Best Lessons from my Year of 30-Day Challenges

Now that presents have been given and the last sugar cookies have been scarfed down, it’s time to give yourself the true gift of the season: time to reflect and reset.

Career coach reflection

Given that I’ve spent the last year cruising (and is some cases plodding) through monthly 30-Day Challenges, I’ve got a pretty darn good sense of what I did this year.  And I’ll be honest, there were days when I wondered why I felt the need to do TWELVE challenges.  Wouldn’t one good have sufficed?!?!  But upon reflection, those 12 challenges taught me a ton, and my last one was no exception.

And to bring it all home, here’s my pick of the best lessons from each of my Year of 30-Day Challenges.

Career coach lessons

January: Run or go to an gym class everyday

Career coach lessons

I learned it's not so hard to get back on the bike: I use to run quite a bit. I was never particularly fast or one of those "born runners" but I ran regularly for fun and in organized runs.  But in more recent years, my running has dwindled and the fear of trying it again and failing has grown.  But then January 1st came and I had no choice but to tie those laces and go.  I had made a commitment to myself.  I had shared my commitment with friends and family and all of you.  I had to just go!  Instead of overthinking it, I just grabbed my earbuds and went, having no idea how far I could make it. That day was a 2 mile loop. The next day I did that same loop, only this time I did it twice. Turning off the naysayer in your head is often the toughest part of any challenge.  The actual doing of it...not so bad!

February: Read a New Yorker article everyday

The New Yorker creates good fodder for great conversations. As Annie-Marie Slaughter encourages, it's nice to talk with people about something other than what they do.  Always having a recently read article fresh in mind made conversations about things other than work a snap, and some of the pieces even contributed to lots of laughs with friends, like this Valentine's Day gem.

career coach challenge

March: Cook dinner at home everyday

Understanding the reason for doing something makes it meaningful: With this challenge, I was not quite sure what my goal was.  When I set it, I liked the idea of cooking new recipes, but I didn't set it as "a new recipe a day" challenge, so it got watered down to just cooking a homemade meal every night; which meant I didn't actually try new recipes all that much.  I felt less committed as we got deeper into March because I didn't really know what my purpose was.  It was fine, but not exciting.  And fine leads to the blahs.  And the blahs lead to, well, quitting.

April: Take a picture at 6:06pm everyday

Alarms are a great wake-up: There is a lot going on in my household at 6:06pm and that was part of why I chose this time, but I needed that alarm literally every single day of this challenge!  And luckily, my phone's alarm proved to be very reliable (and relentless). I really liked being surprised by it, and taking notice of whatever I was doing. Sometimes my family and I were playing games; sometimes I was grocery shopping; sometimes I was working; and sometimes we were out.  Whatever it was, it was nice to stop for a minute, and even if there wasn't a fantastic shot in my midst, I liked taking stock of what was going on.  

May: Call a friend every day

You never know what can happen.  One of my calls was with an old friend I had studied abroad with in college.  That little 7-minute call turned into a trip with her whole family to DC.  Our children became friends; our husbands met; we reconnected with gusto.  Without question, it was worth the whole challenge.

June: No spending on non-essentials for the whole month

Wanting is good for you. We live in a world of instant gratification. We rarely have to wait -- between instant downloads, Amazon Prime, streaming TV and movies, Instacart and same-day deliveries, as long as you have the money (which of course many people don't), you can basically have anything you want basically right away.  But in wanting, and waiting, you often realize you didn't really need it in the first place or you may find something else you like even better.  In the meantime, the longing for something (or lack thereof) can provide a really important message.

July: Journal everyday

Journaling isn’t an activity to force. (Can you tell this one didn’t go so well?)

August: Paint everyday

Winging it is fun. Sometimes it's critical to have real, technical skills.  Other times it's not. For my purposes, this was one of the times where winging it was just perfect.  I didn't plan ahead; I didn't know what I was going to paint until the moment I picked up the brush; and I really didn't worry about how it came out.  I just played around and had fun.

September: Play piano everyday

I didn’t come away with specific lessons from this challenge, but I thoroughly enjoyed my month of breaking in our new family piano!

October: Do something to get Hillary elected everyday

This was obviously the most painful one, though I didn’t know it until I was 8 days into November.  This was my best lesson nevertheless:  Don’t wait for others to fight for you. If you’re waiting for others to fight on your behalf for something you want, you might very well be waiting a long time. Get in the game.  You’re more powerful than you think. In this case, I only have one vote, but I want to know I’ve done what I can to elect our first woman president.

November: Memorize a poem throughout the month; recite it on the 30th day by heart.

Rarely is there success without connection.  Whether you're talking about relationships, the work you do, or poetry apparently, you need to be able to connect to really make it stick.  The first poem, O, just wasn't working so well.  Could I have spent hours forcing myself to memorize it? Sure. And I could have achieved my goal of memorizing it, but it wouldn't have been successful because the process would have been miserable. Instead, when I did connect with the language, like with the Mary Oliver poem, it was engaging to do the hard work to memorize it. And even though it took me a long time to get it right, it felt fun and worthwhile.  You can check out how I did.

And finally December: Donate everyday.  No real lessons here because I already knew there was so much need and that giving feels good.  But it's a great lesson to relearn often.

I’m not sure that I learned anything this month – I knew there were plenty of worthy causes to support, and that there would be no shortage of opportunities to offer my time, money, or goods.  So this last month has been more of a reminder than a lesson that no matter what your circumstances are, there are always others with less, and it always feels good to help.

What’s your year in review?  What lessons will you take with you into 2017?

Here’s to a new year of challenges, fun, and learning, whether they come in 30-day increments or not.

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ArticlesLauren Laitin