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Expectations, Redefined: Stepping Mindfully into the New Year

By Laura Guzman

XL’s VP of Marketing & Communications Laura Guzman shares her insights and thoughts on how to recharge, rejuvenate and reconnect with ourselves, as well as redefine expectations, in the warm up to welcome in 2022.

I ventured back to my hometown in Upstate New York the week prior to Thanksgiving. The trip in and of itself was a bit of an adventure. Pre-pandemic, I traveled frequently; hopping on and off planes was as easy as riding a bike. But in the last couple of years, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve flown, and between all the new rules and my lack of practice, I found I’m a little rusty. Packing took longer; passing through security with all the new rules was a bit clumsy; and I felt like a tourist trying to navigate the now-unfamiliar airport terminal.

That weekend I did something else that I haven’t done in some time: I took my parents out to see a movie. Yes, at an actual movie theater. It’s the first time they had been to one in more than two years and only my second in as long. It was eerily quiet, with just seven people in the whole place. While I want to say it felt novel and luxurious to have an entire movie theater practically to ourselves, in truth, it was a bit unnerving.

As we settled in, I felt a wave of nostalgia as old familiar commercials like those M&M’s ads played across the giant screen. But I quickly realized something was amiss: Every commercial was in black and white, and I was fairly certain it wasn’t intentional.

I wandered out to the front desk to share my concern. The manager was terribly apologetic but, interestingly enough, not the least bit surprised. She explained that the theaters had only recently reopened, and when they finally fired up all the projectors after such a long hiatus, they hadn’t yet been able to get the before-the-movie commercials — which are delivered via satellite feed — to come through in color.

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“We’re still dusting off the cobwebs, I’m afraid,” she said, assuring me the movie itself would be fine. And it was, every bit of it in full technicolor glory.

These experiences signaled to me that we’re likely going to be doing a lot of dusting as we head into 2022. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

A Holiday Respite

To say this year has been A LOT is a bit of an understatement. As we head into the holidays, we all need to collectively pull off the highway to rest and recharge for a bit.

Be deliberate and intentional with this precious time and really reconnect with yourself. Create a “downtime wish list” of the non-work-related things you want to do. Note this is not a to-do list; there is no pressure to check everything off. Rather, this is the list of simple gifts you want to give to yourself that will bring you joy and help you rejuvenate. My list includes reading a stack of books, going for a hike, finishing up that pandemic puzzle I started last year, and lots of baking.

Pluck one or two of the things off your wish list each day and whether you get through one or all of them, you will have accomplished the objective: to reconnect with yourself and put yourself in a healthier mindset, ready to approach what’s next with a clear head.

We need to treat our transition into the new year – and all the change it may bring – like returning to the gym after a long break between workouts. It will take some time to regain our strength and stamina and if we don’t take it slow, we could actually do more harm than good.

After you have enjoyed some quality down-time – but before the end of the holiday break – carve out some time to complete some small but impactful activities that will help you ease into the new year and set yourself up for success:

  1. Identify your intention. Get clear on what you’re trying to achieve in 2022 before hitting the ground running.
    • It may help to create a couple of lists: one for “wants” and one for “don’t wants.”
      For example, I know I want to build / rebuild relationships with colleagues whom I haven’t had a chance to interact with outside of video calls over the last couple of years. I don’t want to sacrifice my personal health and well-being in the process. My working objective, which I will continue to hone over the holiday break, is to create a healthy balance between connecting with others and connecting with myself next year.
  2. Start with the small stuff. Take your time with the transition into the new year. How can you test some things out before making wholesale changes so you can give yourself an opportunity to ease into things and discover what works and what doesn’t?
    • In my effort to reconnect with people, I plan on scheduling a couple of one-on-one lunches and coffees over the first month. For me, this will be much easier than signing up for the first big networking event I see and trying to connect with too many people all at the same time. Instead, I will focus on one relationship at a time in a more casual way. This will either serve as a warm-up for bigger events or help me discover an approach to networking that is more effective for me in the long-run.
  3. Set your own pace. Potentially the most impactful thing you can do before you start the new year is to take control of your schedule before it takes control of you. This means blocking time in your 2022 calendar now for you. Literally schedule meetings with yourself for thinking, preparing, working out, or winding down. This will ensure you have preserved the time necessary to slow down on a regular basis and focus on your objectives. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a race.
    • In addition to the recurring “me time” blocks I am placing on my calendar, I am also padding my schedule with some extended off-limits periods during the first week of the year. This time is for doing deep pre-work ahead of launching some big initiatives we have planned. This is not a luxury; this is critical for me to be able to get a solid plan in place that sets myself and my team up for success. I fully intend on scheduling more of these throughout the year as needed. The last thing I want is for us to be running towards some distant finish line without taking a breather once in a while and taking stock of whether we’re still on the right path, particularly given the ever-changing conditions. Likewise, give yourself permission to pause.

Life In Slow(er) Motion

Things are going to continue to be messy. Our experiment with hybrid work will be just one example. We’re going to have to adjust to new commuting schedules, muddle through the messiness of hybrid meetings, and start navigating networking with humans IRL again. And, as the Omicron variant is unfortunately reminding us, all this will still be occurring amidst the uncertainty driven by COVID. There will undoubtedly be many starts and stops, and we’re just going to have to roll with it. Flexibility is key.

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I challenge us to embrace the uncertainty as an opportunity to slow down. Let’s just acknowledge that things are going to be awkward, give ourselves some extra time to deal with the technical glitches, and have a sense of humor about it. If we can do this, I have every confidence that it will be a more satisfying and fulfilling year — whatever the year may bring.

Date Published: 12.20.2021

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