The 5-Minute Decade Review: Hits, Flops and Your Future


It’s that time of year. Everyone’s creating lists of the best and worst: the greatest ideas from the last year; ten gadgets that didn’t survive the decade; the most exciting dinosaur finds of 2009.

For some reason, a new year is all about list-making. So I thought I’d follow the trend and take a look at the best and worst things that happened to me, professionally speaking, this decade.

I know: a decade is a long time. Who can remember what happened in April, 2002? Not me! But the point of this exercise is to identify the absolute stand-out moments in my working life from the last ten years. To ensure I don’t deliberate too much over whether an event actually falls into the “best” category or the “second-best” category, I’m going to just list five things, as quickly as I can, without thinking too hard.

Ultimately, I’m expecting that this exercise will give me a little direction for the coming year (or decade) — that taking time to look at the good and bad will clarify what I want, and what I want to avoid. Here are my lists.

The Best

  • Transitioning from copywriting to publishing, and then to article writing
  • Studying nonfiction
  • Winning a communications award
  • Reinventing myself after seven years in the same organization
  • Letting go of a site I’d started when I realized I wanted to do other things

The Worst

  • Not negotiating a pay rise when I thought I’d earned one
  • Being quoted out of context by a rogue reporter
  • Giving up on freelancing when the going got tough
  • Doing work for a client who didn’t pay
  • Disappointing three clients

The Decade in Review

Once you’ve listed your bests and worsts, it’s time to think about what they really mean. My “bests” indicate to me that I’m happy with the changes I’ve made in my career, which is good — I feel like I’m on track, and I have some idea of what I want to do at least in the immediate future. Woo!

This will help shape what I do work-wise in the coming months. As a freelancer, I’m always looking at contract jobs and other work, but it appears that the things I’ve gotten the most from in the last decade have been the moves I’ve made toward freelance journalism. So, whatever happens, it looks like I should try to make this aspect of my work a priority for the time being.

The other key message I got from my “bests” is that studying made a big difference to me, and gave me the impetus to try something new. This was news to me — I had the opinion that I basically hated studying. Not only that, but study also helped me make the decision to let go of a site I’d developed from scratch, and which was very dear to me, because it no longer fit with where I wanted to go.

Perhaps in the coming year I’ll look into more study options, since I found the course I did in 2009 so inspiring. Not having to look after the site will mean I’ll have time to focus, too.

Now, let’s don the flameproof suit and look at the “worsts.” My worst events of the decade may seem a bit haphazard, but the underlying theme for all of them is the same: In each case, I felt I’d let myself down. I seem to have difficulty convincing some clients of my worth, in terms of an hourly rate. I was misquoted due to sheer inexperience. Both these issues could suggest further training (for example, negotiating skills) or work experience might be good goals for the coming year.

But the other two items on this list are important, too. Giving up on freelancing when life got in the way of my dreams was a mistake because it left me feeling static in my life and work, as if my career aspirations were beyond me. In a nutshell, it left me asking the question, “Is this all there is?”

The other worst event — disappointing clients — didn’t happen often, but it did happen. In each case, the brief (or my interpretation of it) was a key part of the problem, and these experiences have made me very careful about brief-taking now.

Each job is different, though, and these disappointments were few and far between. So the thing I’ve learned here is to accept that as I try new things, I’m going to experience failure. As long as it doesn’t happen too often — as as long as I recognize failures and understand why they occurred — it’s not worth beating myself up about these events.

Hello, Twenty Tens!

In five minutes, I’ve identified the key thrills and spills from the last ten years. I’ve also worked out what they might mean to my future activities. I have a sense of direction, and a couple of new items on my to do list (further study, some kind of media-related work experience, and so on). And I don’t have to measure my performance on any list item or chastise myself for not achieving a new year’s resolution.

Of course, if I like, I can go on to make real goals — SMART goals — out of these realizations, or build what I’ve learned into a performance review. But the important thing, to me, is that I have a sense that I’m on the right track, and I know where I want to head next.

Have you worked out where you’re heading in the coming year/s? How did you do it?


Alex M. Dunne

A really nice exercise, and good for you that you treated yourself with such grace (especially around client challenges).

We’ve done a similar 2-day exercise since 1998, and are also now offering it as a 6-hour workshop at Seattle’s Space Needle January 16th. Details here:

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