End of the year means for most people to come up with new year’s resolutions. I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions because I’m not good at fulfilling them. I tend to come up with too many and realise along the way, that most of them don’t mean enough to me to actually pursue them.

One could argue that I lack the discipline or the right approach. But I’m quite happy to allow myself to evolve, try something new, reflect and draw conclusions throughout the year, according to the motto: ”You don’t need a new year to change something.” (Actually you don’t even need a new month, week or day.)

A co-worker once told me, that the speed at which I go through these reflection cycles is my greatest strength. And I like her to be right.

4 Burners Theory

About 3 years ago, I came across the 4 Burners Theory in an InVision article and later in its originating article by James Clear. It suggests to see your life as a stove with 4 burners, each representing one major quadrant of your life:

  1. Family
  2. Friends
  3. Health
  4. Work

The 4 Burners Theory says that “in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”

From burner to focus point

The main lesson I took away from the 4 Burners Theory is:
You need to make a choice if you want to get things done.

Looking back at the last 4 years, I made this choice almost naturally, without initially planning it. I just spent time on the things that mattered most to me in the given time. However, I also learned over the years that I need a certain balance to feel well. So completely cutting things off doesn’t sound practical to me.

Therefore I’d like to think of focus points instead.
These are not goals, because they cannot be reached. Inspired by a talk by Simon Sinek, I think it’s more important to have something that drives you rather than something you reach. Because as soon as you reached it, you lose what has driven you.

So here’s a summary of burners and focus points from my last 4 years and the upcoming year:

2016 — My First Design Job

Place: London
Job: Designer at Sofar Sounds
Burner: Work
Focus point: Be seen as professional

This year was exciting! After making the decision to become a UX designer in 2015, this was the year all my efforts paid off and I got my first full-time design job. I still had a lot to learn and spent almost my entire free time to become better: Going to meetups, reading design books, playing around with Sketch and writing blog post. My work was my passion that inspired me every day.

2017 — Coming Back

Place: London, Berlin
Job: User Experience Designer at Vinted / Kleiderkreisel
Burner: Family
Focus point: Feeling home

Only 1 year later, I felt burned out. Design wasn’t inspiring me anymore at all. At the same time, my boyfriend got health issues and we decided to leave UK and move back to Berlin so that he gets the necessary surgery and is close to his family.

Being back home, I realised that the intense focus on my professional career left other parts of me underdeveloped. In my new job, I faced a lot of personal challenges, e.g. being the only remote designer and not feeling understood and trusted by my manager. I only had few friends in Berlin and had forgotten how to make new ones. At the same time, my relationship with my boyfriend was tested by his health issues. I learned that nothing is more important than having people in my life I can hold on to.

I compensated this need for stability in spending a lot of time in furnishing and decorating our apartment, which was almost empty when we arrived.

2018 – Identification

Place: Berlin
Job: User Experience Designer at Vinted / Kleiderkreisel and User Experience Designer at Volkswagen Digital:Lab
Burner: Health
Focus point: Consume sustainably

Living in Berlin has a huge impact on my life: Only here, I feel I can live the life I want. Sustainable and conscious behaviour is a big part of it: Since I’m back from London, I counted 5 openings of second hand shops in my neighbourhood. Acting environmentally friendly is an exhausting endeavour though, which took almost my entire energy in 2018. I also incorporated a new sports routine into my daily schedule and discovered the benefits of yoga and mindfulness. This year was all about health – for me and the planet.

2019 – Relationship

Place: Berlin
Job: User Experience Designer at Volkswagen Digital:Lab
Burner: Friends
Focus point: Open up

2019 was the year of friendship: I made new ones, fostered existing ones and lost some. For the first time, I mixed up work with private relationships. I’m still figuring out if this is a good or bad idea and how I should deal with it in the future. All of this caused me a lot of ups and downs, supported by hormonal chaos in my body after stopping the pill. I realised once again, that it will always be other people who have the biggest impact on my life.

2020 – Emotional Intelligence

Place: Berlin
Job: User Experience Designer at Volkswagen SDC Berlin
Burner: Health
Focus point: Grow emotionally

What made my experience in 2019 clear to me, is that I’m not emotionally equipped to deal with conflicts that touch me personally – no matter if at work or in private life. And I want it to be my goal to become emotionally strong enough to deal with whatever situation is ahead of me:

  • I want to acknowledge my emotions without blame.
  • I want to understand my emotions when they arise so that they don’t control my behaviour.
  • I want to understand my emotions to be more empathetic with others.
  • I want to stop explaining other people’s behavior with my own flaws and faults.
  • I want to keep opening myself towards others without fear of being hurt.

How to achieve this

To get started, I set myself 3 tasks:

  • Meditate every day for 10-20 minutes
  • Find a psychotherapist to resolve some issues from the past
  • Figure out which friendships to continuously invest in – and which ones to drop

Stop focussing on expectations of others

What makes me most proud is that in the matter of only 4 years, I managed to let my inner needs be the driver of my focus points rather than expectations from the outside.

In 2016 up until early 2018, I was mainly concerned about how people perceive me as a professional. I was scared by the early professional success of my boyfriend and felt I have to compete with him. I was also suffering from imposter syndrome, because I climbed up the career latter fast and more than doubled my salary in just one year.

Having financial stability as a result, made me reconsider my consumption which I radically changed to live a more sustainable life: These days I mainly wear second hand clothes, prepare my food from local organic groceries and try to reduce plastic and packaging where I can (besides my existing habits of going around by bike and public transport and being vegetarian/vegan).

Being more and more in peace with my lifestyle apparently had an effect on how people perceive me. Suddenly I found it much easier to get in contact with people and open up beyond work-related topics. I soon realised how empowering it can be to trust somebody with very personal stuff.

In 2020, I want nothing more than keep on going, but become more positive in everything I do while moving closer to the person I want to be.