Three simple questions to process the year that was

In our household, we have a daily practice of asking ourselves during supper: “How did I fail?”

We introduced it a couple of years ago after observing our daughter tell the story of how she learned to ride her bike without training wheels. It was all smooth sailing according to her. Just a few practice runs and she was good to go. 

This was . . .  not exactly accurate. Left out were the tears, the falls, the frustrated proclamations of quitting and never riding again. 

“How did I fail?” was our attempt to normalize failure. It’s something we all do. Every day. It’s generally a frequent stop on the path to learning something new.

We sandwiched it between asking each other “What am I grateful for?” and, “What am I proud of?” because we also wanted to normalize looking for the good, and celebrating ourselves. 

A blue question mark on a pink background.
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

My failure as a co-founder

I talk about this practice in the final episode of the podcast I used to host about community and connection called Life Without Us. In the episode, Karim Rizkallah and I use these questions as part of a five-year look back on our experience of founding a community together. 

Karim and I became the initial founders of a community known as Clarens Commons when we put an offer on a seven bedroom house together in 2017. Initially home to six co-founders, over the last five years, several people have moved out of Clarens Commons. Myself included. In our place, several others have moved in. 

The failure I explore in the podcast was my mindset around such changes. On our founding journey, I operated under the assumption that these changes in ownership and residents were possible; but, unlikely. At the very least, I was very sure that I would not be leaving.

Whoops. 

‘The end of history’ illusion

We are approaching the end of the year (in the Gregorian calendar). This is always an important time of reflection for me. 

(For more on its cultural significance to me, check out my 2020 post “We Need Ritual”) 

I often host year-end reflection workshops around this time of year. I design these workshops a little differently each year; but, central themes are generally ‘letting go’ and ‘inviting in.’ 

When I design experiences to help people dream of the future they want to invite in, I sometimes point them to this 2013 article from the journal Science called “The end of history illusion.”

In it, the authors measured the personalities, values, and preferences of more than 19,000 people and asked them to report how much they had changed in the past decade and / or to predict how much they would change in the next decade. 

People across life stages believed they had changed a lot in the past but would change relatively little in the future. Many seemed to see the present as the watershed moment at which they have become the person they will be for the rest of their lives.

I share this research to give those who need it the permission to let go of their assumptions around what’s next for them. To remind them that change really is possible. To encourage them to dream big. 

Year-end reflection

I don’t plan to host a year-end workshop this year. 

I do plan to do some of my own reflecting, though. Nothing too ambitious. Just three simple questions to help me process the year that was. 

What am I grateful for? 

How did I fail?

What am I proud of?

As for what comes next, I don’t plan to reflect on that too much until I’m a bit more settled into the new year. ‘The end of history’ illusion reminds us that change is not only possible but likely. Stay tuned for a post in early 2023 on my process for welcoming change. 

For those seeking it, I wish you a smooth ‘letting go’ as you close out 2022.  


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