Looking back as you look ahead

What holds us back from reaching our goals? Sometimes it’s external factors we have no control over – family obligations, events at work, financial realities, and so on. Sometimes it’s lack of clarity in our personal mission, or uncertainty about the goals that we’ve set for ourselves. And sometimes, it’s what is colloquially referred to as “baggage.”

According to dictionary.com, “baggage” is not only the trunks, suitcases, etc. used in traveling or the portable equipment of an army, but also the “things that encumber one’s freedom, progress, development, or adaptability; impediments.” We are the sum total of our experiences, and all of us carry some sort of emotional, intellectual, or other baggage with us as we travel from one experience or life stage to another.

We often try to ignore our baggage as we look ahead and set goals. Indeed, much of the process of conventional resume writing is glossing over potential negatives and red flags so we can lead an employer to think that we’ll arrive at our next opportunity totally unencumbered by past experiences of bad bosses, conflicts with co-workers, unsuccessful projects, and the other flotsam of a working life.

What if we turned around and looked directly at all those things we try so hard to ignore? If “what we resist, persists” how would our goals – and the likelihood of achieving them – look if we acknowledged all those unmet goals from last year and the self-defeating internal conversations that we try to ignore? If hindsight is 20/20, how will looking backwards help illuminate lessons from last year and propel our forward progress?

“I spent all my time looking for a job and I’m still unemployed” may currently look like this:

  • I spent a lot of time looking for a job.
  • I didn’t get the job I wanted.
  • The job market/economy is awful. Nobody is hiring.
  • This is pointless.
  • I have to keep looking because I need a job.
  • I have no control over this.
  • Nobody will ever hire me.
  • There are no jobs/I will never have a job again/The job I eventually get will not be what I want.

There is some variation of this conversation going on in many people’s heads right now. Substitute just about any other common goal or resolution for “get a job” and a similar conversation can occur: “I’ll never be able to lose this weight.” “I can’t quit smoking.” “My finances will always be a mess.” “That’s just the way our family is.”

Acknowledging your effort is important, whether you fell short or reached your goal. Take a few minutes and think about the past year. Think about the progress that you’ve made toward goals that you’ve set in the past. Give yourself credit for things you’ve learned, times you’ve stepped outside of your comfort zone, and experiments you’ve tried.

  • I spent a lot of time looking for a job – I put in a lot of effort. I am persistent.
  • I didn’t get the job I wanted – I’m disappointed, but I will stick with it. I’m persistent, remember?
  • The job market/economy is awful. Nobody is hiring – The opportunities available are different than what I expected. I’m going to explore different options and see where else I may be a good fit. I can be flexible and learn new things.
  • I really like the work that I used to do – I’m confident that my original path is the right one for me. I have a good understanding of my skills and abilities.
  • I have to keep looking because I need a job – I’ll continue to pursue this goal, because it’s important to me and I am worth the effort it takes.
  • I have no control over this – My previous job-searching strategies didn’t work as I expected. I can’t control the job market, but I can try new ways of networking and find opportunities.
  • Nobody will ever hire me – I have a lot to offer the right employer. People that I meet will want to help me. I am going to make sure I’m ready to take advantage of opportunities that come my way, even if they’re not quite what I expected.
  • There are no jobs/I will never have a job again/The job I eventually get will not be what I want – My next job may be different than I expect/I have skills and experiences that I am proud of/I will learn new skills and be open to possibilities.

Honest self-reflection is a powerful tool. How does reframing the conversation help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses? Do you need to resolve last year’s issues or goals before moving ahead? You may find it’s a faster journey without all the extra baggage.

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