A new calendar year, a new year full of promise and opportunities. This new year more than others in recent years was one eagerly anticipated for a brighter year ahead following the extremely challenging year that 2020 presented to us. But a year ago as we looked ahead to the new year, we likely felt many of the same senses of possibility that we did this year. We just had no idea what lay ahead of us. And that is true now as well, though our optimistic selves want to hold on to the idea that this year will be better than the last. I am an optimistic person so I share this point of view, but a realist may challenge that thinking. And it is, in fact, our thinking, that may just be one of the few things that we truly have control over. We can choose our thoughts, and from those thoughts our behavior follows.

I will admit, this can be a challenge for me. I have many thoughts that can either head off into productive directions or veer into destructive ones. I realize that I need tools to help me keep my thinking organized. This is why a number of years ago, I purchased a datebook that does an amazing job in helping me to stay on track. One of the great features of this planner is that it has a monthly and weekly view, with spaces for outlining my areas of focus both on a personal level and on a work level. There is a space for prioritizing my projects monthly and weekly and a “space of infinite possibility” for jotting down ideas. At the end of each month there are two pages devoted to reflections on what was the most memorable part of the prior month, what lessons have I learned, was I happy with how I spent my time, what did I accomplish, in what ways am I different between the past month and the month before it, what or who am I grateful for, and what are three things I can improve on for the coming month. It also encourages me to identify concrete actions I can take to work toward these improvements. The same reflection page is offered at the end of the calendar to guide an annual review.

As I reviewed my planner for the past year, some things stood out to me. Most notably was what I will call my “pandemic pause.” I completely neglected to record reflections for the months of March through May. These months simultaneously seemed like an eternity and an instant. When my pencil finally visited the June reflection page, I only responded to one question. Here, right in my planner was proof of how cluttered my mind was. In the effort to respond to the crisis of COVID-19 and work with the team on how to reimagine school, I abandoned making time for reflection. By July, my reflection page was once again fleshed out. I identified three actions I could take for self-improvement in the following month:

1. Listen harder. Be Present. When my mind starts to wander off to unproductive pursuits, swing back to the present.

2. Take time again for the inner work. In the demands to get school ready for opening, this had been neglected.

3. Take care of my health. I neglected this too. Exercise and healthy living are essential for the long haul.

I contemplated the change I knew I needed to make. The only things holding me back were my own thoughts, ones which served no purpose other than to increase my own stress and perhaps the stress of others. How to change? I’ve got to want the change more than the old patterns that hold me back.

As I laid out my personal and professional goals for 2021 at the top of the list is a commitment to personal reflection, being present, and taking care of myself. For one cannot fully serve others and make a lasting impact on their community without addressing one’s own well-being.

You may have gone through a similar process of reflection in recent days. If not, consider adopting such a process of asking yourself the same reflective questions that my planner guides me to do. And ask yourself if you want the change you seek more than the old patterns that have held you back.

As you begin these early days of the new year, I wish for you a healthy 2021 in every way so that you can be a source of support, strength, and inspiration to your family and community. You are valued. You are loved.