If there was one universal theme to 2020, it was to let go of the plans you set for yourself and adjust to an entirely new way of living through a global health crisis. With a fresh start in January and encouraging signs that point to the eventual end of the pandemic, you may be ready to think about your own personal and professional goals again, and how to make progress on them despite challenging circumstances.
CNBC Make It spoke with career coaches about how they're reflecting on the lessons they learned in the past 12 months, and the goals they're giving themselves in 2021.
With all of the hardship 2020 laid bare, many mental health experts reiterated the need to focus on small wins and joyful moments in order to get through each day.
It's a lesson that Claire Wasserman, founder of the Ladies Get Paid career-development community and author of a forthcoming book, is using to let go of perfectionism, which she wants to be better about in the new year. She starts by using a mental trick and visualizes herself as an astronaut looking down on Earth from space: "You don't realize your life is so small," she explains. "You may feel like everything you do carries so much weight but at the end of the day, you're here for the ride. So enjoy the simple things. Go outside and enjoy the sun on your face."
"Once during the day, step outside of your head and life and just enjoy yourself," Wasserman continues. "Find an iota of joy, because all of this is hard."
New daily challenges of the past year saw many people stretching in multiple directions, whether at work or in their home lives. With this in mind, Jackie Mitchell, founder of Jackie Mitchell Career Consulting, says her goal for the year is to get better at delegating.
Mitchell, who considers herself very intentional with how she spends her time, recommends people view their energy like a bank account. Where are you spending your energy? What tasks help you refill that account?
She says you can strike a better balance if you think of things that don't fuel you, the work that you don't find joy in, or tasks that other people can do better than you. Then, Mitchell says, find ways to delegate that work to the best person for the job, and focus on what refills your own energy bank.
Sarah Sheehan, co-founder of the career coaching app Bravely, was four days back from maternity leave when her company closed its offices and sent everyone to work from home. She admits she doesn't enjoy working and leading her team remotely, and that the adjustment has been difficult for her.
However, she's had to lean into areas where she feels less comfortable, like having conversations over Slack rather than in-person and, with the support of her colleagues, is working through the learning curve.
"My goal for myself is to be a lot more open to different ways of working and to develop more flexibility," Sheehan says. She also sees the benefits of remote work and recognizes many of her employees are thriving in the arrangement. "I'm trying to be less resistant and lean on others so I can not only learn from them, but also empower them to continue doing their best work."
While the pandemic limited work in many industries, Alexi Robichaux, CEO and co-founder of the professional coaching platform BetterUp, says his company has grown at breakneck speed.
As a manager, he says this fast-paced growth in a remote environment has stressed the need to build strong and authentic connections among colleagues.
Given the limitations of remote work, however, he says the best way to build stronger teams is to train and empower managers. He recommends leaders consider how the way they lead impacts other people's days: "As a manager, it's important to realize you're taking on the responsibility to help design someone's life, for better or worse. For example, [how you structure meetings] can feel trivial, but that's an hour of someone's life. Just like an architect can make a space energizing or dreary, we can all be architects of people's time and their lives. They're trusting us with it."
In some ways, widespread remote work has opened the door more effective networking beyond geographical barriers. Because of this, Randstad RiseSmart career coach Wendy Braitman says it's a good time to find new ways to connect and build your professional brand, which she's focused on this year.
For example, if you'd like to develop your brand as an expert in your field, write about your industry on LinkedIn or a professional site, or participate in online forums. Research podcasts related to your field and reach out to the hosts about recording an episode or collaborating on a project together. Sign up for virtual conferences and send a thank-you note to panel organizers and participants afterward. This could lead to further networking opportunities, or you might even be able to pitch yourself to participate in a future panel.
Akhila Satish, CEO of the leadership training program Meseekna, says the biggest lesson from 2020 that she's applying to the new year is to create goals that aren't dependent on external factors — like a global pandemic.
These can be big or small and may not seem like they directly impact your career, Satish adds.
"I learned a lot about my own resilience in 2020, and I'd like to foster that resilience to help me manage uncertainty both personally and professionally in 2021," she says. "For me, I find that reading, listening to music or getting some exercise are powerful resilience behaviors that I can control myself, so making sure those are a regular part of my routine is a big goal of mine."
An ongoing habit author and Earnable founder Ramit Sethi works toward is giving himself what he calls "room for serendipity," or "carving out time and making sure I can allow myself to be creative."
Somewhat counterintuitively, he says making progress on this goal does require some planning, namely by marking time on your calendar at least three time per week, 30 minutes each, to make a habit of giving yourself time and space to pursue creative goals, or even let your mind wander.
Framing matters, too, Sethi says: A calendar alert for "do Spanish homework" three times a week may feel like a downer. "Who wants to be doing homework as an adult?" Sethi says. But if your reminder is more along the lines of "By November, be ordering from a restaurant in fluent Spanish" — "suddenly we have an end dream," Sethi says. "Remind yourself why you're doing it."