Last week, I hosted an event for my clients and I asked them to share an accomplishment they were proud of from this year with each other. While people are often initially stumped in reaction to this question, soon the answers started flowing – projects completed, new jobs landed, personal goals achieved (and even an appearance on Jeopardy!).
There was so much positive energy in the room as everyone shared the things they were proud of; I wish I could have bottled it up and captured it!
It’s rare to have this kind of conversation because we are so programmed to focus on what doesn’t go well: what we wish we’d done differently, or how we didn’t get it exactly right or achieve every single thing we set out to do. This “negativity bias” is hardwired in all of us and can be hard to overcome.
What that means is that we all need to make a consistent and intentional effort to remember and celebrate the things we did accomplish. Research has shown the importance of documenting successes and that celebrating even small wins boosts our sense of confidence and leads to more success down the road.
This all sounds good, but the likely reality is that none of us will take the time to document our accomplishments unless we actually make concrete plans to do so. I’m guilty of this too, and so this year I’ve implemented a quarterly planning day during which I force myself to sit down and document all the things I’ve accomplished in the last three months (as well what I’ve learned and what hasn’t gone as well).
I always start off daunted by the blank sheet of paper, but soon things start to flow and I get in the groove, listing accomplishments big and small, professional and personal. It never fails to energize me, and it ensures that I actually capture the things that went well. It’s amazing how quickly they fade, and how even a few weeks later I can completely forget about what I’ve done as I move on to the next thing.
As we wrap up the year, I encourage you to take time to write down your accomplishments, whether you are job searching or happy in your current role. This is important for a few reasons:
- It helps you remember what you enjoy and what you’re good at: getting insight into our own strengths is an ongoing process, and it’s challenging because we often do things so automatically that we don’t see them as unique or special. Capturing your successes provides a window into what you value and what you consider to be important – in this process, you’re the one who gets to define what your accomplishments are, not anyone else. After you make your list, look for trends: what common threads tie together the experiences you’ve identified, and what do you draw from that?
- It provides fuel for your career development and advancement: performance reviews, resumes, and interviews all center around documenting and sharing your accomplishments in detail. If you haven’t taken the time to do this along the way, it will be much more difficult to accurately reconstruct these examples, so do yourself a favor and capture your wins from this year now, even if you’re not sure when or how you’ll use them yet.
- It boosts your confidence and helps you see your impact, especially when times are tough: had a hard day at work or in your job search? You can go back to your list and remind yourself of the successes you’ve had and how you’ve made an impact in your work. It will help you remember what you have to offer and that what you’re experiencing is just a temporary setback.
“Great,” you may be saying, “I’m 100% bought in on this idea, but how do I actually go about it?” I hear you – it’s hard to know where to start. So here are three ways to get going:
- Do a brain dump: start by doing some freewriting and listing as many accomplishments as you can (aim for at least 20-25). As you think back about this year, what were the big themes? What goals did you set at the beginning of the year? What happened in your personal life? Don’t censor yourself or worry about whether something is too “small” or not relevant. Just capture as many ideas as you can to start.
- Review “artifacts”: go through your emails, calendars, social media posts, performance reviews, and other important documents to remind yourself of the major things you worked on this year and how you spent your time. This should trigger more ideas and will also help you capture details about each accomplishment that you can record and eventually build out in the STAR format. Moving forward, try to get in the habit of doing this on an ongoing basis through a running Google doc (what I use), regular journaling, or even keeping an “accomplishments box” – there are some great, specific tips on these tactics and others here and here.
- Ask others: ask colleagues, friends and family members what they recall you focusing on and talking about over the course of this year. Often they will pick up on things you may have forgotten about or not noted as significant, and it’s always interesting to hear them reflect back to you what you’ve been talking about this year!
As you wrap up this year and look ahead to a new one, I also encourage you to give yourself a more comprehensive end-of-year career review, using these four questions I shared last year. If you’ve captured your accomplishments, you’re already a quarter of the way there!
Once you go through this exercise, I hope you’ll commit to recording your accomplishments more often, ideally on a quarterly basis. Block off the time now, and consider doing this activity with a friend or a small group, so that you’ll all hold yourselves accountable.
I promise it will be one of the best gifts you can give to yourself and your career.
Happy holidays, and best wishes for a great year ahead!