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Reflection & Gratitude: Writing Beautiful Life Chapters in A Challenging Season – Part One

Part One: A Look At How We Can Learn From 2020

By Steve Spoelhof

We're back with another blog written by a special guest author – one of The Joshua Group's consultants, Steve Spoelhof. Steve is a leadership consultant and coach with 30 years of experience in business and non-profit work. He has held roles in leadership, sales, training, and development, but time raising support for The Global Leadership Summit changed Steve's perspective on development. He now speaks and coaches church and non-profit leaders to a more effective development process to support a vision beyond themselves. Meet more of our team here!

Below is Part One. Next week, we'll publish Part Two of Steve's blog, on "Writing Beautiful Life Chapters in a Challenging Season"


What a year 2020 has been.

Just for a second, take a moment to sit down and take a big, deep breath—because it’s almost over.

Who could have predicted in early February that stay-at-home orders, drive through COVID testing, limited gatherings, remote learning, and face mask mandates would be our new, everyday normal? Certainly not I, and it’s likely no one else could have, either.

We all entered 2020 with such optimism. There was a low unemployment rate, positive economic momentum, and a relative state of national calm (despite a volatile leader). Even I entered 2020 with optimism—on a personal level, I was seeing business growth and coaching clients well, my last child finishing college, and feeling healthy.

A quick fast-forward shows how different 2020 looks compared to our expectations. New chapters are being written about how to work, live, worship, and connect with each other. With all of these new facets of life, it’s easy to remember the good ol’ days—pre-COVID. Remember big gatherings? Assumptions of health? Do you remember handshakes and hugs, unfettered travel, and even collaborative work?

I do. And I miss it. But it’s undeniable—our world has changed. Maybe for a while, and possibly for an awfully long time.

But with this in mind, it’s important to ask yourself a vital question—how is my 2020 chapter being written?

Personally, I can’t imagine a cliché or a platitude that can accurately describe the season we’ve all been living through.

How could “each new day is the first day of the rest of your life” possibly fit? Does “your attitude determines your altitude” describe your mindset? We could go with Nike’s motto “Just Do It” and slap some virtual high-fives? Honestly, simple mantras fall short of describing what we’ve been through.

If we are to learn anything from this difficult season, we must pause and reflect deeply on the lessons we’ve encountered in order to learn and grow. Just as past leaders have noted, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” We shouldn’t either.

Let’s reflect on what we’ve learned personally, what we’ve learned professionally, and what we’ve learned relationally. These big groups should be relatively easy to surface 2-3 big ideas to take away from 2020.

How to Focus, Reflect, & Learn From a Chaotic—But Important—Year

First things first, start with a clean sheet of paper. Start scribbling down ideas, accomplishments, failures, missteps, relationships, and dates. Keep your calendar and some photos from the year by your side as you begin this process.

Try to identify the challenges you’ve overcome as well as those where you weren’t so successful. Celebrate the joy you felt as well as the pain.

Resist the urge to edit these events in your life (and your list) too quickly. Build out themes, bunch similar thoughts together, and let the words flow so they mean something to you.

Then, ask yourself—what emerges?

What have you grown from? What are you proud of? What made you thankful, disappointed, or excited? Remain positive, grateful, and encouraged. Reflect with gratitude on the challenges you’ve endured and grown through.

Highlight, remove, reword, and edit your reflections. Keep it one page. Write them in a way that shows you’re proud of what 2020 threw at you; aware of when 2020 made you stumble; and grateful for what you’ve learned from 2020.

Write this document so that it inspires, challenges, and humbles you.

Now, share your 2020 reflections. Share your work with a close friend, spouse, or colleague. Be transparent, honest, and vulnerable. Listen to their feedback. Did they see and sense the same things you did? Do you want them to hold you accountable to keep improving?

Post reflections where you can see them. Don’t tuck this valuable document away. Use this hard work and integrate it into your 2021 goal setting. How will this change your routines, relationships, and mindset? Keep learning and growing into the new year.

Having trouble getting started? Consider these phrases to get your creative juices flowing.

  • The discipline of work, play, and rest was really hard—but after a few weeks, I figured out a rhythm that started to work…

  • This season has taught me about my work style of…and how to thrive in these new ways…

  • Prior to COVID, our family was so busy with…but stay-at-home forced us to….

  • So thankful that we had time for…and we gotta keep doing this…

A wise person is one who can learn from the past, be content with the present, and look toward being better in the future. The past is not necessarily a predictor of the future unless we allow past habits, relationships, or actions to impede our positive change.

Use this activity to write the chapter you want to write, a chapter that adds to the greater story of your life—a chapter that shows your joys, your pains, your strengths, and your successes all in the wake of this challenging season.

Grace and peace,


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