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Completing the Year Most of Us Won’t Miss

Most of us won’t miss 2020.

It was a year in which we faced a global pandemic, an economic downturn, a close-fought and high-stakes electoral campaign. We also began to reckon with long unaddressed issues of inequality, race, justice and a political system that seemed fragile in the face of these challenges.

It’s time to say goodbye to 2020.

But before we do, we risk missing an opportunity to take something positive away from all that was stirred up over the past year. In my “encore career” as a certified professional coach and consultant, I discovered an individual and group coaching practice known as “completion.” Practitioners of “getting complete” go through a structured process of “emptying and taking stock” throughout the year. Using a combination of mindfulness meditation, somatic (mind-body) practices and queries, individuals process their thoughts, feelings and intentions going forward. Getting complete can occur on your own or in groups, in person or remotely.

Why ‘Getting Complete’ Is Important

In the public service and most large institutions, it is quite rare to find leadership that actively promotes reflection and works to embed it in the culture and processes of the organization. Learning processes like “pause and reflect” or “after-action reviews are gaining traction, but individual processes for reflection are largely found outside of formal practice and left to creative leaders and supervisors to “hold the space” for reflection. How many times have you faced resistance to organizing a one-day team retreat? How much more heat do you get if you have the courage to suggest it be done off-site?

At the individual level, completion practices can be a source of learning, allowing colleagues to bring forward insights and open paths that might otherwise go untapped. In the federal service, there are rare occasions when one is asked to practice personal reflection. Simply put, few leaders or managers create the space for these questions to be asked.

Tips for ‘Getting Complete’

Find a comfortable place where you can think and write with ease and without distraction. Start with a breathing exercise or body scan to help you get in touch with your body, identifying where you need attention and care. Then focus on slowing yourself down and try to notice the thoughts and to-do lists racing through your mind, and let them pass by. Be present, right here and right now.

On a piece of paper, work through the following set of queries. You may want to jot down bullet points or notes as they help you empty, and then reflect. Or you can just start writing stream-of-consciousness without lifting your pen. Or use your laptop and pick out your favorite fonts and emojis. As you can see, you can make the rules.

With scores of potential queries that could structure a completion process, here is a selection custom-made for GovLoop readers.

  1. “What did you accomplish this year?” or “What are you most proud of about this year?”
  2. “What new things did you learn?” or “What surprised you?”
  3. “What happened this year that you are most thankful for?”
  4. “What was the greatest challenge that you faced? What did you learn about yourself?”
  5. “What do you need to let go of?”
  6. “How well did you love or take care of yourself this year?”

Give yourself a chance to reflect on your answers. You may add your own additional queries or new observations as you take stock. Think of this process as emptying and making room for what comes next.

This next set of queries is designed to open up possibilities for the year ahead.

  1. “What practices do you want to continue?” and “What practices do you want to start or end?”
  2. “What part of your life needs tending – health, spirit, relationships (which ones?), work?”
  3. “Who is supporting you right now?”
  4. “Whom are you supporting?”
  5. “What else do you want to say, do or think about to be complete?

You may want to end this practice with a ritual. Take a long walk. Meditate. Journal or write a letter to yourself on getting complete.

This year has been disruptive in so many ways: to our health and safety, to our ways of being in community with each other, to the way we work and live. We have seen a blurring of work and home life and what it means to go to work or school without leaving our home. A completion practice asks that we give ourselves an opportunity to reflect on this experience so that we may grow and learn from it – and be better for it in the year to come.

Neil Levine participated in the presidential transitions in 1993, 2000, 2008 and 2017 at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Neil retired from federal service in 2017 after 30 years. He taught Strategic Leadership at the National Defense University’s Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Policy. Neil is a certified professional coach with over 20 years of experience in advising individuals and groups on setting the conditions for success. Neil has a M.S. in National Security Strategy from the National War College (2008), a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University (1986) and a B.A. from Earlham College (1983). In 2017, he received his Executive Coaching certification from the College of Executive Coaching.

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