The Top 10 Lessons That Had the Biggest Impact on My Life, Relationships, Wellbeing & Career in 2021

The Top 10 Lessons That Had the Biggest Impact on My Life, Relationships, Wellbeing & Career in 2021

Each year I reflect on the things I learned about myself, and the world around me.

Here are my top 10 learnings from 2021 on the things that had the biggest impact on the quality of my life, relationships, wellbeing and career.

  1. Behind One Mountain, Lies Another
  2. Sit, Pause & Wait. The Answers Will Come.
  3. The World is a Personalised Training Curriculum Designed Specifically for You 
  4. The Key to Finding Purpose Lies in Finding a Community You Love to Serve
  5. Evaluate the Quality of Your Decisions Based on the Inputs, Not the Outcome
  6. Don’t Complain. Just Fucking Do Something About It.
  7. Our Desires Are Mimetic. They Come From Other People.
  8. Personal Values are Useless Unless You Have a Clear Hierarchy
  9. FINE = Feelings Inside Not Expressed
  10. We Need to be Reminded More than We Need to be Taught

Let’s dive in ๐Ÿ‘‡

1/ Behind One Mountain, Lies Another

Behind one mountain, lies more.
For me, 2021 felt a lot like this:

I’d face one challenge head-on, and I’d be finally preparing to relax and recover, and then I’d discover that instead, I was facing an even bigger NEW challenge.

Initially, this felt pretty soul-crushing. Like it didn’t matter what I did, I just couldn’t get a break, or catch a win. ๐Ÿ˜ข

That’s when I stumbled upon the Haitian proverb:

Behind one mountain, lies another.

This was a complete game-changer for me – these 5 little words became my personal mantra during 2021, guiding me on the perspective I needed to take on the challenges that life brings.

While on the face of it, it might seem even more depressing – the acknowledgement that the mountains and challenges are endless, this had the entirely opposite effect for me. ๐Ÿค”

This Haitian proverb helped me in 3 big ways:

[1] It provided me with a deep sense of peace and acceptance as to what lay ahead (even if it was going to be hard). ๐Ÿง˜

[2] It also shaped how I viewed the mountain I was on – not as something to be quickly scaled, the pain minimised and pushed into the past to be forgotten on the journey, but instead as an instructive teacher with lessons for the mountains beyond. ๐Ÿ“–

[3] It helped me be more present on the journey itself – if what existed in the future were more mountains, why not take the time to enjoy the moments of beauty hidden within the challenge? ๐ŸŒบ

2022 looks like it’s going to be another challenging year, and when things get hard, I hope these 5 little words will help you as much as they have me:

Behind one mountain, lies another.

2/ Sit, Pause & Wait. The Answers Will Come.

I have a compulsion:

In the face of a challenge, I MUST do something. Anything that seems to provide forward momentum is better than doing nothing.

It’s an act of mental self-preservation.

While I might feel better because I’m moving, not all movement is progress. Often I can be at best tiring myself out with little to no progress or just making the challenge worse. ๐Ÿ˜ฌ

The Simple Lesson from Bird Watching ๐Ÿฆ

Recently, my wife and I have taken up bird watching. We’ve learned a simple lesson if you want to see birds or wildlife:

You need to go to the right location and environment where your chances of seeing animals are high.

You then need to sit, pause and wait. With time and patience, we’ve learned that your surroundings come alive.

This for me has become a metaphor for how I sought to tackle challenges in 2021:

[1] Orient myself in the right location.

This has meant I’ve focused first before taking any action on surrounding myself with the right information, and with people with the right expertise.

[2] I’ve then paused and sat to wait for the answers to come.

The goal here has been to allow me to more fully experience (and understand) the problem, and to then be able to select the most appropriate action to take.

Pausing and waiting has been incredibly difficult. ๐Ÿ˜“

I’ve had to fight my compulsion to act immediately, yet it’s been incredibly powerful however in helping me create the space & time to identify the right action to take.๐Ÿ‘Œ

How could sitting, pausing and waiting, help you in 2022?

3/ The World is a Personalised Training Curriculum Designed Specifically for You

There were times in 2021 I was angry with the world. 

A lot of this came from a place of not having control over what was happening in my life.

While I could sit there in self-pity and anger, I realised that it wasn’t useful to me, or those around me.

Reading Lives of the Stoics, by Ryan Holiday, a short poem by the Stoic Cleanthes completely changed my perspective:

Lead on God and Destiny,
To that Goal fixed for me long ago.
I will follow and not stumble;
even if my will is weak, I will soldier on.

For me, this has been a powerful way to reframe challenges, obstacles, and situations I cannot control (which is pretty much all of life). ๐Ÿ’ช

If you believe that a greater power (God, Destiny or something else – whatever it is) is in control, there’s no such thing as an event, challenge or obstacle that is not part of the plan for your life.

