The most important lessons of 2017

I was asked by my partner recently, sat down over a quiet beer just before Christmas, what my highlight of the year was.

I searched for the answer, playing a metaphorical video on fast forward, month by month, reaching out for those memorable moments. There were, of course, many of those moments but the hours and days in between faded away into a blur of haze, with nothing of note to pick up on.

What is it about 2017 that left me bereft of a suitable answer?

Cinque Terre — One of the memorable moments of 2017

I’m not a fan of the ‘end-of-year review’. I prefer to live in the moment and experience life as it is, right now. But it is welcome to look back and appreciate the learnings, even if a year is just an arbitrary measure of time. So, what did I learn in 2017?

Risk is scary but indecision is worse

I didn’t take any risks, at least not ones where the outcome wasn’t known. I took a job I knew I’d hate, to win points on my CV. I was indecisive about how to influence my role at work and instead of fighting for it, I gave up, strapped in and put the blinkers on. I tried to concentrate too much on the positives, rather than confront the negatives face on and this left me in a state of perpetual under-achievement, feeling uninspired and lacking in motivation.

It’s good to take a leap from time to time

The lack of risk-taking was borne out of being in a comfortable position for the first time in a while and a fear that risks wouldn’t pay off. I didn’t believe in my abilities to take things to the next level, develop skills and challenge myself to meet deadlines and targets. I didn’t spend enough time working on myself, and this will be a key target for 2018.

Comfort may be bad a thing

There was an unconscious feeling that last year was about standing on one’s own feet, taking momentum from the end of 2016, fulfilling all the goals I failed to achieve that year. But none of that really happened. Comfort set in and it was more about self-punishment — something I’ve always struggled with — and a feeling of security, which in turn, made me resentful of the stagnation, despite the job title and/or pay rise. There was no sense of pushing forward because there was no struggle, no test, nothing to push or reset the boundaries — I work better when there’s more to play for.

One chance to get things right

Fear, if left uncontrolled, is debilitating

What do I fear? Everything. Afraid of success because it’s a long way down from the top and sometimes, I’m left wondering what’s left to achieve. Afraid of failure because if my self-doubt is a problem now, it’ll be worse when it all goes wrong. Afraid of hard work chasing dreams because I don’t actually know what’s right for me, and, even if I have an idea of the parameters of what I’d like, how am I supposed to get there?

Fear has stopped me making the most of things

Joining the dots has always been hard for me, so instead of trying, I’ve settled for mediocrity. But mediocrity is debilitating and despite the fact we’re all just killing time until our inevitable deaths, there are better ways to kill it than being mediocre. Especially, when deep down, there’s a belief that every single one of us is capable of more, and if not more, capable of at least doing our best.

Rest is welcome

Despite all this, rest is something I did quite a bit of last year and if my partner pushes for an answer on the highlights, it would be the amount of rest I was fortunate to enjoy in 2017. Even the greatest TV shows have rest episodes in between the promising start and the climactic end. Below is a picture taken from the inside cover of a book on ‘catfullness’.

Catfulness: A cat’s guide to midfulness

Cats sleep for a lot of the time, it allows them to be better hunters and focus time and energy on doing what they need to do. They have patience and they appreciate the art of waiting. Last year might have been spent in the waiting room but the scenery included driving along the California coast in an open-top sports car and chilling feet away from lions feasting on a fresh carcass. That’s just the beginning when it comes to experiences that will shape lifelong memories (and highlights).

Californian sunset in a Mustang

Experience was the greatest gift of 2017

A natural segue from the last point, experiences, both good and bad, shaped my feelings segueing into this year. The holidays have given me perspective on what I want out of life — they have inspired me and gifted me with ideas and bursts of creativity, it’s just a shame those feelings haven’t lasted. There was a glut of positive experiences last year, something I am grateful for and appreciative of.

Waking up to the Indian Ocean

The negative experiences have made me stronger in my sense of self and given me valuable lessons which I won’t forget. In fact, if anything, it’s those negative experiences which’ll be my greatest asset as I embark on a challenging 2018.

Learn, evaluate, relearn (and unlearn)

I didn’t work as hard on myself in 2017. There’s still so much I want to learn. There’s so much more to evaluate, to give the context to relearn. And probably most of all, I have a lot to unlearn — behaviour and mechanisms learnt over time which now need to be ditched, like old clothes. We all carry the tools we’ve used to protect ourselves and solve problems in the past but the need for protection changes, as do the problems. So too will the tools needed to fix them. It’s too easy to forget our ability to adapt to new surroundings, leaving us falling back into unconscious patterns. I will take the time to be more conscious and let that awareness be the teacher and guide I have missed in recent times. Lastly, relearning about oneself helps to appreciate the awesome people we can all be. All we need is compassion and a forgiving nature.

It’s important to keep looking at yourself

Ask for help

I was lucky in 2017 with the support I had from friends and family but I don’t think I asked for enough help. It was about self-reliance and I turned down help that was offered. I will be accepting and searching for much more help this year. I will seek mentors, advice, generosity, and more practical experience. I will seek time with more complicated tools to hone my craft and I will ask for help and understanding in the search of spending more time with my craft as a creator. Yes, a creator in hiding, who will actually spend more time creating in 2018, rather than thinking about creating — the story of 2017.

I’m looking for more models like this to create more

Resolutions?

I’ve never been one for setting goals — at least, I haven’t been good at scoring them — but I think I could benefit from the following:

  • Try harder
  • Be kinder to myself
  • Take more risks — they generally pay off
  • Give myself more time
  • Build a better working relationship with fear

I should probably learn to drive and also pick up those knitting needles again but that may be asking far too much.

I'll leave you with a passage from the book The Subtle Art Of Not Giving F*CK by Mark Manson. He's talking about the American philosopher William James who came to the following realisation:

“He would spend one year believing he was 100 percent responsible for everything that occured in his life no matter what. During this period, he would do everything to change his circumstances no matter the likelihood of failure.”

I think this is something we could all focus on in 2018.

Here’s to 2018 and another journey around the sun

I’d really like to know how your 2017 went and what your plans are for 2018 so let me know below or by messaging me @framedman.