gift wrap
Dec. 22, 2022


The semester is over. All of the students who were going to walk across the stage at Winter 2022 Commencement have done it and started their next chapter. The days are short, but just getting longer. All this means one thing: We are about to say goodbye to 2022.

In the past few years, there has been an upswing in app-driven reflecting on what you accomplished or consumed over the past 12 months. Spotify delivered its 2022 wrap-up of your most-played songs on December 1—something that irks the pedant in me, since without December it’s only a partial list. Peloton will let you know how far you’ve biked, ran, or held downward-facing dog. And pop culture commentators will let us know what the top songs, movies, and moments were from the past year.

While these lists may reduce to writing some statistics about what we accomplished or someone’s subjective views of creative excellence, they don’t always capture your year. Often, there is no pattern there, no sense of why you listened to what you did, or how it made you feel. Still, the personalized end-of-year list seems to be getting more popular, and probably isn’t going anywhere because it is so easy to generate.

Similarly, faculty will soon be working on their own wrap-up of the year, as they begin summarizing their annual performance for their FAARs (academic faculty) and self-evaluation reports (administrative faculty). But I’ve always found that a vaguely disquieting exercise; there is something diminishing about summing up a year of your work in a form. And it is not always the best place for candid self-reflection. Sure, you mentored X graduate students or led Y seminars, but what did it all mean? And why did it matter?  

I love that there’s a collision between two possible meanings of a December wrap-up. The first is in the sense of ending a task and taking stock. The second is wrapping a gift. If we’re “wrapping up” our year, is it a present for someone? If so, who? I guess the most likely answer is “ourselves,” but that feels kind of selfish. But there is real value in marking the end of the year, if only to give ourselves the space to start over.

For example, someone could look back at their year, and instead of tallying publications or processes ask themselves two questions: What do I want to let go of? And what am I going to strive for?

Specifically, when it comes to inter-personal relations (a frequent topic at the Ombuds Office), there is room for everyone to improve. No matter how good we are at what we do, how hard we study, or how positive our intentions are, we will probably find ourselves in some kind of conflict. And, while it’s probably not fair to say the conflict was “your fault,” there were likely ways that you contributed to it, even without knowing. Which is my way of saying, there’s nothing “wrong” about finding yourself in conflict—unless you choose to stay there.

Over the past year, I have led workshops itemizing the drivers of conflict (the scholarly consensus: there are five), the default conflict styles people employ (coincidentally, there are also five), and the stages of a conflict (in this case, there are nine). I covered topics such as how to initiate a difficult conversation and how to receive one, how to communicate with one’s supervisor, and how to give constructive “feedforward.” But they all boil down to one thing: No matter how you get there, if you want to exit a conflict, you have to be willing to let go of whatever is holding you there (could be pride, ego, or a grudge), and strive to be better in some way (could be listening more carefully or withholding judgment).

So maybe when wrapping up our 2022, we should spend some time thinking deeply about what we need to let go of, and what we are striving for. Sure, you could reduce this to a New Year’s resolution, but we all know how cheap most of those are—there is a reason that there’s plenty of space on the treadmills by February. Instead, they can be something that is aspirational but hard to abandon: like “I’ll let go of needing to be liked by everyone, and strive to be a better listener.”

By the way, if you are interested in being a better listener, the Ombuds Office will have a workshop for that.

If you are a leader, don’t be afraid of challenging those around you to think collectively about what your group can leave behind, and what they can aspire to. These conversations can help us focus on what we expect from others, and what we really treasure. Taking a few minutes to say the usually-quiet parts out loud can be a touchstone for our values, reminding us of what is important—and why.  

A little introspection here can go a long way, if it helps frame our goals and guides us to where we want to be.

That’s not to say that, even with the noblest aspirations, you won’t find yourself in conflict, so this won’t be the last time you will assess what you need to let go of, and what you should reach for. Hopefully, this exercise becomes a self-reinforcing habit, one that sticks with us long after we’ve given up and started using our stationary bikes as very expensive clothes hangers.

But, you might ask, are there any other resources to help me if I’m not totally happy with where I am? Luckily, whether you are a student, faculty member, or other UNLV employee, the Ombuds Office has many resources available to help you through any conflict you might be facing. If you are having an issue and are uncertain where to go, it is an excellent zero-barrier first stop.  If you would like to talk privately and confidentially about any work- or campus-related concern, please make an appointment with the Ombuds. You might even find yourself receiving a microaffirmation.

David G. Schwartz
UNLV Ombuds