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Looking back, leaping forward: BetterUp Coaches offer advice for this new year

January 1, 2022 - 11 min read



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What have we learned from this year?

Four coach-approved actions to “look backward, leap forward” productively

What will we take with us into 2022?

As I reflected on the year past by revisiting some of the articles we've published, I came across this advice from our coaches. The insights and wisdom direct from our amazing, generous coaches still feel relevant and useful today. So, with a few edits, I'm resharing and hope that you also find it valuable.

For many of us, 2021 brought relief and reunions and some degree of resignation to the inconveniences and unexpected changes to our plans. 2021 brought its share of frustrations and disappointments, but collectively, we've developed more resilience and gratitude for the return of small things we used to take for granted.

The new year is a strange time when we expect change and clear endings and beginnings. Even though the calendar year means nothing to the larger trends of disease or politics, justice or the economy, the new year gives us a way to put it in perspective. 

The calendar flip gives us hope. The new year of 2022 provides a focal point for our optimism.

Before we leap forward, it's worth a few minutes to think about where we've been. We know from coaching how valuable it is to reflect. Deliberate reflection helps us learn and grow from our mistakes as well as our successes. 

Sometimes we don’t want to reflect — we’ve learned to move on, let go, focus on the goals ahead. But also, sometimes we really just don’t want to spend any more time examining moments that have been difficult, painful, and that sometimes don’t reflect well on us or who we aspire to be. But the clearest path forward requires looking backward. 

We asked a panel of coaches to reflect on what they and their members learned from the year, offer some practical tips to guide our own reflections, and choose what they’ll take with them as they leap forward.

Coaches Ignacio Fernandez, Laurenne Di Salvo, Yashi Srivastavai, Juan Carlos Camacho Ruiz, and Fabian Orue joined us for this discussion. 

What have we learned?

BetterUp Coaches create an objective, safe space for employees to pause and consider different ways of understanding and interpreting their own experiences. They help members be vulnerable and honest, enabling deep personal insights that allow for personal and professional growth.

Coaches are finding that leaders and employees alike are looking for support in processing and finding meaning from their experiences. 

We don’t know what’s possible until we try. 

  • Coach Yashi: Some organizations didn’t believe remote work could work for them before the pandemic made it necessary. While the transition hasn’t been smooth, most were able to adapt to a completely different way of operating.
  • Coach Laurenne: This hasn’t been comfortable, but knowing we have adapted quickly and done things we would have said weren’t possible allows us to look forward with hope, possibility, and creativity. Remembering this can help us frame ambiguity and change in a more positive light, and keep us open to possibility and new approaches.

We can get better at living with uncertainty and trauma. 

  • Coach Juan Carlos: It is hard to think that only a health threat could make us realize that we all share the quality and vulnerability of being human. In fear and uncertainty, values became the only pillars to stay afloat: extreme care, optimism, and a new facet of resilience. We are getting used to living within the trauma, with the best possible attitude, because no one knows when it will end.
  • Coach Yashi: This year shattered illusions of how much control we have over our lives. We’ve had to learn to live with uncertainty and challenging emotions. We’ve had to learn patience. We’ve had to tap into our creativity, and many of us have found ways to make the best of our circumstances.

Some boundaries can blur, others need to be firmed up. 

  • Coach Laurenne: We’ve allowed others to see "behind the virtual curtain" into our lives more than in the past. This has allowed for some really lovely moments, some giggles, opportunities to meet kids and pets, and it’s allowed for increased authenticity. On the flip side, as some are working longer hours, we’ve learned some boundaries need to be consciously strengthened to support well-being. 

For leaders and managers, these learnings occur in their organizations, their teams, and their own lives. That creates a rare level of empathy and camaraderie. But they may also find it hard to reconcile with the immediate demands of performance and a healthy, productive work environment.

Four coach-approved actions to “look backward, leap forward” productively

In 2021, we saw that even those who were doing okay were eager to make sense and make change, on scales large and small. Having had the opportunity to consider the value and limits of each piece of our lives, many weren't looking to go back to their "old normal." 2021 was ripe with proclamations about how people felt and what the future would hold, but the reality was more a series of one-off experiements. And we don't know the outcomes yet.

Our panel of BetterUp Coaches share the coaching strategies they have been using to help members reflect, cope, adjust, and grow.

  • Acknowledge and accept. 
    Tip from Coach Fabian: Members first have to become aware, to acknowledge and even vent their emotions. I invite them to think about the past months: What emotions can you identify? How did they support or hinder your desired action/direction? What was good? What would you like to avoid in the future? What might you have done differently?

    The following questions help draw out learnings: In thinking about your experience, what were the costs to you? What were the benefits? What have you learned out of this experience that you wouldn’t have otherwise?
  • Anchor on what worked well for you.
    Tip from Coach Yashi: In reflecting back on the year, I find it important to ask: What are some desirable changes you’ve seen in your life this past year? How can you make more of that happen in this next year? What have you learned about yourself? What would you like your next normal to look like and how can you be intentional in bringing it about?
  • Practice self-compassion.
    Tip from Coach Ignacio: I work with high achievers, working mums, and dads, responsible people who strive to do things right and excel in all walks of life. They put high pressure and demands on themselves and are very harsh on themselves. A bit of self-compassion could help them individually and also make them better leaders. Following Dr. Kristen Neff on this subject, self-compassion is built around mindfulness, self-care/self-kindness, and recognizing our common humanity.
  • Let go, welcome the future.
    Tip from Coach Fabian: Looking to the future, and considering what you control and what you don't, how do these learnings support your direction? How can you leverage them? How have your recent experiences re-shaped your immediate future? What opportunities appear that weren’t there for you before? 

What will we take with us into 2022?

These trends were with us throughout 2021 and will carry us forward into the next year:

  1. Coach Laurenn: Leaders as coaches. With reduced visibility into what people are doing day to day, many leaders continued to adjust their styles. In addition to extending more trust to team members to show up and step up, leaders are still learning how to effectively increase empowerment for their teams. When no one person can have all the answers, the approach of "ask vs. tell" has been and will remain critical.
  2. Coach Juan Carlos: No geographical limitations to connection. We value our time and question the need to invest time in travel to have dialogues, do business, or learn. That creates a new challenge: prioritizing activities and maintaining productivity without causing chaos in personal life. When people travel meters instead of hours to attend a meeting, it blurs boundaries and creates the temptation to always be available.
  3. Coach Laurenne: Importance of connection. Our relationships are critical. Feeling connected to our friends and families, our teams, and to our purpose and the purpose of our organizations helped many navigate challenges and uncertainty. These connections will also be important to maintaining motivation and commitment in the coming year.
  4. Coach Yashi: Deeper perspective on what matters. Many members have gotten in touch with their deeper values. They’ve learned things like:
    1. I deeply value working closely with my team
    2. Staying close to family is more important to me than earning more money
    3. Balance makes me happier than professional accomplishments
    4. I had no idea of my privilege. There is so much I need to learn to be an effective leader
    5. I enjoy learning so much! I want to make more of an effort to learn about different things on an ongoing basis.

Lessons like these can take time to come by, but once they do, they are difficult to forget. Members reflecting and having such revelations will have greater perspective and self-awareness to carry them forward into the next year.

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Published January 1, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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