2019 has been a very interesting year. I feel like for the first time in many years, I haven’t been buried under a mountain of stress.
The past three years have been a long and sometimes difficult journey through stressful jobs, being stressed because I had no job, struggling with finances and not knowing what the future would bring (very difficult when you lead with Futuristic and imagining the future is where you get your energy and joy from!)
It wasn’t a great time, and while I still had a lot to be thankful for (and still do) I struggled with my purpose, my value (because in our society if you don’t work how do you measure your worth?) and to some point, my identity.
2019 has been a major upward swing for me for a few reasons:
I have a job in a supportive, positive environment where I get to do what I do best, utilize my degree, and my work never comes home with me. The job also comes with some excellent perks which make my husband a bit jealous (hint: they’re food-related.)
I have been setting up a business - a dream of a few years beginning to be realized. While it’s not where I had (possibly unreasonably) pictured it to be at this point, it gives me satisfaction in the planning, structuring, dreaming and communication of ideas.
We’re financially in a good space. While we still don’t have the glorified ‘double income’ that is the supposed benefit to millennials (and never have had since we’ve been married) we’re doing well enough not to panic when a car needs a service or something goes wrong.
Through a combination of my job and my business I’ve been able to get more into the business community here and meet some excellent people. You never know what exists until you get out there.
That aside, there have been some pretty major lessons I’ve been learning this year (and will probably continue to learn, over and over.)
#1. Wanting is not enough.
I’m a pretty pragmatic person. I like concrete rather than theoretical, and am more ‘head-based’ than ‘heart-based.’ But despite that, I still have expectations of something happening because I want it.
I’m talking about business, of course, but the lessons apply to every area of life.
I want to build my business to be successful, profitable, best-practice, and create change in my community. Wanting all this is not enough.
Wanting points me in the right direction and creates some momentum, but the rest of the momentum needed to move, is actually moving.
Hard work really does pay dividends. It’s not just about ‘hustling’ (that word always makes me think I have to dig with my hands) but being intentional about working towards long-term goals, even if the results of that effort are years away.
I think that’s something that has become hidden in this day and age of “easy money” from the internet. It looks and sounds easy but people don’t see (or show) the huge amount of work, planning, strategy, failing, learning and reflecting that goes on behind the scenes.
#2. Accept and enjoy where you are.
I am a future focused person. The past has a little interest for me, but the future is where the fun happens.
I love thinking of what could be - awesome events, community initiatives, businesses, even cool ideas of things to do with my friends. It’s not that I want to escape the present exactly, but looking to the future is where I get energy from.
As a kid I loved daydreaming about what I wanted (a horse, please) and I still do as an adult, although the dreams are a little different (a house and land, where I can keep a horse, please.)
Right now, I can accept that I’m in a place where I have a lot of opportunities. I have the opportunities to learn, grow myself and my ideas, and develop character in myself in order to be able to hold the dreams I’m working towards.
I don’t know if I’m ready right now to manage a busy business with multiple staff. Ideally, I need to grow with my business over time - tackling one challenge at a time. Growth needs to be sustainable for businesses and individuals.
#3. Resting is OK
I love working towards goals. Even with activities I don’t like to do, I’d rather get them done and over than put them off until later.
I struggle to spend a day without doing much - I like knowing the house is clean, the garden is weed free, I’ve made steps towards one of my larger projects, I’ve baked, cooked or done washing. I have a need to be strategic with my time and make the most of it.
Earlier this year I was hit with the flu. It came on hard, took all my energy and stuck around for a month. I took a few days off work, and started going back after the first week. But I kept telling myself I was better, even though I probably wasn’t (I think I was tired of missing out of activities with my friends.)
I would go to my part-time job for three days, then collapse the remaining days of the week until Monday rolled around and I went back to work.
Repeat three times.
It wasn’t so much the work, but going out at night to see my friends that seemed to set me off. It’s the longest I’ve ever been sick and it was horrible.
After the first couple of days of being unwell I get restless and antsy to get something done, and frustrated because I don’t feel up to it.
I need to accept that resting is not a waste of time. Reading books, sleeping, sitting and staring out the window, even the occasional movie are not a waste of my time. Rest is good. We all need rest.
