December 8, 2022

The great thing about a personal annual review (i.e., one that you complete outside of your company’s requirements) is that you can make it more interesting, less stuffy, and more tailored to where you are in life. Here are a few ideas for atypical questions to add to your process.  

(Below is the edited version of the podcast episode. It follows the episode closely, but not word for word.)

Many of us conduct some kind of a year-end review process sometime in December.

My process has evolved a lot over the years, but I’ve been sitting down to do an annual review religiously since my corporate years.

I’m always looking for ways to keep my process relevant to wherever I am in life. I also work to spice it up so things don’t get boring and I can look forward to the exercise toward the end of December.

During the last few years, I’ve picked up a handful of new questions that aren’t the usual kind you frequently hear about. And these have added a new dimension to my assessment of how my year went.

If your year-end review process has gotten stale or a bit ho-hum 😉,  consider adding these to change things up.

Second Breaks Ep 194: Three Atypical Questions for Your Annual Review Process

1. What have I created?

Best-selling author Joanna Penn (one of my role models and a two-time guest on the podcast) said many years ago that she measures her life by what she creates.

That idea has really resonated with me, especially after I’ve stepped away from corporate and leaned into my creative projects.

This podcast, among others, certainly falls in the bucket of “things I create”. In 2022, I created 20 episodes excluding this one (plus a handful of bonus ones).

I’m proud of the work I do here. It’s a labor of love as I don’t earn from it, monetarily speaking, and it takes up a chunk of my time. Despite that, I haven’t wanted to give it up. In fact, I continue to think about how I can improve the show. I continue to invest time and effort to get better at it as a podcaster and publisher.

Clearly, this particular project provides some value to me that’s not monetary in nature.

Throughout the year, my focus is necessarily on my listeners and on producing episodes that would be worth their listening time.

But at year-end, I shift my focus slightly and consider what I gained from this year’s work. What have these episodes meant for me as the host and publisher?

If you’re a creative or a creator — in whatever line of work you’re in — whether you’re employed or self-employed, you might want to reflect on what you’ve created this year. What have those creations meant for you? What have you learned from doing them? How have you grown?

2. What did I learn from my encounters this year?

Do you believe that everyone we meet has something to teach us?

Many years ago, one of my bosses told me that her goal when attending seminars or conferences was to walk away with at least one lesson, idea, or nugget from the speakers. She said there was always something to be learned, no matter how boring the speech might have been.

I adopted this goal for myself and will agree with her observation. There’s always something to take away, even if it’s just what not to do, at the very least.

This principle became even more relevant to me after I started this podcast.

I approach every single interview and conversation with this idea in mind. As I edit and produce each episode, I always jot down my takeaways. Sometimes, they make it to the show, sometimes not. But I’ve got a notebook full of takeaways from these episodes.

I’ve come to believe that every encounter, every conversation, presents us with opportunities to learn if we just open ourselves and our minds.

So one question I ask during my yearly review is, “What are my major takeaways from my encounters, from the people I met this year?”

(Note: In the podcast episode, I’ve included several short clips from my 2022 guests that were major A-Ha moments for me and have made their way into my notebook of takeaways. Check out the footnotes section below for the links to their full episodes.)

3. How have I grown through the practice of my work?

On the occasion of the 400th episode of the What Works podcast, Tara McMullin had this to say about her work:

Writing, podcasting, and producing are practices woven into how I move through the world. Whatever else I am, I will always be a writer and producer. I will always yearn to make sense of the world around me in words. I will always find ways to package up those words and turn them into ideas and art others can engage with. And I choose to walk that path every single day.

She talked about her work as a practice and how through podcasting, she learned to find satisfaction in practice and consistency.

I’m the podcaster I am today because I made those 399 episodes.

This episode on the power of practice resonated with me deeply.

Like Tara, I too have elected to call myself — since 2021 — a writer, podcaster, and publisher. By this, I mean that if you look at my LinkedIn profile or wherever else I’m asked to introduce myself, these are the words you’ll find.

Those titles weren’t arbitrarily chosen. Not only do they describe what I do today. These words also describe the person that I am. The daily work required to be a writer, a podcaster, and a publisher, has shaped my habits, my routines, how I engage with the world, and therefore, who I am as a person.

I know it’s kind of weird to think about our work this way. But if you think about it, the thing that we do every day must write itself in our DNA somehow, if not permanently, then for the time being while we’re actively doing that work.

What you do every day — or most days — must impact who and what you are.

This podcast is my work. It is a practice. It is my regular commitment to the habits that shape who I am.

So, for my yearly review, I ask myself, “What have I learned or gained from the practice of my work this year?”

For you, I suggest thinking about your work as a practice. Consider what doing that work, practicing that work, has taught you or allowed you to be this year.


In summary, these are the three questions I ask myself as part of my yearly review.

  • What have I created this year?
  • What have I learned or what am taking away from the people I’ve encountered this year?
  • What have I learned or gained from the practice of my work this year?

These are not the only questions I ask during my year-end review, of course. The other questions are more traditional and of the kind that you usually see in annual reviews.

But since these are the more unusual ones from the list, I thought you might adapt them for your own process or get ideas to make your review more interesting. 😉


Ep 174: Stop Fixing Yourself with Don Joseph Goewey
Ep 175: Finding Love in Midlife and Making it Work with James and Claire Davis
Ep 187: The Milestones We Must Celebrate in Midlife with Dara Goldberg
Ep 191: Spotting the Fear and Navigating Difficult Conversations with Nancy Burger
Ep 193: A Case Study on Personal Growth and Transformation with Vivek Chakrabortty

About the Author: Lou Blaser

A former management consultant and IT leader, Lou Blaser is the editor of Midlife Cues and the host of the Second Breaks podcast. She is also the author of Break Free: The Courage to Reinvent Yourself and Your career. Lou’s work is focused on exploring how to navigate, thrive, and turn midlife into the best phase in our life.