Go gently into that new year.

If you’re like most, you’ve already waded through a bevy of emails, messages, social media posts, advertisements, even internal nudgings, around setting your 2021 goals and planning.

If you’re feeling motivated and energized to tackle those goals and planning with gusto, go you! You’re off to exactly the start you need to be. But, if you’re like some folks, coming off 2020 is less a joyous experience of riddance and renewal, and more akin to walking bleary-eyed into semi-daylight, balancing cautious optimism with residual resignation. The past year has been rough for so many and the flipping of that calendar hasn’t done much to disrupt the experiences of 2020. Yet. Though hopefully that is coming.

So rather than pretend that this is a business-as-usual-goal-setting January, I’ll submit the two words I’m working with for consideration:

Go gently.

I confess to not always putting gentleness at the top of my list of goals or ways of being in the world. Because how does gentleness help one in the Silicon Valley grind machine or whichever corporate, academic or bureaucratic world that so many of us find ourselves in? Gentleness sounds like something for grannies in retirement, or cats who nap in the sun. Certainly not something for oh-so important people with oh-so critical things to do. [where’s the tongue-in-cheek emoji when you need it?]

Several years ago I sought help for something I was struggling with and the mentor on the other end of the line called me out for being harsh. Me? Harsh? No one had ever accused me of that before and at first I didn’t get it. She said I was a harsh parent to myself and she hoped it didn’t translate to my being a harsh parent to my kids. God, I hoped so too. And while I didn’t see what she was talking about at the moment, the seed of insight was planted and I found myself on the lookout for ways in which I was being harsh that I was unaware of. Seen as the opposite of gentleness, harshness can be anything from mildly benign to insidious. Guilt for eating the cookie, criticism of self or others, lists of “shoulds“, pushing through burnout, reprimands, inflexibility. And yes, forcing a detailed plan-for-the-year at the strike of January when you can’t even decide what to eat for breakfast.

Rushing into 2021 with the planning gusto of prior years seems futile, if not pointless; assuming they ever were truly fruitful if you believe the experts who say that 92% of people abandon their New Year’s goals. And anyway, how did those 2020 goals made last January work out? If your calendar looks anything like mine from last year, it mirrors the airport monitor when all flights have been grounded for bad weather.

Am I saying to bag planning all together? Not at all!! Plans and goals give hope and structure while serving as anchors and guideposts to keep ourselves on track. I’m working on my own plan right now. But if you find yourself not planning, or dragging your feet to plan within this first month of 2021, try going gently. See what wants to come forth and don’t push what isn’t ready. What is the voice of Gentleness telling you? Take an extra week? Month? Make plans in pencil versus pen? Make a plan with a pivot contingency? Harshness might be saying “Get your booty in gear you lazy lout, set some goals, define your brand, double your income and while you’re at it lose 20 lbs.” Sound familiar?

Gentleness’ softer voice might be telling you to “Just keep going, you’re doing great, you’re on the right track, you made it this far. Everything is unfolding just as it should be.” And maybe, given the year we’ve just come through, it’s okay to heed that voice this time around.