#4. People, people, people are always people, people, people.
I know Brene Brown has had a bit of a rise in mainstream popularity this year, thanks to one of her talks being uploaded on Netflix - ‘The call to Courage.’
Brene has been on my radar for a while as my mum used a lot of her works in her Doctorate Thesis (yes, I have a mum who is a Doctor of Theology!)
I’d never paid any real attention to Brene’s work before though. I watched the documentary and a couple of minutes in I was rushing for a pen and pad to write on.
Of course I read her book.
I think it cemented for me that people are all people - all worthy of the same respect and kindness, regardless of who they are and what they’re like.
Of course we don’t like everyone. We don’t have to like everyone. But sometimes we have no say in hanging out with some of those people we dislike. Mutual friends, workmates, extended family members all connect into our lives and we don’t always get along with them well. But that doesn’t mean we should treat them unkindly or assume their intentions are dishonorable.
I’m sure you’ve seen Socrates’ quote “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” and agree with it, but it’s hard to remember this when we ourselves are in the throes of battle, or someone’s behavior towards you is the opposite of kind.
I think this will be a lesson I’ll grapple with for the rest of my life. I don’t expect to ever be perfect, but I will continue trying and learning and one day, get to the point where I can say “yes, this is me 80% of the time.”
#5 Be Brave
I don’t particularly like talking to strangers, and I like it even less when I’m selling myself. Being a coach is like tying a ribbon on your head and saying to people “buy time with me! Only I can give my expertise like me!” It’s a bit awkward.
But part of being a business owner and running a business is learning to sell. And not just sell anything (in the past I’ve sold muffins, glasses, bread and holiday programmes,) but sell this specific, particular coaching service which is really hard to show to people. So you have to use your words - compelling, confident words that describe the benefits and value that coaching brings, and the words that describe the what and how.
I’ve had to talk to people I don’t know to try and describe coaching in a way that gets them interested enough to learn more. Sometimes I get a “no.” Sometimes I get nothing - no call back, no reply email. Sometimes I get a “maybe/you can put a poster up” and rarest of all, I might get a “yes.”
I have to remind myself that the worst that can happen here is I get a “no.” As long as I am polite and respectful, I’m not going to get kicked out or yelled at (one would presume.)
Being in business is being brave in the face of many rejections and keeping going anyway.
#6. Exercise is essential for general wellbeing.
I realize this is probably far from revolutionary for most people, but it’s something I’ve learned this year.
Anyone I’ve ever talked to has said that exercise is important, and yet I’ve still been skeptical. I don’t like exercise all that much as I don’t really see the purpose beyond the intangible “wellbeing” benefits.
Getting exercise because you’re gardening, digging, farming, or even getting from A to B makes much more sense to me than going around in circles because “excercise.” Activity used to be a way of life, because we didn’t have an option. The problem is, it’s not a way of life anymore. And I rarely do any of those manual labor tasks.
And so, I’ve had to accept that to keep my body feeling good, and to keep my mind from spontaneous combustion, and to sleep at night, I need to get a few sessions of movement in each week. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but a couple of walks, a swim, maybe even a game of tennis will get me through the week.
#7. Be selective in your yesses
I get really excited in two situations:
When I talk business.
When I talk future.
People’s Big Plans (as well as my own) are like catnip to me, and I find it a slippery slope from casually building an idea to diving full-on crazy-town-banana-pants into it. Of course I’m having fun doing it - I’m researching, planning, dreaming, and I’m very, very distracted.
I’m distracted from putting in the hard yards in my own business dreams, because this idea is fun, right now! I’m distracted from putting in 100% effort at work. I’m distracted from taking the time to rest, exercise or spend time with people I love. I’ve learned that I need to be selective with what I say yes to if I want to do anything to completion, and do it well.
I have Activator as my #2 talent theme. It’s a theme that drives me to get things going. I’m the one asking “what are we waiting for?” and “what’s wrong with getting started and figuring it out as we go?”
Sometimes this is great - I can get things off the ground that might never have lifted, or take up opportunities that might have been missed. It also means I start too many things and struggle to finish them, or start a bit before I’m fully prepared.
