the walls while the rest gets stuffed in the basement.

Why do we do this?

I think it has to do with fear. We hide because we are afraid of being known. Because at our core many of us believe we are unlovable. If people really knew me, I often think, they wouldn’t like, much less love, me.

But maybe we have this all wrong. In his upcoming book Scary Close Donald Miller points out that our shortcomings are what make us lovable. If we were perfect, there would be no need for grace to fill in the cracks of our inadequacies.

It’s a beautiful thought. We spend all this time trying to reach perfection. But what if all this effort wasn’t actually leading us where we thought?

The “real” me

Recently, I’ve been reconsidering my priorities.

Do I really want to become more popular? Do I really need to be famous? Or would I rather just be better than I was yesterday? “There is no fun in being famous,” Frederick Buechner once wrote, “unless everyone is famous.” I’m starting to agree.

If my life were a movie, I think right now it would be anticlimactic. An artsy drama with a killer soundtrack and believable characters, but nothing too gripping to keep you in your seat.

The protagonist would be a sarcastic hero who never really breaks out of his bad habits. You’d like him but never see him grow into who he was capable of being. The credits would roll, and you’d find yourself feeling frustrated.

Is it any wonder these are the kinds of movies I am attracted to? Understated but beautiful flicks like Garden State and Dan in Real Life? There is a certain poetry and artistic integrity to unresolved conflicts, but are these the stories we want to be living? I’m not so sure.

Currently, I’m working through Michael Hyatt’s 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever course, and one of the first exercises is to reflect on your past year. Instead of looking at my Facebook timeline, I’m asking myself three hard questions.

Question #1: Where have I settled?

Looking back, I can count many successes from this year:

  • I made more money than I ever had in my life,
  • I met new and interesting people,
  • I traveled to interesting places like Italy and Africa.

But in many ways, I still feel like I played it safe, like I wasn’t fully realizing who I was born to be. So the question must be asked:

Have I settled?

I think maybe I have. Maybe I’ve settled for a life that is mostly about me, one in which my self-worth is measured by how many people leave a comment on my blog or by how much money is in my bank account. And — I don’t know — that just feels a little off-track.

Which brings me to my second question…

Question #2: Did I measure the wrong things?

Measuring your success can be healthy. Goals can be good, and metrics help you focus. But for me, constantly checking the numbers has become ammunition for beating myself up.

Too often this year, I’ve sought out criticism not out of a genuine interest to grow, but as an excuse to confirm my insecurities. But the truth is I’ll never be good enough, never measure up to my expectations. Because I am always changing those expectations, always wanting more.

And as the target moves, I keep flinging arrows and cussing under my breath when I miss the mark. “If you keep that up,” a friend told me, “you will become a miserable old man.”

He’s right.

I can’t continue moving the target without taking time to adjust my aim. I have to redefine what success looks like (more on that soon). But that’s not to say you can’t learn from failure. Or that you shouldn’t acknowledge your shortcomings.

Which brings me to my third and final question…

Question #3: Where have I failed?

In spite of some success, I have failed this year. Quite a lot, actually. But not in the most obvious, share-it-on-Facebook ways. Continually, I have missed the mark in one major area: relationships.

In particular, I have failed to love in these three areas:

  1. Loving my wife. I’ve not been the husband my wife deserves. I don’t know that I’ve been a “bad” husband and doubt Ashley would characterize me as that. But I know that I’ve played it safe here, that I haven’t been as bold and audacious as I could have been. I want to change that, want to be someone who is interested in others as much as he is in himself. And that begins with my bride.
  2. Loving my readers. I love the work that I do, but at times I’ve made my job too much about my own success and not enough about helping the most people. I don’t think making money or growing your business is innately bad, but I’m starting to get bored with focusing too much on the bottom line. I want impact to be my most important metric.
  3. Loving myself. I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to lose about twenty pounds, and he said to me, “Do you need to lose weight?” I think I do, but more than that, I want to. Getting into better shape would give me more confidence and make me feel more comfortable. Which is a major theme for next year: self-care. I’m intentionally investing in becoming a healthier person — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose himself in the process?

You can really beat yourself up with this question of “where have I failed?” But for me, it’s about addressing the areas I’ve avoided because I know they’re going to reveal my shortcomings. I tend to not want to do things that I won’t be any good at, and sometimes, that’s just not an option.

Looking forward

Now that I know these things, what will I do about them? I want to do more meaningful work, reach more people, and live a happier life. I want to love well the people that matter the most.

I want to feel like George Bailey does at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. When I’m on my death bed, looking back at my life, I want to know that I ran the race well. Not that I was the most famous or most successful, but as Harry Bailey puts it in the very last scene, “the richest man I know!”

Of course, he means rich in relationships. And now, as the cold wind of winter finally creeps in to my part of the world, I wonder if there is any other kind.

If you want to make this next year your best year ever, I encourage you to not just look at the things that are easy to share, but to dig deep and ask yourself the tough questions. Not just with what you’re willing to post on Facebook. You might be surprised by what you find.

Have you ever done an honest yearly review? Get started by watching these free videos from Michael Hyatt. Chris Guillebeau also has a great tool for this process.

How would you answer the above questions? Share in the comments.