Reflecting on 2021, dreaming about 2022

It’s been a few years since I published my end of/start of year reflections here but in an experiment to see if I can find the courage to publish more of my writing in 2022, let’s begin with this.

I sat down to reflect on the last year with a significant amount of trepidation. I didn’t feel it was a year I wanted to interrogate in the kind of detail that would inevitably find me and my life lacking. Left to my own devices, this could well have been the route taken, so I instead chose to reach out to expert guides and voices to support and shape my introspection in meaningful ways. I planned to select the one guide I found most useful but I actually found that the use of several resources, guides, questions and prompts opened an iterative process, allowing me to approach my reflection with curiosity rather than contempt, revisit my assumptions and develop clarity as pockets of time unfolded over a number of days and weeks. 

If you haven’t yet reflected on the year and would like to, I encourage you to see the month of January as a time to do this. Indulge in the valuable time needed to engage in this practice if you have privilege enough to do so. New Year’s Day is not the only window when this activity is possible. In fact, if we take a global and decolonised perspective of the passage of time then the Gregorian calendar is not the only method used and the year opens up multiple moments for deep reflection instead. January is accompanied by enough pressure as it is for revolutions, resolutions and new selves without adding artificial time constraints too. Shift the time you take to engage in reflection on being and becoming instead of reinventing as one way of dismantling the commercialised ‘new year, new you’ narrative.

Here are some of the resources that supported my reflections this time around in case they are useful to you too.

 

End of year and start of year reflection tools

A journal from Vicki Pavitt and Selina Barker

A free download from Danielle Coke

A free download from Year Compass

A journalling workshop from Sasha, Frank & Feel

Questions to process 2021 from Nedra Tawwab

A list of things to leave in 2021 from Alex Elle

A letter of things figured out this year from Sasha

A list of reflection questions from Amber Rae

Hopes for courage in the new year from Minaa b.

Managing ‘new year, new you’ from Meghan Watson

Intentions for 2022 from Nedra Tawwab

Approaches to self-audit in the new year from Nir Eyal

Reflecting on 2021

Reflecting on the last 365 days has been an experience filled with surprise at how many more accomplishments and moments of joy the year contained and surprise also at how little mark on my lasting memories the stresses and darker days have left. If I take nothing else from 2021 into the year ahead then I hope at least it’s this and perhaps this new knowledge will comfort me in the moments that feel hard on my inner world.

2021 has been a year of feeling frazzled, exhausted, burned out. It’s been a year of critique, investing in myself, and a slow awakening. It’s been a year of pauses, walking, and breathing.

A few months into the year, I committed to creating space in my life through which love, joy and ease could enter. These things entered my life this year in a multitude of experiences, connections, accomplishments, lessons and realisations. Here are some of the them.

I met a new local friend and a friendship has begun to flourish. I am grateful for sharing dreams, walks, food and laughter with them. I have enjoyed gaining their perspective on what it looks like to create a life you love. I can notice the voice that says I’m not a good friend and I can persevere regardless. I believe I can nurture meaningful and fulfilling connections in my life.

I developed a reliable selection of strategies, through therapy, to use when my anxiety rises and threatens to get the better of me. A state I thought was an inherent part of me has proven to be something that can be a less dominant feature of my life.

I learned that I have agency to change my world and better meet my needs and dreams through noticing my inner voice attempting to be heard. I can choose to listen to it, set boundaries, and honour myself above people-pleasing habits that no longer serve me.

I created space during the week through a change in working pattern that has so far unlocked time for Thai Chi classes, journalling, poetry writing, walking, reading, completing BAMEed Network website work, making food and indulging in naps.

I nourished time for creativity beyond words, learning to paint leaves, cross-stitch, make mushroom spore prints, pom-poms, and collage.

read 61 books (or magazines), some of which have been amongst the best I’ve read so far in my life. I’ve learned not to save the best for later and read those I’m looking forward to whenever I want.

I committed to learning about and beginning to engage in decolonial practices in research engagement, curriculum design and many other facets of my life and work.

I joined Alex Elle and Libby DeLana in December for a daily morning walk towards 2022. I’ve already continued the practice and share my journey of a walk without purpose daily with the online @thismorningwalk community.

I persevered through loud self-doubt and wrote a book chapter on my experience of delivering a pilot of the Early Career Framework for work. This is intentionally the only specific work accomplishment I’ve included this year. My time was spent reflecting on my journey of becoming beyond the confines of my professional life since these are the spaces I’ve been prone to neglect in the past. I’m also on holiday and my brain is happily switched off to work so I’m reluctant to affect that state.

In Sasha’s journalling workshop recording, Embers, we were encouraged to write an epilogue to our year. This might be mine.

2021 has been a year of confusion over big questions demanding answers and a multitude of joys often shrouded in cloud. It was a much-needed year of slow healing and recovery. One of the year’s greatest lessons was that continuing to value other people’s needs, voices and experiences above her own would be a barrier between this life and the one of her dreams. She discovered that she has the agency to alter her world and not be a passenger to her circumstances as her ancestors might have had to be. She can carve a different path. Life would always contain moments of light and dark but this year reminded her that she has all the strength she needs to weather these changes and that walking and friendship can be of great tonic along the way.

Snapshots of joy in 2021

Awake earlier than I’d have liked in a Northumberland holiday cottage. Pack breakfast things into a bag. Sleepily stumble hand in hand towards the picnic bench awaiting our arrival. Breathe deeply and take in the rising sun, the distant sea, a barn owl swooping past on its morning hunt.

