In this first column of the year, I decided I’d take a break from doling out advice to engage in a bit of introspection to figure out what I’ve learned while living through 2017, and to see if I could generate my own listicle of learning points.
We tend to end a year with nostalgia, and a bit of regret, as if we are leaving something behind, but in truth, each passing year adds something to our tool kit, our ability to deal with the world and its complexities.
But one thing really struck me as I prepared my list: (no surprise) it’s not so much about what we do, but how we do it.
Break it up! While it may be important to have a big life goal, it is even more important to set small, short-term goals that can be achieved in a day or two, or a week. A novel, or a thesis, or a project report, gets written one word at a time; so, even a few paragraphs a day can be seen as progress. I managed to finish a large project by setting myself a target of a few hundred words every day, every single day… and it worked. Break up your task into small, manageable portions, and tackle a little bit each day. Thinking about the final product can be daunting, but seeing it in small pieces can make it less so.
It pays to listen… carefully, and to all sides. In this age of social media, we tend to be surrounded by voices that say familiar things, voices with which we are mostly in agreement. At most, we may encounter a completely opposing view, one that we find it easy to disagree with. But I’ve realised it is also important to seek out and listen to all the shades of opinion in between, so that we can re-examine our own position and decide (in a more considered way) whether it still makes sense. It’s often difficult to pull ourselves out of the echo chamber, especially if our friends and family are inside it, but we need to keep trying!
Check before hitting send. Before you turn in a project, a paper, or an assignment, allow yourself some time for a once-over. As they say, the devil (and god) is in the detail, and just as a tailor cuts off the extra threads and the carpenter smoothens out the last rough edge, it helps to run a careful eye over what you have done, particularly if it has been done in a hurry. I have learned to read through emails and text messages before sending them off, having had to overcome a few embarrassing slips in the past!
Read the instructions. Usually the answers we are looking for are already there, in the fine print. Whether it is to do with handling a project, or using an instrument, or even navigating a process, carefully and patiently going through the documentation can make all the difference, apart from saving time in the long run.
Make time for the sunshine. Get outside — outside your home, your workplace, and yourself. It’s a great way to develop perspective, and to find new ideas and see how things connect at a larger level, apart from giving you that essential dose of Vitamin D!
Happy New Year!
The author teaches at the University of Hyderabad and edits Teacher Plus. firstname.lastname@example.org