Meaningful questions to help you reflect on the past year

Whew, what a year! Certainly one for the books, and I think, one worth reflecting on.

Of course, I totally understand if you just want to close this particular book and move on.

But before you do, consider for a minute that there’s actually some evidence that supports looking back on your year as a path to both healing and increased well-being.

The trick is to do it in a way that focuses on meaning making, self identity and self compassion. Which, by the way, is exactly what these questions to help you reflect on the past year are all about.

And even better: the questions are based on the Wizard of Oz!

Do you remember the Wizard of Oz? For me, growing up in the sixties, it was huge. Long before the days of video tapes or dvds or streaming, the movie was broadcast just once a year.

I’d park myself in front of the TV with wild anticipation. And my heart would leap each time that crazy tornado thrust Dorothy into Oz, a land both beautiful and terrifying, from which she thought she’d never find her way home.

By the end of the movie the little girl me would be flushed with cathartic tears as Dorothy said good-bye to her companions and finally made her way home.

Dorothy’s story is a classic quest story, or transition myth, as William Bridges says. I like to think of it as a good frame for our own particular journeys through the years and decades of our lives.

So with a grateful nod to Bridges (as well as Carol Pearson and Joseph Campbell), away we go.

Your journey starts in your familiar, ordinary world, in the comfort and safety of home.

But in every quest story there’s a call that tugs you away from home.

In real life we experience this both literally and psychologically. It might be a yearning toward something you can only name in a metaphorical, symbolic fashion (like Somewhere Over the Rainbow). Still, you know (perhaps subconsciously) that something needs to be changed. Something’s not quite right, maybe within yourself.

In myths and fairytales there may be a pending disaster that precedes the call and tells you all is not right with the world, like the drought and tornado in the Wizard of Oz.

And so, like Dorothy’s swift crossing from Kansas into Oz, each year pulls us from the familiar into the unknown in some way.

It might seem both scary and exciting. And even though you may not know exactly what’s pulling you, you feel captured by it.

Dorothy’s longing is all about her heart’s desire, and in its most elemental form, we’re in the land of the life force here: desire, fascination, passion, curiosity. Along with big doses of overwhelm and uncertainty.

Writing prompts/questions to help you reflect on the past year at this stage of the journey:

  • During the past year I yearned deeply for…
  • During the past year I most desired…
  • During the past year I was overwhelmed when…

Then suddenly, you’re not in Kansas anymore.

The thing is, to follow any call, inner or outer, mythical or real life, you have to enter the realm of wisdom. It’s pretty different here: mysterious, confusing, scary and anxiety-provoking.

There may be deep forests, dark caves, magical people, mystical creatures. And forces of good and evil.

But along the way you discover companions and helpers that provide support on the journey, because you simply can’t do it alone.

You find the strength to persevere in this strange mysterious place by partnering with others, just like Dorothy hooked up with the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man.

Writing prompts/questions to help you reflect on the past year at this stage of the journey:

  • During the past year I was supported by…
  • During the past year I persevered when…
  • During the past year I felt hopeful and resilient when…

At this point, things get really hard!

Almost every journey takes a turn at some point. Although things may look encouraging at first, they often don’t work out exactly as you planned. You’re thwarted by situations you can’t control. And just like in quest stories, you’re blocked along the way by mythic archetypes, both internal and external.

In Oz, Dorothy encountered a very bad witch. Trees that didn’t like her. And evil flying monkeys.

She was almost put to death in a field of poppies.

And she risked life and limb to get a broom to help her get home, only to discover that the wizard who could help her wasn’t really a wizard at all.

Writing prompts/questions to help you reflect on the past year at this stage of the journey:

  • During the past year I was thwarted by…
  • During the past year I was tested by…
  • During the past year I was disappointed by…

Who knew you’d have a bottom of the barrel experience, where the only way out is up.

You’ve reached your Dark Night of the Soul, where things go from bad to worse to the absolute worst. At this point hope is in short supply. Well, okay, hope has pretty much deserted you.

The wizard flies off in the balloon without her, and Dorothy feels abject grief at the prospect of never getting home again.

And then, a miracle happens. You experience the universal paradox of quest stories (and often life): that in the act of giving up hope and releasing everything, hope suddenly reappears.

In Oz, Dorothy discovered that all she had to do was click her heels three times to go home, and she had the power right from the beginning. She finally recognized what was in her all along.

So renewal and rebirth are on the horizon. Personally, you discover an inner well of power, resourcefulness and resilience. You suddenly understand that it was there within you, but like Dorothy, you weren’t able to see it until now.

Writing prompts/questions to help you reflect on the past year at this stage of the journey:

  • During the past year I felt hopeless when…
  • During the past year I was renewed when…
  • During the past year I reclaimed my hope, resourcefulness and inner strength by…

Finally, you discover you can go home again. But you’ve changed.

As you make your way toward home, you move through the threshold passage reflecting on all you’ve been through.

You recognize that you’re carrying a lot back with you, and transformation always comes with both rewards and battle scars. Or gifts and wounds, if you will.

Sometimes, even, the gifts themselves are buried in the wounds.

But like Dorothy, you discover you can finally, always, come home to yourself.

Writing prompts/questions to help you reflect on the past year at this stage of the journey:

  • The rewards and gifts I’m taking from this past year into the next are…
  • The wounds and battle scars I’m taking from this past year into the next are…
  • The gifts of my wounds are…

Now it’s time to bring on the celebration. And gather a little wisdom for the coming years.

You made it! You’re back home again, like Dorothy, surrounded by whom and what you love. There’s happiness and rejoicing, as well as the sober realization that it’s been a difficult journey at times.

Looking back, though, you’re grateful to have gained a bit of wisdom that will serve you well in future years.

Writing prompts/questions to help you reflect on the past year at this stage of the journey:

  • If could go back and visit with myself a year ago, the wisdom I would most want to share with me is…
  • As I cross the threshold passage into the next year, the wisdom I most want to carry with me is…

I don’t know about you, but after writing this I can’t wait to watch the movie again.

And after this past year, I’m so ready to bathe myself in some of those cathartic tears this story provides, as I write the quest journey of my own mythic year.

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.

-L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Patty Bechtold

Patty Bechtold

Welcome. I'm a Santa Rosa therapist and life coach, and I help women who feel like something’s missing in their lives or themselves. I specialize in self-esteem, anxiety, depression, grief, life transition, and women's groups. On this blog I write about different approaches to help you find your way back to your deepest wisdom. Thank you for being here.