Learn Career Lessons From 2010 to Thrive in 2011

Whether your 2010 was the best of times or the worst of times, looking back can offer a treasure trove of insight and opportunity for growth.

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By the end of this month, you will have invested an entire year of your life into 2010. You can let that year slide silently into 2011, or you can do some additional work to make the most of your investment.

Your career (and life in general) can be an excellent research and development experiment, packed with insights and knowledge to build on in the future. But to unlock those insights, you have to pay attention.

Here are three questions that will help you mine the past year for all its value, and a fourth to help you create a positive foundation as you move into 2011:

1. What energized me? Why?

Look back at your work over the last year. What energized you? When did you feel in the groove? When were you most engaged? What were you doing? Then look at those answers and ask, Why? Why did that energize you? What was it about that experience that helped you find your groove? Why was it so engaging? Asking why helps you dig below the surface and identify the real source of the energy.

The more you understand what energizes you, the more likely you are to bring that energy into 2011 and beyond.

[See 14 Secrets to Career Change Success.]

2. What drained me?

Next, take a look at the flipside. What drained your energy? What left you feeling depleted? What felt out of alignment with who you really are? What grated on you? Again, consider the answers to these questions, and then ask why.

By understanding what drains you, you can figure out how to eliminate—or at least reduce—the sources of those energy drains. If you don’t look for specifics about what drains you, you’re likely to keep repeating it.

3. What challenges helped me grow? How?

Assuming you were alive and conscious during 2010, the year probably presented you with no shortage of opportunities for growth. Some of those opportunities may have resulted in growth on the spot, like having to work through a challenging situation and learning new problem-solving approaches along the way. Others probably remained seeds of potential growth, like when you failed and moved on immediately to what came next, rather than stopping to ask what you could have done differently.

[See How to Decide Which Career is Right for You.]

Too often we don’t want to spend time with the discomfort of bumps and bruises, and as a result, we lose what they have to offer. Taking a look at your growth experiences and distilling the lessons you learned is a great way to squeeze all the value you can from the past year.

4. What am I grateful for?

It’s easy to get caught up in the challenges of life. To make your outlook more positive, look at the last year through the lens of gratitude. What are you grateful for? Maybe you’re thankful for big accomplishments, like having a job you love (or having a job at all). Or maybe you’re grateful for life’s smaller pleasures, such as enjoying frequent conversations with a co-worker about a shared interest.

Your work life doesn’t exist in an isolated silo. What happens in your personal life affects how you feel about work. So take a look at your life from all angles and build a full spectrum picture of gratitude.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.]

If you’re on a roll, you might also ask yourself these seven more year-in-review questions to squeeze as much value as possible from the last twelve months.

Whether your 2010 was the best of times or the worst of times, looking back can offer a treasure trove of insight and opportunity for growth—if you take the time to dig into what you learned. And since you’ve already invested the time into last year, doesn’t it make sense to use it to make 2011 the best it can be?

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.

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