Make a ‘Triumphs and Lessons’ jar this New Year’s Eve

How recording the successes and stumbling blocks of the past year helps prepare for the one to come
By Robin Raven    Published on 12/27/2018 at 9:00 AM EDT
Take stock of your year by collecting notes of your successes and learning moments. Pixabay

I love new beginnings. I paradoxically instinctively resist change, but fresh beginnings are oh-so-welcoming. New starts feel like an addition to life as I know it, not necessarily one that creates a loss of the old. It is in this spirit that I really enjoy making a Triumphs and Lessons jar each year. It has become a personal tradition that helps me celebrate and release the past year, while feeling centered for the one to come, fully ready to take pleasure in the new beginning.

Starting on January 1, I keep two differently colored pads of paper and a pen by a jar. Throughout the year, I record any major triumphs, successes or personal breakthroughs I have experienced on one color of paper, and my challenges or moments where I learn a significant lesson on another. After writing them down, I toss them in the jar as they come up throughout the year.

At the end of the year, I empty the jar, read every entry, and evaluate how my year has gone. With the papers right there in front of me on New Year’s Eve, it can be easy to appreciate how many more triumphs than mistakes I’ve had over the year. I open and read each one, carefully assessing what I got right and wrong. With some perspective, I can see that sometimes the mistakes ended up being blessings in disguise, even if it didn’t feel that way at the time.

This tradition is an exciting way for me to work on being a better version of myself. It helps me take a comprehensive look at the past year as I experienced it, and allows me to celebrate all that I’ve accomplished. These slips of paper are tangible, visible reminders of what you’re capable of, and can be an empowering way to start off the year.

How to make your own Triumphs and Lessons jar

Gathering what you need is really simple: All you need ian empty jar, two differently colored pads of paper and a pen. Choosing the jar can be a fun shopping experience. You can opt for something as simple as reusing a condiment jar. (Large “Follow Your Heart” Vegenaise glass jars are really great for this!) You may opt for a decorative cookie jar for the purpose, one that you really love. Shops like eBay and Etsy have lots of adorable vintage cookie jars that you can get for under $20. You could also just use a large mason jar.

The pads of paper can be found in any craft shop and even the school supplies or craft sections at big box stores. Alternately, use colored index cards and fold them in half before placing them in the jar.

Set up a little jar station where everything will be kept together. It could be your bedside table, so you can reflect upon your day before going to sleep each night, or it could be placed in a cabinet or closet if you prefer to keep the project more private within your home.


The idea behind having a Triumphs category is to help accentuate the beauty, wonder, and excitement of life throughout the year. At least that’s what it does for me! The triumphs will be, I suspect, vastly different for everyone. As a freelance writer, I like to record career wins such as when I’m published by a magazine or website that I enjoy reading. I also record special personal moments, such as when I have significant breakthroughs in therapy. Because I frequently travel for stories and love it, I also record every time I travel to a new location. However, I can imagine that someone who has to travel for work but doesn’t cherish it wouldn’t want to include that. It’s all about what awakens your joy and makes you feel most alive.


The Lessons category is more fun to track and look back on than I first imagined. Given the fact that I used to refer to it as a “mistakes” section, I felt it was important to try to learn from the icky stuff that happened during the year. After all, the phrase “teaching moment” doesn’t have to be restricted to the things you encounter when exploring the world with your kids. Adults can easily find teaching moments in everyday life. I find it somehow comforting to grab that small sheet of paper, express what I’ve realized, and put it in the jar. It feels like I’ve gotten it out of my head and that it may help me later.

Create Your Own Customs

It can be a great experience to share your wins and losses with a close group of friends. The creation of the jars can become a shared annual tradition. And doing it together can be an excuse to bring out the champagne and get the toasts flowing well before midnight.

Choosing what to do with your scraps of paper at the end of the year will be a personal decision. You might use double-sided tape to place them in a scrapbook or even create a large collage from them. You may only save some, tossing the rest away. Maybe you burn them in a small outdoor firepit. It’s up to you. I personally try to save them in a journal or scrapbook.

Finally, let your imagination guide you while you start to plan your New Year’s Eve jar. It should be something that enhances your life. It is a commitment, but shouldn’t feel like an obligation (a difference I recently considered after reading the Me and My Therapist blog). If you want to modify how you use it, that’s okay.

Ultimately, the Triumphs and Lessons jar is there to help you celebrate the great things about your year that can sometimes be overlooked with how quickly time can fly. It’s a way to hang on to the significant moments that can turn into cherished memories when you pause to reflect on the year that’s falling behind you and the one that’s just ahead.

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