Many years ago, when I was a wet behind the ears, fresh out of college engineer at Cummins Engine Company, it occurred to me. A couple of things happened that changed my mindset and set me on this journey. The first was the discovery of a note that I had written to myself when I was 11 years old. After my time at Purdue University, I moved back in with my parents. The lifestyle of a newly graduated kid was not a good match for my mom and stepfather, especially under their roof! So it was imperative that I have an exit strategy and I bought a house in my hometown. As I was packing up my belongings from my old room, I found a boot box of old letters. The first letter I pulled out of the box contained the pencil printing of a child. It contained a list of three goals.
- I want to be a professional football player (didn’t quite work out – I am 5’10” – 162 lbs).
- I want a job at Cummins Engine Company (my hair stood on end).
I had been working at Cummins for three months at this point, but it was my first real insight as to the power of goals. This is the power of intention. The World aligns with those that call out their dreams and pursue them. It happens every day for thousands of people that choose to declare their dreams and then go after them. Several months later I was in an offsite-planning meeting for the department that I was responsible for at Cummins. We had quite the spread with breakfast and lunch daily. All we had to do was make a one-year plan for our department. This annual planning event was a four-day process in which we set production targets, budgets, capital upgrades, etc. My second epiphany occurred on day three of this effort; I was spending more time planning Cummins Engine’s future than I was spending planning my own. Once again the hair stood up on the back of my neck, and I promised to change.
Thus, began my journey to determine the optimum way to plan a life. I must admit that I am still on this journey and change it up regularly to improve it, but for 23 years I have used this recipe for planning my Best Year Ever.
Here is what I do every year and have done for the last 23 years without fail. I go to the library for two days between Christmas and New Year. On day 1, I break down the previous year. So for 2017, I will go month by month to reflect on what I did, who I did it with, and if I lived my values. I use my calendar and my journal to guide me through the months.
Why do I do this? Reflection on the past ensures that the experience of the past is invested in the future. The past is equity. Einstein said, “Compound interest is the 8th Wonder of the World.” Do you believe that your past is equity that should be compounded to ensure a better future? That is what reflection is all about. Sometimes when I am reflecting on the past year, I have some painful moments that I am not proud of or something that happened to me that is not worth carrying forward. My biggest lesson has been – take the good stuff and leave the bad stuff. I am not saying pretend it did not happen. I am saying that leaving it in the past is your choice. Anger compounded year over year is misery. Joy and Love compounded year over year is a life worth living. Take the good and leave the bad because there is no glory in taking it with you. This process takes several hours so be patient and trust the process. After completion of the yearly evaluation in a month-to-month format, it is time to extract the lessons learned. I make a list and ask these questions:
- What am I most proud of from 2017?
- Did I live my values? If not, where did I go astray?
- What were a few of the key lessons learned in 2017?
- Did I spend plenty of time with those that matter most to me?
- Did I take care of myself – mentally & physically?
- Who did I help?
- Who helped me?
I take a few minutes and reflect on these questions while journaling the answers. Then I ask the most important question of Day 1:
What must I do differently in 2018 to better live as who I want to be?
Out of this answer, I pull out a Theme for the year. My 2017 theme was Prioritize, Delegate, and Execute. I knew that 2017 was going to be a year of transition and keeping these three words top of mind was key to maintaining my focus.
Day 2 – Next Year
The second library day is all about the upcoming year. I take a look at the areas of my life that matter most to me – family, personal growth, community, health, spiritual, and finances. I believe if I get these areas right everything else takes care of itself. I take a look at my last year’s goals as well as my 3, 7, and ten-year goals to ensure they are still relevant and adjust the priorities for the year to come based on yesterday’s session. As you can imagine I also ask several questions:
- What key relationships do I want to invest more time in 2018?
- What personal growth targets do I want to hit in 2018? Books, podcasts, classes, masterminds, coaches, etc.
- How much money do I want to invest in 2018?
- How am I going to make more of a difference in the lives of others in 2018?
- Who might need me in 2018 and how can I be prepared to support them?
You should make a list of questions that resonate with you. My aim is to have three 1-year goals for each of the categories listed above. Each of these goals should be in alignment with who I am, where I am going, and the life I want to create.
It takes time to plan a life worth living. Sometimes it might happen by accident, but the power of intention is a force we can’t begin to comprehend. Living with intention ensures that we are making the most of this one blessing of life that we have been gifted. Why play small ball and just get by when you can take a couple of days each year to plan the life you want to live. Don’t be skeptical. Stop making excuses. I am a “C” student and have been average in everything that I have done except planning. Taking the time to make a plan has made all the difference. Everything in my life is a manifestation of a vision that I have been working on since that day in the offsite planning meeting for the Gear Pump Department at Cummins Engine Company. As for goal number 3 on the letter…I have no idea because I was in awe of achieving goal number 2. Here is to your Best Year Ever. May God bless you all in 2018 and in every well planned year that follows!