All men should strive to learn before they diewhat they are running from, and to, and why.
At the end of every year my father used to give a “State of the Family” report. He would talk about things which had happened to our family through the previous year: deaths, births, marriages, awards won, struggles overcome. Then each of us would have the opportunity to share our memories of the year.
After I left home, I didn’t carry this habit with me—didn’t even think about it, in fact. As an adult, some years were so hard I shied away from probing them too deeply and instead threw myself wholeheartedly into celebrating the fact that that particular year was over. As I’ve grown wiser (translation: older), I have returned to a modified version of the year-end report, expanding it into a personal development plan with three intertwined questions:
What is the best thing that happened this year?
What is the most difficult thing that happened this year?
What is the most important thing learned this year?
After a few years of this self-examination, I realized there are some big benefits from this process. Some of the pain from bad experiences is tempered when seeing the knowledge gained. It gives a sense of closure and purpose to find the good that has come from suffering. Reviewing the things considered best/worst gives accurate insight into what is truly important and illuminates paths to take in the future.
Some of my favorite fiction exemplifies these benefits. Think about the Harry Potter books. At the end of every school year, Harry and Dumbledore review what had happened. Dumbledore, acting as Harry’s mentor, helped Harry understand what had happened and what lessons could be learned. For example:
After voicing concerns about similarities between himself and his arch-enemy, Voldemort, Dumbledore reminds Harry, “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.”
At the end of a trying year, which was only the beginning of a bigger struggle with Voldemort, Dumbledore tells the students of Hogwarts, “Dark times lie ahead of us, and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”
And my personal favorite, because it is one of my own life lessons, “…know this; the ones that love us never really leave us.”
These questions can be expanded in both directions, to address decades and days. As a quick experiment, take one of the questions and apply it to yourself for yesterday, last year, and the past decade. You may learn something important about yourself.
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.” – Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban