It’s January 6. It's also Epiphany, a holiday I’ve never really observed but have been fascinated with all the same. I like the notion of commemorating a divine manifestation or revelation (i.e., an epiphany).
So, it feels like a great time to share some thoughts from my life with you. Obviously this isn’t a Christmas letter. It’s not quite an end-of-year letter either. It’s more of a backstory, lessons that helped build the foundation for what will come in 2020 and beyond—whatever that may be.
Also, while I hate that I don’t know who needs to hear this has become a meme, I know that indeed a lesson I learned may resonate with someone reading this. Or not. All I know for sure is that I feel compelled to share these words with you, so that’s exactly what I’m doing.
Below are 19 lessons that I learned in the past year (listed in no particular order).
My instincts can and should be trusted. I’m not talking about ancient flight-or-flight tendencies (that kick in today even when a stressor isn’t life threatening). I’m talking about those tiny brain itches that say, “This is not for you.” Even when it looks great on paper. Even when people tell you to keep an open mind. Even when your pride says it’s a coup. I’ve ignored those itches for too long and paid the price. In 2019, I finally started heeding them.
Sometimes, instead of rolling with the punches, it’s better to ask why you’re being punched in the first place. If I don’t have the power to change a toxic process or system, I shouldn’t pretend the toxicity doesn’t exist or strive to develop greater resiliency and adaptability. Instead, I should recognize it’s a bad situation and stop being abused.
Like many things, I should stop apologizing for liking modern and contemporary art. I don’t have to feel quiet about wanting to go to a museum or exhibit. There will always be at least one person happily willing to go with me—or enthusiastically chat with me about it later.
Being positive is great. Putting a positive spin on something—maybe not so great. Spin in any form isn’t authentic. Sometimes you can only find goodness when you clearly state what it’s NOT. Sometimes you need the tension of negativity to identify (or be honest about) what you really need. (Sidebar: Shout out to any copywriter who’s ever been told to turn a statement with “can’t” or “don’t” into a positive one.)
“The way it’s done” is not better than the distinctive way I’d do it. While I thought I knew there was no such thing as a sure bet, I spent years acting as if one actually existed. I thought if I just followed the right formula or the right advice, I’d find success. Hahahahahaha. Not so much. I feel so much happier and freer and more motivated following my own distinctive path than sticking to someone else’s script. In fact…
There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all. For anything. If what works for other people doesn’t work for me, that doesn’t automatically mean I’m doing something wrong. It just means I’m not other people, and I need to find what works best for me.
It’s not my job to convince anyone else of my worth. It’s my job to bring my own perspectives, skills, talents, interests and quirks to whatever I do and every relationship I have. How others perceive all that or how much they value it is not my responsibility.
I can’t judge my weaknesses by anyone else’s strengths. I’ve been pretty good at beating up myself for not being able to be as something (laidback, successful, funny) as someone else. It’s easy to forget that everyone has their struggles. But recently, it became crucial for me to remember that someone with different strengths than me may also have different weaknesses. Some things that come easily for me may be difficult or foreign to them.
I don’t have to settle for scraps and crumbs. And let me tell you, I have settled for less time after time. I didn’t think I deserved more. But guess what? Even though I can’t always get what I want, I am still worthy of what I want and hope for.
Even in our data-obsessed world, people want pixie dust. I’ve realized that the greatest value I’ve provided to clients, employers, and those I’ve managed is something that can’t quite be pinned down or accurately measured. Some have described it as pixie dust. For years, I was wary about owning that. I feared that people wouldn’t take me seriously if I focused on delivering a certain kind of experience rather than ye olde measurable results. And that’s not an unrealistic fear. Some people won’t take me seriously. That’s okay. They’re not going to stop me from offering my own brand of magic to those who understand its value.
Enthusiasm is a superpower. When I was a cheerleader in high school (yes, really), every member of the squad got a “most” or “best” award at the end-of-the-year squad party. I remember inwardly chafing when I received “most enthusiastic.” It seemed like a throwaway award for someone who didn’t have any REAL talent. But now? Now I’ve learned that my natural enthusiasm and happy energy, which is integral to who I am, actually opens doors. It’s probably one of the things that fuels my pixie dust.
Oh! The value prop is me. There are a lot of things I want to do. I tried to package them all up into a succinct, enticing elevator pitch. That attempt fizzled. But where words can’t connect all my ideas, I can. The common denominator can be the unique fingerprint I put on all my endeavors.
They mean it when they say to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others (learned in a figurative way). I know it’s becoming a cliché metaphor, but it’s true. This past year has taught me that I cannot move forward until I take much, much better care of myself, and establish much, much firmer boundaries.
They mean it when they say someone else needs to drive you to the ER after you use your EpiPen (learned in a literal way). A shot of adrenaline is almost as terrifying as why you need it. If you have an EpiPen and haven’t yet used one, I hope you never need to. But if you do, don’t be thinking you can drive yourself anywhere. Ask for help.
Feelings matter. Like probably just about every woman, I’ve had my feelings and emotions come under scrutiny (from men and—almost more appallingly—other women). Some of the work I’ve done with my awesome coach and an interesting podcast* I listened to recently has helped me reevaluate how I view my feelings. They can be a powerful guide, and identifying how I want to feel is turning out to be more motivating than any list of goals I’ve ever made.
* Some of this episode was too woo-woo for me, but the perspective about feelings was worth it.
The truest friends won’t tell you what you want to hear—they’ll listen. There are plenty of quippy posts out there claiming that only a best friend will tell you what you need to hear. On the surface, that sounds good. But I’ve learned it’s not. Not at all. The best person to tell me what I need to hear is me, and the people who matter most in my life have listened and supported me as I uncovered what was best for me.
Perspective is everything. This is something that I can now remember more easily due to an incident that happened on my birthday at the Bordeaux airport. If you’re ever at this airport and decide to call an Uber, you will be advised that all Uber pickups happen at the huge wine bottle. You will look, and look, and look some more. Yet you will not see it. That’s because while some might have the perspective that it’s huge in comparison to a normal-size wine bottle, it was not large enough to be easily spotted in a sea of people and cars. Therefore, from my perspective, it wasn’t huge at all.
(Pro tip: as you exit the airport, it’s across the road and off to the right.)
Asking for help is tough but worthwhile. I used to feel like a failure or an imposition if I asked for help. Now I don’t (most of the time). The people who matter most to me want to help and view it as a gift rather than a transaction.
When it comes to timing, there’s only so much I can control. It feels good to have deadlines to work toward or a definitive answer to questions that begin with “when.” But those are often “best laid plans.” Time often laughs when you try to pin it down. Yes, I wish I’d learned some of the lessons above sooner. But I’m also pretty sure I learned what I needed when I needed it.
And that’s pretty much it. Thank you for taking the time to read these thoughts. I’m jazzed about what I’ve learned and where those lessons will lead—and how they’ll influence the work and play I do with some of you. I’d also like to say thank you to those who had meaningful conversations with me about what I was learning and dreaming of last year—your support was a gift.
Happy 2020…and beyond!
P.S. This letter does not indicate my return to blogging. I did consider blogging again but am going to do something else instead. At the end of this month, I’ll be launching Percolate, a weekly newsletter devoted to cultivating curiosity. Each edition will include some combination of thought-starters, interviews, general musings, a few clues, and occasional silliness.
thank yous + inspiration
The following are awesome people who have shown me support this past year by listening, advising and providing patience, enthusiasm, laughter or kindness just when I needed them. If you ever get a chance to work with or collaborate with any of them, DO. And if you are one of them, thank you, THANK YOU.
Tara BantamOksana BenedickRoger BradfordChris BrowningSara BrowningTheresa EkstromKeri FranklinPenelope GeorgeLeah GregoryHannah HusmanElissa KevrekianMegan MerryVictoria MillsSimon ReadFlame SchroederWendy West
And here are some awesome (and sometimes surprising) things that have given me clarity and courage this year.
Company of One by Paul Jarvis
Tiffany Pratt’s Creative Mornings talk
Brené Brown’s The Call to Courage
A Hymn for The Curve episode of the Robcast
Conan O’Brian in conversation with Howard Stern (I’m not joking)
Spending time in this apartment in Seville
The Lee Krasner exhibit at Barbican
The Olafur Eliasson exhibit at Tate Modern
Art of Doubt by Metric
Lover by Taylor Swift (I’m not joking about this either)
This thread by Liz Ryan
This thread by Jason Fried