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Why I keep setting New Year’s goals during uncertain times

Every year in December I sum up my achievements for the outgoing year. And, of course, every beginning of January I set goals for the New Year...
Khrystyna GRYNKO

Cloud Customer Engineer, Google

-I can’t see a way through, said the boy.

-Can you see your next step?


-Just take that, said the horse.

© The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

Every year in December I sum up my achievements for the outgoing year — I have a small colorful notebook for that. This is a truly magical moment for me — a cup of hot chocolate or tea, a nicely decorated Christmas tree, my favorite music playing, a pen, and a notebook in my hands.

And, of course, every beginning of January I set goals for the New Year.

In February 2022 a full-scale war arrived in my home country. Even though I was far away from Ukraine, my and my partner’s families as well as some of our friends were there. This is not a place to tell my personal war story. Hopefully, our families are alright. But needless to say that all the recent events made me think whether these New Year’s conclusions / resolutions actually mattered. Whether I was feeling like writing them down this year…

The war has gravely impacted the global economy, already shaken by the effects of the pandemic. And even if you’re not directly impacted you can clearly see that a serious world crisis is coming (or is it already here?). It seems like the “most uncertain time” has come and we should sit and wait and hope for the best (or for the worst — for the end-of-the-world dreamers).

Shouldn’t we?

The thing is that the time is always “uncertain”. It is a bit less uncertain in some countries compared to others of course. And a bit less uncertain for some people (well it’s easy to plan a happy morning routine when you can afford this amazing super detox smoothie and spare some time for a comfortable jog in a nice neighborhood just before a beautiful workday).

Natural disasters, illnesses, global crises, unexpected wars, unexpected deaths… That all happens regularly — and nobody is immune (sorry for being a bit “negatively realistic” here).

What can you do about it? All you can do is plan your life focusing on the things that depend on your actions, the elements that you can control as if “there were no unexpected unfortunate events”, and re-adjust your plans accordingly if something happens. Your achievements depend 80% on your effort and 20% on luck. So focus on what you can control. Then go and set your goals!

What is the problem with “not planning and living with the flow of life”?

  • It means you don’t know what you want from this life
  • That usually means you don’t set goals
  • ..which means you work for someone else’s goals
  • It’s okay if it makes you happy
  • It’s not okay if it doesn’t.

How am I setting goals without over-engineering the process?

Reflection. I start with a reflection on my priorities for the next year. What do I want to work on to be a better version of myself? What do I want to achieve to make my life and the life of my loved ones more comfortable? What are my dreams? How can I make these dreams come true? Who is this Khrystyna at the end of next year? Am I proud of how she changed and what she achieved?

Year’s motto. I usually come up with a short phrase before listing my goals. This phrase will define the whole year. Once I had the phrase “Fake it until you make it”. At the time I had a huge impostor syndrome and promised myself that if I didn’t consider myself an expert, it was important to act like one. To “fake it” until I made it in my own eyes.

List of goals. Then I simply write down my yearly goals (mix of personal and professional), something like this:

  • Visit at least 3 new countries
  • Read at least 24 books (any books)
  • Go on summer vacation with my parents to the south of France
  • Invest at least 10% of my salary every month
  • Donate at least 5% of my revenue to charities every month
  • Get promoted at work
  • Lecture in at least two universities during the year
  • etc…

Of course, it’s better to make your goals SMART. You must have heard about it a million times but here’s a definition in case you haven’t: the SMART in SMART goals stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

Goal: Read more

SMART Goal: Read at least 24 personal development/self-improvement books in 2023

Specific? Yes, you know how many and what types of books you plan to read.

Measurable? Yes, you know exactly how many for the year and you can easily calculate how many per month or per quarter to track your progress.

Achievable? Yes, in general, it’s possible to find some time to read 2 books per month.

Relevant? Yes, if you want to work on your personality, to become a better version of yourself and you feel like you need some help for this.

Time-Bound? Absolutely, you have until the 31st of December to achieve this goal.

How does it help me in uncertain times?

Because of the war, I have had some serious mental ups and downs this year. Sometimes life seemed completely meaningless and too overwhelming. Sometimes it felt like I was drowning in despair that was too big for me to cope with. I was ashamed of being so useless, weak, lost, and scared…I donated, volunteered, and helped my displaced family, friends, and other refugees, but it never felt enough.

I couldn’t see a way through. But I could try to see my next step.

My list of goals showed me how to move on, focusing on the things within my control.

Some of the goals I made for 2022 were still achievable and could help me to continue living my life (with some re-adjustments):

  • I could read those books (just added some about wars, propaganda, and geopolitics).
  • I could donate to those charities (and to the army).
  • I could work on that promotion (to be able to donate more).
  • I could teach my students (and do my best to help them enter an uncertain job market) …

I added several new goals as well. For example, some “pleasure” goals:

  • to take my family, who escaped the war, to Disneyland Paris;
  • to go with my younger sister for an “only two-of-us” trip to Amsterdam etc.

The list was long. It meant I had quite a few things on my to-do list, therefore, it was the wrong time to give up — I needed to roll up my sleeves and work on my “tasks”. Plan those trips, prepare for those lectures, read those books instead of doom scrolling.

Don’t wait for “certain” times, go work on your dreams

If you’re reading this post you must be one of these fortunate people who have electricity and internet. Lucky you!

Life is not fair, some say, but it can be pretty generous to those who know what they want. We know now that you are lucky, it’s time for this lucky person, you, to sit down and reflect on your dreams.

What do you want from this life? What will make you happy? How can you translate your dreams into a clear action plan? What is your action plan for the next year that will bring you closer to your dreams?

Remember it’s okay to re-adjust this action plan if needed and continue moving forward to your dreams with a new one.

Know what you want. Set your goals. Make them the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re paralyzed by fear of the dark around you.

This world needs happy self-fulfilled people, please be one.

A few resources to step up your goal setting

One of my colleagues advised me on this article about Quarterly Life planning, a great solution if you’re not super comfortable with yearly goals.

Two amazing (and free!) templates from this article to reflect on the outgoing year:

Let’s connect on LinkedIn or Twitter!

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