Each year as part of my annual reflection, I use my daily journal from the year to identify what I’m grateful for, my lessons learned, and to keep myself accountable for my goals.
You can read my 2019 annual review in 3 parts:
- Part 1: What I’m Grateful in 2019
- Part 2: My Lessons Learned in 2019
- Part 3: Goals & Habits Check-In
Let’s dive into my top 10 lessons I learned in 2019!
What I learned about myself and the world around me in 2019
From reviewing my daily journal over 2019 and writing down my key learnings from the year, I ended up with a long list of learnings. I then used this list to identify my top 10 learnings from 2019.
Rather than do a deep dive into these learnings here (given this is already a long post), I’ve listed the learnings below as succinctly as I can, and I’ll leave the deep dive for future blog posts this year.
#1 It’s important to actually experience my emotions. They don’t have to mean anything.
I realised that I really haven’t allowed myself to experience my emotions – part of this is has been a result of a belief that emotions are bad because of how they cause people to act. In fact, emotions are a valuable data point, and by closing myself off to them, I’ve been living with access to fewer inputs to make decisions.
Additionally, while emotions may influence poor behaviour, they also are incredibly powerful in influencing amazing acts of kindness, generosity, love, sacrifice and commitment. I learned that while we may not always be able to control our emotions, we can also choose how we respond to them and as such, I need to open myself up to the full-spectrum experience of my emotions!
My key learning here, therefore, is to ask myself regularly:
“How am I feeling right now?”
#2 I need to grow my emotional literacy to develop my awareness of myself and those around me.
Emotional literacy refers to the ability to express one’s emotional state and communicate one’s feelings. I realised this year that I struggle to articulate and identify how I am actually feeling because, in addition to not allowing myself to experience my emotions, my literacy around emotions is also very narrow.
The more well-developed one’s emotional literacy is the better you can recognize and respond to the emotional states of others – and this is an area I want to grow in so I can better support others.
#3 I need to create more space in my life.
This plays out in a variety of ways. Firstly, speaking less and pausing more to create space for others to share.
Secondly, creating space between experiencing craving, desire and emotions and then taking action, so that I can make friends with myself.
Thirdly, creating space between identifying a problem, and defining a solution for the problem, so that by sitting with the problem for longer, I don’t fall trap to the ‘Do Something Syndrome’.
Finally, this also plays out by saying ‘No’ more to opportunities and requests that are presented to me. It’s only by saying ‘No’ that I can create more space in my life for things that truly matter to me.
#4 I’ve used a lack of self-worth to drive my self-improvement. I’ve been armouring up and building a moat around me to protect myself.
I’ve always believed that I’ve had healthy self-worth, and while this is generally true, I realised this year that my continuous drive for self-improvement has deep down come from a fear of not being enough, and from not wanting to experience shame, judgement or blame.
It’s created so many positive outcomes for me – it’s meant that I’ve got very good at a lot of things. It’s also however been my protection from being vulnerable, and this has meant that it’s also got in the way of building deeper relationships with people in my life.
Additionally, without realising it I’ve been using pain as a driver, rather than love.
#5 I have held tightly to being perceived as smart and intelligent.
This has been driven by my ego and desire to be seen as significant in some way, as well as a belief that intelligence is the highest standard. It’s also been something I’ve used to judge other people.
It’s meant that I’ve often unconsciously come to conversations with the desire to showcase my own knowledge, rather than coming from a place of humility. This prevents me from asking questions that might highlight my ignorance. The irony of this all is that what’s been more important to me is the perception of others that I am smart.
My learning here is that to truly grow in wisdom, I need to let go of the need to be perceived as ‘smart’ so that I can create the space to ask questions, be ignorant, and come from a place of ‘I know nothing’.
#6 I have a strong need for control in my life which I need to let go of so I can continue to grow as a leader.
This need for control I believe comes from a place of keeping me psychologically safe. I’m incredibly grateful for this desire for control because it’s both directed my career choice in running my own business (giving me the ability to control what I do, when I do it), while also giving me a proactive mindset about taking responsibility for things in my life.