I need to think through what I say yes to, making sure it’s what will truly benefit me in the long run and not just distracting me from my goals and dreams because I’m getting excited about someone else’s.
#8. Urgency and importance are not the same.
I recently read an article about Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important principle that has changed the way I think about my ‘to do’ list.
The principle acknowledges that what is important and what is urgent are not often the same. It uses a 2x2 grid to sort priorities, tasks and demands into four categories:
Important & Urgent
Important & Not urgent
Not important & Urgent
Not Important & Not Urgent.
Important and urgent covers tasks that have long-term effects and demand attention right now - or else. Completing these tasks feels a lot like putting out fires. To manage these I need to a) procrastinate less and be organized and b) build some ‘buffer’ time into my working day so I can respond to important urgent requests without having to drop everything.
Important and Not Urgent tasks are usually ones that will have the greatest effect on developing a career or building a business - and yet they are often put aside for “when I have time” because there is no urgency. These are big-picture, long-term projects that are more like a marathon than a sprint. The consequences are not immediate if I don’t work on these - but I will feel them in 2-3 years. I want future Nat to benefit from what I do now - not suffer!
Not important and Urgent tasks are distractions - ‘nice to haves’ not MUST BE DONE OR ELSE. They give the illusion of productivity, without real satisfaction. I need to work on putting these aside for later/when I have time, not drop everything to work on something that has little need and little return.
Not important and not urgent tasks should be limited in the working day. These are often trivial, for entertainment only or to work on limiting stress. Some of these can definitely be moved to other times - when I’m not at work etc.
Taking that, I’ve been sorting my business tasks and even life priorities into these boxes, with interesting results. I’ve cleared my plate to focus on what’s truly important for my long-term goals. I’ve been able to work out what to focus on even if it isn’t glaringly obvious.
#9 You can’t harvest as you plant
This kind of touches back to lesson #1. We, as in Western society, are very used to instant results. We like our microwave meals, on-demand streaming and Uber Eats. We like to have it now.
The same goes for our work efforts - we expect results as a direct and immediate consequence to our actions and efforts.
But something I’ve been reading and thinking about is that when you garden, you don’t plant something and expect to harvest it right away.
You put a tomato seed in the ground, water it, keep watering it, watch in fascination it as it sprouts and grows, prune it a little, stake it, and wait some more as the fruit starts to set and develop. After months of waiting and work, you get to harvest.
It’s the same in business. You start doing something, then you wait, maintain, keep putting it out there and months, maybe years later you’ll get results. But it is unwise to expect a yield immediately.
I was definitely expecting immediate harvest from my small business plantings. Everyone told me “it takes 3-7 years to establish a business” and I’d think “but I am smart. I can do it in one year.” Those people were definitely right, and I definitely needed to be more patient and realistic in what I expected.
Rome was not built in a day, and this empire won’t be either.
#10 Want what you have.
This last lesson came from listening to a goal setting podcast by Brooke Castillo.
She spoke about wanting things - we all want better for ourselves, our businesses and families. But something that we often forget is that there are many things in our lives that we already have - and still want to possess.
For example, I want to be married to my amazing husband - and I am! I want to have the opportunity to create a business from scratch and do what I do best - and I do!
Brooke actually recommended going away and writing a list of 25 things we want - and to make every second item something we already have. I did this, and found it really enjoyable. I actually got to a place about halfway through writing it where it was easier to think of what I did have than what I didn’t.
I think that is where true thankfulness stems from - actually desiring what we do have - we would be shattered without it and appreciate that we can have it. The exercise made me remember that yeah, I’m super blessed. Wanting to create and establish myself and my business and my home is not wrong, but I need to do it from within a place where I love what I have.
I think it’s great to sit down and reflect on what the year has taught us. Often the best lessons come from hard situations, and I think some of these I wouldn’t have learned if things had been easy. Have you been learning any of the same lessons as me, or have yours been different? I'd love to hear your 2019 lessons.
Have a great Christmas and New Years, and I hope you can enjoy reflecting on the last decade and look with excitement toward the next one!