It’s Time to Level Up: A Five Step Guide to Goals that Matter

2020 was a sucker punch to the gut.

Yet despite the harsh realities brutally exposed this year, I remain optimistic. The entire world was forced to see things they did not want to see, and develop skills they did not plan to develop. And while we may not agree on the facts, and are certainly not reaching the same conclusions, we have a collective opportunity to gain insight and adopt new perspectives. We have reached an inflection point.

In 2021, I am rejecting the typical, throw away resolution in favor of leveling up.

To kick off 2021 with a paltry goal to “eat more vegetables” feels like both an insult to all that has happened, and a squandered opportunity to reimagine the future. Like many of you, I am not committing to one small change this year. I am reevaluating everything.

But how does one actually level up?

Below are five steps to jumpstart the process.

1. Face the facts.

This was a year of disruption. Work routine, home life, friendships, financial situation…even television habits. Be it better, worse, or indifferent, daily life was fundamentally altered this year and to ignore that is to ignore reality.

Take a few minutes and jot down the routines or situations that have changed most for you this year. Then take it a step further and put a + next to the routines that have changed for the better, and a – next to the ones that have gotten worse. What do you notice? What matters? How might this impact your future routines?

If you need inspiration, here is a snapshot of mine:

– Watching more tv and social media.
– Less fun drives around town.
– Being unable to write at my favorite bakery on weekends.
– Constantly shifting priorities.
+ Less social obligations.
– No dinner parties.
– Rarely have the house to myself.
+ Virtual visibility tools have decreased time spent in meetings.
+ Daily long walks.
+ Healthy cooking at home.
– Not going out to fancy restaurants.
– Significant health concerns among loved ones and colleagues.

My reflection: While my daily life was negatively impacted this year, my pre-pandemic routines were not working for me, either. Going forward, I am going to prioritize only the social activities that bring me joy. This will free me up to continue the new routines that have kept me healthy and effective through a period of significant stress.

2. Clear your head.

Whether it is a weekend getaway or a round of golf, dedicated time to reset and clear the mind is critical to forming new ideas. As writer William S. Burroughs said, “Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.”

What activities will you build into your schedule this week to step away from the typical routine and let your mind wander?

Here are a few of mine:

  • Take a long walk every day right after work.
  • Drink nice wine while baking a new recipe.
  • Go for a scenic drive with views of the water.

Pro tip: Bring a notebook. Taking time away, especially when primed for reflection, tends to spur new ideas.

3. Feel the feels.

Clearing my head typically results in one of two things: Motivating inspiration or challenging realization. Regardless of what arises for you, just embrace it. Sit with it. Do anything except avoid it.

Are you feeling excited? Confused? Just plain exhausted?

As touchy feely as it may sound, taking a moment to label feelings can provide rapid, practical insight into what matters to you most.

For example, when I thought through what had been gnawing at me this past year, I realized it was disappointment. I felt disappointed by what I saw, read and experienced every day. And in sorting through that disappointment, I discovered I needed to let go of some naïve beliefs.

And while it was not a fun process, I came out of it with new insights regarding my values, expectations for myself and others, and what that means for my role as a senior leader and coach.

4. Analyze your reality.

By now you have probably identified how you want the future to be different. This next activity comes straight out of the business consultant playbook: conducting a SWOT analysis.

SWOT is an acronym, and the activity provides a guided reflection through your assets and liabilities. It can be applied to a team, an organization, or a goal.

Here is the framework, using a team example:

Strengths: What do you have going for you?

  • Talented, engaged team
  • The right skillset and headcount
  • Cross-training efforts paying off
  • Recent wins, strong performance trends

Weaknesses: What is holding you back?

  • Burnout for a few key team members
  • Communication gaps resulting in confusion and re-work
  • Inconsistent workloads
  • Inconsistent skills

Opportunities: What external realities might you take advantage of?

  • Access to memberships and key relationships to keep team engaged and learning
  • Social media to spread positive results and recognition
  • Flexible work schedule options
  • Access to mental health resources

Threats: What external realities should you prepare against?

  • Ongoing COVID realities contributing to burnout
  • Shifting priorities
  • Headhunters poaching key team members
  • Variation in customer demand

This activity is beneficial as both a brainstorm to inspire what is possible (“I forgot how much we had going for us. We can go bigger in 2021!”) and to provide direction for more detailed planning (“How are we going to prevent team member poaching?”). Additionally, conducting this activity with your team is an effective way to build business acumen and create shared direction. Consider discussing with a colleague or customer (or friend) for even greater insight.

5. Answer tough questions.

Leveling up is not easy. Addressing the following will help transform ideas into action.

  • What does success look like?
  • Why is this important right now?
  • What will it take to make it happen?
  • Who will this impact?
  • How will I communicate my vision?
  • What barriers do I anticipate?
  • How will I respond?
  • What skills are needed to succeed?
  • What might be hard for me? Why?
  • What might I need to stop doing in order to be successful? How do I know?
  • Who can I ask for help?


“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When all is said and done, I will eat more vegetables this year. And it will be my least remarkable accomplishment. Because while incremental improvement deserves celebration, it is equally critical to recognize when breakthrough redesign is required.

How will you level up in 2021?


  1. David Mestl on January 1, 2021 at 8:08 pm

    Wow Jennifer your work is amazing I’m so proud of you!

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