Listen to Selina Barker talking of the bliss she feels when laid on her hammock. Feel sad that the trees just aren’t positioned correctly for a hammock. Purchase one with a stand. Spend all of your summer lunch breaks, evenings, weekends and holidays in its comforting embrace.

Venture off on a solitary walk. Unsure of direction but Google Maps show what looks to be a nice spot for lunch, a 20 minute walk away. That feels gentle enough for today. Discover the route is not as expected and involves a rather steep climb that feels never-ending but I persist. Eventually make it to the top to discover the most tremendous view. A reminder that I can definitely do hard things.

Angel of the North at dusk

View from Great Orme

Newcastle Quayside

Ai Weiwei tree sculpture

Learning to paint leaves

Leaving a poem outside

Creating a collage

Bamburgh beach at night

Things I'm leaving in 2021*

Believing that work is the priority and I can abandon even my most basic needs until my to do list is ‘complete’.

The compulsion to say yes and accommodate others’ needs, priorities or choices ahead of my own.

Valuing others’ voices, experiences and perspectives whilst discarding and berating my own.

A tendency to dwell on lack rather than abundance.

Dwelling in anxiety, worry and stress over other people’s behaviours, actions and words. Endless rumination that impacts on my relationships and activities outside of work.

I’m not enough as I am. I will edit, reduce and shrink instead.

Saying no out of fear when my heart is yelling yes.

The tireless pursuit of an imaginary ‘perfect’ state where I’ve got everything figured out, a destination where my purpose is fulfilled and I know who I am.

*Leaving these things behind will require intentional practice and course correction. I will be compassionate with myself when I forget that I’ve left these old ways of being behind.

Lessons I'm carrying into 2022*

My needs are important and I can choose to meet them. I can prioritise them above other activities.

People pleasing may have been useful to me once but this is a habit that no longer serves my needs.

My own voice and experiences have inherent value. My light is dimmed when I compare myself with others.

Life provides much for me to be grateful and present for.

The things I worry about today are unlikely to be remembered at the end of the year. I have a variety of strategies to address anxiety when it rises.

I am enough. I can find ways shine my inner light brightly.

I am learning to listen to what my heart, and not what my fear, is saying.

Life is a gradual awakening towards my light. It is a practice of courage in the direction of my purpose. It is a process of figuring things out.

*These lessons might only be gentle inklings** at this stage. They are merely emerging and not all are yet known in my heart. I will lean into these lessons with intentional practice, purpose and curiosity.

** Thank you to Sasha’s Embers workshop for teaching me about gentle inklings and what it looks like to be figuring things out.

Dreaming about 2022

You won’t find grand resolutions and unrealistic expectations in this space. Instead, I’m committing to my journey of becoming, of figuring things out – as Sasha from Frank & Feel advocates. Once more, I used the frameworks and questions provided by experts so that this time of introspection wouldn’t be hijacked by my inner voice, notions of comparison, and my natural inclination to seek answers and certainty. This year, I’ve succeeded in indulging more time dreaming and being curious about what ‘gentle inklings’ emerge. There is no certitude about what I share here but a representation of how things emerged for me at the start of a new year.

I’d love for the next year to feature more time by the sea, in the bath, mindful reading, writing, enjoying cosy nights in my library, laughing, adventuring in new places, practising boundary setting, implementing strategies to counter my anxiety, doing Thai Chi, booking in advance breaks, daily walking, indulging in calm breakfasts, practising self-compassion, massaging my feet, swimming, with family, moving, dancing, growing friendship, learning and engaging in decolonial practices, saying no when I mean no, saying yes when my heart says yes, nurturing community, nourishing my inner light. Within this list sit a variety of deep dreams and goals that I’ve chosen to keep private for now.

I’d love for the next year to feature less time in front of the television, wondering when my next time off work will be, avoiding writing, dimming and concealing my inner voice, listening to my fear and self-doubt, forgetting that I have the agency to change my world, saving books for best, working, comparing myself to others, saying yes when I mean no, saying no when my heart says yes, forgetting that I can do hard things and a grin likely awaits on the other end of them. The items contained in this list require a commitment of courage that relies on me being well rested.

 

My chosen word for 2022 is light

This year, I chose to select a word that might sum up my vision for what I hope my year will be. I have chosen ‘Light’. The activities provided by Danielle Coke in her guide, a good look, helped me to vision what it might mean to embody this word in my year ahead. This commitment to light in the year ahead involves tuning in to my inner light and amplifying it. It includes filling my life with all the activities and ways of being that nourish my light. It is anchored in a deep curiosity for what might happen if I allow my own light to shine as brightly on the outside as it does inside of me. Embracing the possibility of light relies on be making a commitment to the more and less of lists above.

Light is defined by Merriam Webster dictionary online as ‘something that makes vision possible’, by Cambridge dictionary online as ‘the brightness that comes from the sun etc, and allows things to be seen.’ and by vocabulary.com as ‘the quality of being luminous.’

‘Nothing can dim the light that shines from within’ – Maya Angelou

‘Walk in your light, not theirs’ – Alex Elle

‘Are you really going to allow a person to steal your ability to light up your own life?’ – Nikita Gill

I’m looking forward to discovering more about light in 2022 and I hope I’m able to sing the lyrics of this Beautiful Chorus song at the end of the year with my whole heart. If I can’t, I hope I’ll show myself compassion and focus on what other lessons have been learned and stories shed in another year on planet earth.

‘This little light of mine, it used to be too scared to shine, and when mine might met yours it would run and hide but in time I came to find I wanna shine so bright it makes the whole world smile and pay back the beautiful feeling that allows me to be whatever I want to be and I am gonna be free and easy.’

 

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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