On the last day of 2012, I wrote a post that capsulized my year (A Look Back). Something about writing that post was motivational for me. It gave me a “big picture” look at my year and revealed some of the true values in my life (values that I had actually lived and not just talked about), and it helped reinforce in my mind what is really important. It was therapeutic. (And if you’ve read My Pleasant Places very much, you know that I simply must add here, “…or as Barney Fife would say, it was therapedic.” Don’t know who Barney Fife is? I’m sorry to hear that. Please visit this link, watch the first video I have posted there [there are a total of three videos in that post]. You’ll never be the same. )
I wanted to write the same kind of post for 2013, and that’s when I discovered something: I could only remember emotion-laden situations and major events–and that only by reviewing a calendar. I knew there was more to my life than just “events,” and I was disappointed that I couldn’t recall them and record the personal impact they had on me. I suppose I could have re-read my journal for the entire year, but that kind of defeats the idea of “capsulizing.” It would have taken far too long.
This regret must have lain silent–but not dormant–in my brain throughout the month of January of this year, because on the last day of the month, I did something unusual. Rather than tell you about it, I will instead show it to you–a snippet from my journal. I will ‘fess up that I have been very thorough about purging names and very personal information from this journal post. But that’s OK. The point is to share my brainstorm with you and possibly pass on a template that you, too, can use as a tool to track the course of your life, learn from mistakes and successes, and stay on course with your own goals and ambitions.
So here goes. Straight from my journal (though edited for public consumption). Some explanatory notes are added in brackets.
Monthly Highlights – January
At the end of last year, I started thinking back over 2013 and revisiting the highlights of the year. The things that stood out were the obvious highlights such as the trip with Hudson to the Redwoods, the birth of a new grandbaby and some negative “family drama” that darkly colored the latter part of my year. But I knew there were other “highlights” that were not coming to mind simply because they weren’t of the same emotional magnitude as those events.
This year, I would like to help jar my memory by looking back at the end of each month and recap the highlights of that particular month. At the end of the year, it should be easy enough to compile those monthly highlights into an overview of the entire year.
Why would I want to do this? I don’t know. Maybe just to be sure that there are meaningful things going on in my life all the time. Maybe to remember things of importance that slip the fragile memory. Maybe to give more weight to the events, highlights, emphases and people that are really the most important but have a tendency to take a back seat to the more “glamorous” memories (like vacations, beautiful sights and expensive events) or more emotional memories (like “drama”).
So, without further ado, following are some of my “highlights” from January 2014 (good and bad):
- The weather – This month has been characterized by seriously cold weather, especially for a southern gal like myself. There were numerous mornings I got up to single-digit temps, and some negative temps! We have had snow on several occasions and ice–but thankfully, we never lost power.
- The people – As I wrote in an early-January entry, my focus for this season is people. I want to be more people-centered, more others-focused. I want to be very conscious not to isolate myself at my desk just working on the computer all day. I found myself feeling sad–even depressed–regarding the family drama going on, and I realized that I needed to get amongst people more. I needed to “get out of myself” more! So, with that goal in mind, I actually started recording on a calendar the interactions (social and ministry-related) I had with others. Out of the 31 days in January, there were only 7 days that I did not have some qualifying interaction [I created my own qualifiers]. On a social level, we (or maybe just me) had meals with [and here I listed 14 different people/couples/groups that we either had to our home or went out to eat with]. I had “ministry/counseling” meetings with [here I named six different individuals or groups]. I attended an office party with my realtor colleagues. We took Willow [granddaughter] on a special “date” to see The Book Thief (movie), went to Elliott’s [grandson] birthday party, went to both Bearsey’s and Sheppy’s first ballgames [grandsons], and as of tonight, I will be helping to coach Sheppy’s team.
- Personal Drama – This is obviously not a “happy highlight” in my month. But it is a major life event for me. It pains me to even write about this. My heart gets heavy just thinking about it. I’ll move on. [I’m sure it is obvious to you that I have seriously edited this portion, but I wanted to include a sentence or two to show you how I have included the negative along with the positive. I think it is necessary to do this to present a true picture of life. Otherwise, our journals start to look like the happily-ever-after facades people post on Facebook!]
- Community Celebration Night – This is an annual TC event [my church], and it is wonderful every year, but this year seemed particularly special. We were entertained by various TCers (and were quite surprised by some of the talent), and at the end, we joined together in awesome worship. It was an incredible evening. My words cannot capture what was imparted. All I can say was it was definitely a highlight of the entire year, and I want to record it here so that when I am mentally reviewing my year later on, I will remember how beautiful it was when we brothers and sisters met together in unity that night.
- Anonymous Couple [name withheld for obvious reasons] – I mention this here, not because I already feel the “highlightness” of this relationship, but because I am certain that this will be a highlight this year. This is a relationship that has been ordained; we have been “sent” into their lives, and they have been “sent” to us. This is going to be a fruitful relationship for all of us.
- Arc of Empires – I read this book before the new year, and then I read it again this month, taking copious notes. The book has deeply impacted me, and I will be teaching from it in Chayil [monthly women’s meeting]. It has given me greater sight of the Finish and great hope and faith. I do not want to forget this impact.
- Anonymous Real Estate Client – I have worked for seven or eight months on this real estate deal that will finally close today. There have been ups and downs. I have learned much about commercial real estate and much about myself. [Again, for obvious reasons, I have edited this point. However, I wanted to include a little to show how I included business-related items in the monthly summary.]
- Food – I will end on this “frivolous” point. Besides the people emphasis, another focus in my life this season is food–eating the right foods and cooking. I didn’t realize this would turn out to be such a big thing when I began. I simply planned to eat better (fresher) to try to lower my cholesterol naturally. In the process, I found that I enjoyed all that chopping and mincing and taking pictures of my colorful salads [for GymPact; see An Amazing Tool for Lifestyle-Change Goals]. As I have progressed throughout the month, I see my food choices devolving a little (with all the entertaining, I am cooking–and eating–richer foods). However, I feel that I have still made progress, and I trust that this correct emphasis will now carry on into February. A testament to my new “hobby” is the fact that I splurged on a nice set of kitchen knives this month. Who woulda thunk?! [See Confessions of a Lazy Cook for the back story on the kitchen knives. Be sure to read the comments, too.]
Can you see that this single journal entry gives a true “slice of life” summary for me personally for that month? It touches on current goals (not being isolated and eating healthily), my business, the joys, the sorrows, key interactions, and even the weather and what I read.
On a practical level, the real value of this post for me was to ensure that I was staying on course with my goals. It’s one thing to say I want to be more people-centered, less isolated; it’s another to actually do it. Taking the steps to, first of all, record my interactions (see Record Your Progress) and then, secondly, to follow up with this simple monthly review helped me to step back and gain clearer focus of how I was doing—and to make sure I was actually doing it! Was my strategy working? Was I still feeling sad consistently? Did I feel more connected to others and less isolated? Was intentionally being around people more often making a difference? If not, then this review was the perfect opportunity to tweak my strategy–or to seek input from someone more objective.
I also expect that at the end of the year I will find these monthly summaries to be very helpful in seeing life from an even broader perspective. And they will help me chart the course for the upcoming new year.
I am sharing this concept with you now–well into the year–so that if the idea appeals to you, you can get started right away. As you journal your thoughts throughout the month, you will have fodder for a good summary at the end of the month. And don’t forget to include pictures!
Have you ever written a monthly summary or an end-of-the-year summary? If so, did you find it beneficial? Please share your experience in the comments.