Provoking thought

Mirror, mirror

Some time ago I wrote about the challenge to turn punch holes into dynamic islands. A fun subset of this problem space is to frame tasks that may appear as chores as life altering experiences.

At some point I’m sure I’ll do a world tour asking audiences to yell out a chore, and in real-time I’d come up with a framing that shows it’s the best thing to do, ever. It’ll be fun.

Until then, let’s look at a timely chore for many companies heading into the end of year performance review season (a.k.a. “the most wonderful time of the year”): writing your self reflection!

Annoying right?


In fact, this an exercise we should all do regularly anyway. Including it in The Season™️ is just a life hack to do it at least twice per year.

Here’s how I suggest you approach it.

It requires answering just two questions to yourself. How hard can it be? Or rather: how much more fun can it get? We love talking to ourselves!

The first question: When did I feel awesome this year?

When did I feel king or queen (or some gender-neutral variant of royalty) of the world? Or, if that is too high of a bar: what do I feel were my biggest wins this year? When did that dopamine blast me in the face? What were the circumstances? Can I think of more cases? What were the circumstances then? Is there a pattern?

Now, as a bonus question (that doesn’t count to the 2), what could “the company” do to create more instances of awesomeness for me? (Let your manager know, you may be surprised about what’s actually possible.)

And in case I really cannot come up with something here — this is a bit of a flag. Am I in the right role, the right team? Do I have to make some changes? When I mentally peruse the company’s org chart, is there any place, any role, any team that makes my blood flow faster? In other words: is there a place where I could be more awesome? Ideally, in the company, but you know, that’s not always the answer. I hear Twitter has some recent openings (or maybe wait a bit).


Second question: Have I been giving the company my very best this year?

Let me nuance this question: have I been giving the best I can do, while still maintaining a reasonable work-life balance?

Some sanity-check questions around this nuanced version:

  1. Does my significant other still recognize me?
  2. Does my cat still come to me when hungry?

So, have I been giving my reasonable best? If yes — amazing.

Really, though?

Am I sure? Was there really nothing that impacted my performance this year?


Was it all rainbows and unicorns?


Seriously though, really?

I thought so.

(I call this technique the “5 really’s” — the recpipe is to ask “really?” until the target realizes they’re wrong — usually 5 times suffices.)

If not, why not? What was blocking me?

Was it skill? Motivation? Was it unclear where I’m heading, what I was supposed to do? Is it related to my team? My manager? Was the work not interesting enough, or seem valuable enough? Was I distracted? Did I not feel appreciated? Was I not able to do the work I feel I should have been doing? Are my skills not used to their full potential? Or, was it life getting in the way and we need to rebalance a few things?


Bad news: the answers to these questions are likely one-to-one copyable to the form you are going to be asked to fill in for your self reflection, but they should provide you with enough content to provide solid answers there.

But the form, nor the process, nor system is the goal. It’s the opportunity. Self reflection is not a punch hole, it’s a dynamic island in the island group of self discovery.

Listen to me, attempting to sound all poetic and shit. 🤔 Let me make a note for my own self reflection.

The questions should help you discover and reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and figure out where you want to go next (not Twitter). Not because the company is nagging you, but because — hopefully — you want to discover this yourself.

And as Yogi Berra famously said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you may not get there.”

Our ability to step back and self reflect is likely one of the most effective ways to improve as people. Peer feedback will come, your manager may have an opinion as well I’m sure. However, ultimately, it’s you who will have to make sense of it all, and turn it into something useful.