I always get super excited about New Year. I’m not a huge fan of the overpriced drinks, overcrowded nightclubs and unrealistic resolutions people set for themselves, but there is one reason for my excitement that has been the same now for ten years.
Nine years ago, a brilliant friend and I got together one new years eve, to eat nice dinner and hang out. We started talking about our year, reflecting on the things that had gone badly and the things that had gone well. We started talking about the things we wanted to achieve over the coming year, and we decided we would write ten of those things down on a piece of paper, put them in envelopes and give them to each other to keep safe until the next year, when we would open them and see how many we had managed. We thought it would be cool to include a message to ourselves, something we thought we’d need to tell ourselves a year on, perhaps something we might forget that we’d need to be reminded of. That’s exactly what we did, and we’ve done it every year since.
This year I found all the old envelopes and it was amazing to look back at ten years of me – all my hopes, dreams, and disappointments. Every year it is such a profound and moving experience, and is one that I can’t recommend highly enough. So I thought I’d tell you about it.
One of the most fascinating things has been seeing how the targets I set for myself have changed. The first few years I set myself such stupid, unrealistic goals. My targets were vague, generic, non-specific and I’d need to be a superhero to get close to achieving most of them! As I’ve got a little older I set goals that are more realistic – or to quote to the well-known goal setting acronym ‘SMART’, my goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time sensitive. Sometimes I set goals that I know I will achieve. For example a couple of years ago I set the goal that I would have an MA in Applied Theology. I didn’t plan on failing my MA, but there were no guarantees – I had to work hard to finish it and it was still a massive achievement worth marking and celebrating. Some targets are things I’m pretty sure will happen, others are things I have no clue about, and some are targets I know may be on there for a few years yet.
There has also been a switch in priority for me. The first few years were all about the outcomes, the numbers, how many goals I could tick off and what number out of ten I had achieved. This year I didn’t even count the ones I had managed to do, but I reflected a lot around the person I had become, how I had grown and changed whilst trying to achieve those things. I don’t measure success now by my achievements, but in whether I am becoming more like the person I believe God wants me to be.
My favourite part is definitely the message I write to myself. It sounds like a slightly weird thing to do, a bit like talking to yourself, but it’s actually a bit clever. If you think about it, apart from God, there isn’t a person in the world who knows you better than yourself. You know what you struggle with, what you can be a bit lazy with, the things you forget and need to be reminded of, and what refocuses your heart and mind. So who better to be challenged and encouraged by, than yourself? It’s often a tool used in therapeutic situations, for example where someone might be encouraged to write a letter as an adult to themselves as children. It helps them reflect on what they might have needed to hear at that point in their lives, who they were and who they are now in comparison. You’ll see athletes psyching themselves up before the big game and even in the psalms we see David telling his soul to wake up! (Psalm 57:8)
It’s also fascinating that despite being adamant at the time that you will remember what you’ve written down, a year later I guarantee you will have forgotten nearly all of it. I can sometimes remember one or two of my targets, or maybe a sentence in my message to myself, but there are always surprises.
Finally the most important thing it does, is to help me remember how faithful God is, and how He has never ever failed me. Last year when I wrote my targets I was in a bit of a weird place, recovering from a painful year and making some big decisions about where I should be and what I should be doing. To open the envelope this week left me stunned, as I could see the place I was at, the things I was thinking when I’d written it all and how God has used every inch of it to bring me to where I am today. I can see His genius plan throughout all ten years of those hopes, dreams and questions, even when it’s been tough or hard to understand. Those pieces of paper are my markers, my evidence of God at work in my life and I will keep and treasure them forever.
So whatever you are doing this new year, I would really encourage you to find someone who knows you really well, and give this a go. Even my hairdresser and her sister are trying it out this year! If you don’t feel comfortable doing it with one other person why not do it with a group of young people you work with, your small group, a team at work or your family? I guarantee it will be a worthy use of your time, and maybe even like me, you will find it quickly becomes your favourite Christmas/New Year tradition.