On the flip side, however, it also means that I tend to hold onto things longer than I should rather than delegating and bringing on a team to support me.
A big learning for 2020 and beyond is that I want to have greater self-awareness when ‘Mr Control’ is operating in my life, and then ask myself,
“Is this something I should be doing at all? Is this something that should be delegated?”
#7 I need to accept and love who I am.
As I shared in learning #4, my drive for self-improvement has come from a place of not feeling worthy or enough. This has then also influenced my desire to be perceived as ‘smart’, and my need for control to maintain my psychological safety.
I learned this year at MJ Fitzpatrick’s immersive workshops (Kill Your Demons and The Container) that I need to first accept who I am without judgement, and then send love to my little boy, teenage self, and adult self.
This way, over time, I can live and be from a place of love rather than fear, and my drive for personal growth and desire to make an impact in the world will come from a place of love and abundance, rather than from pain and a feeling of scarcity.
#8 I need to stop competing to be the best and instead compete to innovate and be unique.
This learning was inspired by a long-form essay on Peter Theil and Mimetic Theory that you can also read here. This represented a huge mindset shift for me, as I’m a very competitive person and thrive on competition.
On the basis of looking for good ideas and learning from best practice, I’m frequently looking at what competitors do, and how we can do it better. Part of our mission for some time was to be the ‘world’s best’.
While in some ways this is great as it gets you to lift your game and perform at higher levels, ultimately, you end up competing for the same scarce resources, and it becomes a zero-sum game. There can only be one winner.
My mindset shift and learning this year has been to be much more aware and intentional of competing to innovate, instead of competing to be the best. While this learning may appear obvious, when we are hardwired as a species to innately copy others as a key survival and learning strategy, it’s easier said than done.
#9 I need to stop negotiating with myself.
I realised because I am a very collaborative negotiator, I frequently would make compromises on positions before I’ve even had a conversation with another party on the basis of my desire to create a ‘reasonable’ outcome. I learned that it’s not my job to do this – it’s the other parties responsibility to identify whether an assumption or offer is in fact reasonable!
I also learned thanks to Chris Voss’s book, ‘Never Split the Difference’ that negotiation actually begins when another party says ‘No’. Up until that point, you are both simply agreeing. This was a big mindset shift as well because instead of avoiding ‘No’, you should, in fact, seek to discover where the other parties ‘No’s’ lie.
#10 Am I operating above or below the line?
I learned this year as a fantastic way to get self-awareness in any given moment to ask myself the question:
Am I operating above, or below the line right now?
In this thought-provoking podcast on The Knowledge Project, Jim Dethmer from the Conscious Leadership Group explained that;
If you are above the line you are…
Being open to feedback and learning, you are curious, being revealing, candid, honest and vulnerable.
If you are below the line you are..
Being closed, contracting, operating from ego, defensive, concealing, and hiding your true feelings.
Upon identifying where you are sitting, you then take a deep breath and ask yourself:
Can I accept this right now?
You then reveal and be candid about your context to those you are with – because you must shift context before you can shift the content of any conversation.
I found (in the times I’ve asked myself this question – the lesson here is I need to ask myself this question more often), it’s been a powerful way for me to practice both awareness, acceptance and love.
What I observed this year about this process is that because I’m conducting this review at the end of the year, the learnings that appear ‘more important’ to me are those that I had towards the end of the year, which is likely the availability bias at play.
As a result, my learning here is that in 2020, I need to reflect at the end of each month on what my major learnings were for that month (capturing them in a blog post), so that at the end of the year, my reflection doesn’t overemphasise learnings I had more recently.
Now it’s your turn…What are your lessons learned for from 2019?
I’d love to hear what your key learnings were from 2019 – let me know by leaving a comment below.
Hey, I’m Rowan. I’m the CEO of Art of Smart Education and I’m on a mission to help 1,000,000 young Australians answer the big question, “What am I going to do with my life when I finish school & how do I get there?”