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Illustration by Kim Smith

We all know that 2016 was a dumpster fire. I don’t need to rehash this. But for me, personally, 2016 was one of the biggest struggles of my life.

After two failed entrepreneurship ventures in 2014 and 2015, I started 2016 freelancing, underbidding for projects just so I can get an advance payment to make sure my rent was paid. That meant I was working on 3 to 4 projects at a time, 10 hours a day, 6 days a week and making somewhat the equivalent of minimum wage. This also meant that at some points, I couldn’t afford to leave the house, because I couldn’t afford a Metrocard.

However, I was lucky to become an member of the inaugural class of the BLEEKER Fellowship Program. The year-long program focused on identifying your purpose, your individual journey, while also providing tools and resources to help you along the way. One of these tools is a success coach. My coach had her work cut out with me, but in my bi-weekly sessions helped me put my year into perspective. I felt like as we start 2017, this would be the perfect time to share my journey:

Here is how I dealt with the professional pitfalls and setbacks from last year:

Focused on Small Wins

I spent a majority of my 2016 looking at my career as a failure. I kept rehashing all of the missteps of the year over and over again in my head. But when you look at yourself at ground level, you rarely see the good things and small accomplishments that happen to you on a daily basis. It’s very important to look at yourself “from the balcony” as they say, observing your life from a higher level, free from the blinders. Once I did that, I could see in plain sight all of the little successes I’ve have made from the beginning of the year to the end.

Another exercise my success coach taught me was to have my friends and peers write an excerpt about who they see me as. This was…eye opening. Sometimes when you’re in a bad place, you believe that others see you as you see yourself. Rarely is this the case. This is an amazing experiment which will also provide you with personally inspiring quotes that you can use for daily encouragement.

Celebrate These Wins

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do is take time and celebrate my progress. Because again, I believed that I’m not where I really want to be, so these small wins didnt’ feel like like success to me. However, acknowledging these wins — with a cocktail, or a night out — made them seem real.

Also….Treat Yo Self! Yeah, I know that we have a problem with mass consumerism in this country and it’s not wise to resort to retail therapy, but it feels nice to be able to reward yourself with these things because you can. Two things I did in this realm were to upgrade my rental car to a Camaro on a recent trip down South, and to buy a big-ass TV. I did these things to remind myself that only a few months ago, both purchases would’ve been downright impossible. That’s progress.

“What do you really want?”

I thought I wanted to be a freelancer and entrepreneur. I didn’t. I just wanted the flexibility that being a freelancer achieved with the stability of a steady paycheck. Fortunately, with my current gig I was able to find both. I had to make some personal sacrifices to get to what I want (i.e. a pay cut and a foray back into programming), but it has help me structure my next opportunity around the things that truly make me happy, instead of what I think will make me happy.

Created a Budget for the Things That Make Me Happy

I love brunch. I love cocktails and craft beer. I also love travelling. Being at a professional and financial disadvantage did not stop me from doing all of those things. Ever since I quit my job to focus on my first venture, I’ve always set aside an entertainment budget. There are some would say that it’s unnecessary, but I feel that it’s essential to our sanity as humans.

Creating a budget is hard for some people. But for me it’s a part of my daily routine. When I walk into my coffee shop to get a cup way too expensive Nitro Cold Brew, I know exactly what’s in my bank account, and I also know what I may have to “give up” in order for me to get this cup of coffee — maybe it’s staying at home for the next few days and not using my Metrocard, or not going to the bar the next week. Honestly, this is taxing, and I wouldn’t recommend it, however it has allowed me to have space for things make me happy.

De-cluttered the space.

My wife got me into the Konmari method. At first I thought this was some hippie shit. The first aspect to Konmari is to foucs on the things that bring you joy and get rid of the things that don’t. The second aspect is to fold your clothes in a way that takes full advantage of your new found space. There are other aspects as well, including thanking your clothes and possessions for getting you through another day.

Using this method, we were able to get rid of over 2 SUV loads of stuff from our New York City apartment. Disorganized spaces bleed into your daily thinking

Eat Healthy, Live Healthy

Look, I’m not the poster child for healthy eating, but ever since my wife went vegan, we have had less meat in the house, and I see the true benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. I’ve lost over 7 pounds, I don’t feel lethargic and sleepy, and I have more energy to do more things. I’m not a true vegan however (I still eat meat, I just do it when I’m out at a restaurant, and I love eggs), but I have found a “happy medium” that allows me to eat healthier while enjoying some of the things that I refuse to give up.

I wrote this article because I woke up today with a slight anxiety about 2017. There are already some things that have occurred during the end of last year, which has thrown me off my trajectory, and I find that writing is my best therapy. I hope this can help some of you seek some of your small wins this year as you continue along your journey.

Also, the BLEEKER Fellowship is still taking applications for fellowship positions in New York and the Bay Area. Information available here.

Winston “Stone” Ford is a multidisciplinary influencer, programmer, digital strategist, music consultant, husband and everything in between. He is based in New York City.

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Digital producer and strategist. Entrepreneur consultant. Music nerd.

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