This means that everything that happens, every event, challenge, obstacle and problem was designed to happen – specifically for you.

In other words, life is a unique, personalised learning curriculum and training experience built exactly for you. ๐Ÿ‘Œ

Isn’t that an awesome and exciting way to look at the world?

Even if you don’t believe in God or destiny, the fiction for me at least has been a much more empowering way to view challenges that have been outside of my control.

It’s made me more humble, grateful and helped me maintain ‘shoshin’ (Beginner’s Mind). ๐Ÿ™

So the next time shit happens in your life, ask yourself:

What is life trying to teach me right now?

4/ The Key to Finding Purpose Lies in Finding a Community You Love to Serve

I was catching up with a friend who asked me:

“Don’t you get tired? You just don’t stop, and stay high energy, high focus for such long periods of time.

How do you do it? I’m exhausted right now?” ๐Ÿ˜ž

There are plenty of things that I find incredibly tiring.

I’m not always high energy regardless of what I’m doing. It’s highly contextual.

So then, how is that for the work I do at Art of Smart Education, I can maintain such high energy and high focus?

I love serving and supporting our customers, primary and high school students and their parents. 

I’m constantly thinking about ways in which we can better support them – I don’t have to try and do this – it just happens automatically. I feel compelled to do it and it energises me.

It’s also helped me navigate a very challenging 2 years.

When shit gets hard (and it will) if you don’t love your customer or community who you serve, you’ll get frustrated, angry, impatient, and want to give up.

The best way to find your purpose and be successful is to get out of our own head initially and instead focus on finding a customer or community you can serve. ๐Ÿคฒ

Ultimately, that’s what work and life are about – helping and making a difference in others lives.

As you serve this customer or community, then at this point, introspect and self-reflect and ask yourself:

[1] Do I love serving this customer and community?

[2] Am I feeling energised?

Serve first. Introspect second.

5/ Evaluate the Quality of Your Decisions Based on the Inputs, Not the Outcome.

I often evaluate the quality of my decisions based on whether the outcome is successful or not:

Successful outcome = good decision ๐Ÿ‘Œ

Unsuccessful outcome = bad decision ๐Ÿ˜ฌ

Over the last couple of years, however, I’ve found myself in a number of situations where I believe I had made a GREAT decision, only for the outcome of that decision to SUCK. ๐Ÿ˜ข

This has been pretty confronting. It caused me to doubt myself and believe that I must have made a poor decision because the outcome was bad.

I realised however that what I was doing was something called ‘Resulting’:

Resulting is where we evaluate the quality of decisions and actions we take based on the final outcome, not on the inputs.

The reason this is a problem is that good or bad outcomes can occur often due to luck and circumstances entirely outside of our control.

This can then be incredibly dangerous for future decisions we make.

If you judge a decision to be good because the outcome was good, but you achieved the outcome due to luck, when you repeat the behaviour in the future it may in fact harm you (because you are less lucky this time.)

What the last year has really taught me is the importance therefore of separating out the inputs and the outputs of decisions.

The thing you can control is your decision and the actions you can take and this is what you should evaluate to improve your decision making.

What you shouldn’t necessarily do however is judge and evaluate the quality of your decisions based on the outcome itself.

Because often you can do everything right, and things just don’t work.

6/ Don’t Complain. Just Fucking Do Something About It.

My wife and I were on our daily walk, and I was in full rant mode. ๐Ÿคฌ

With the craziness of COVID impacting schooling for so many students, stress levels for students were sky-high around their academic marks and university entrance scores (ATAR in Australia). ๐Ÿ˜ข

What I couldn’t understand is that despite:

[1] All the talk about the fact your academic marks don’t define you

[2] That we shouldn’t be measuring students’ success and capabilities on such a narrow measure, and

[3] The negative impact on students’ mental health & wellbeing

NOTHING had been done about it. ๐Ÿคฏ

While each year student’s academic marks would be published in the national newspapers, and students who scored top ranks would be celebrated with ‘Premier Awards’ and ‘All-Rounder Achiever Awards’, there was nothing that celebrated students for their achievements in Year 11 & 12 beyond their academic results and ATAR.

And that’s when my wife looked at me and said:

“Why don’t you do something about it then?
Stop complaining, start acting.”

Inspired by my wife’s challenge, I worked with our team at Art of Smart Education to innovate and create the Top 50 Year 12 Trailblazer Awards.

These awards are the first of their kind in Australia to celebrate the achievements and community impact of Year 12 students across NSW/ACT outside of their academics and ATAR.

What are you complaining about? ๐Ÿค”

Listen and pay attention to this. It’s an incredibly valuable data point and it’s an indication that there’s an opportunity to make a difference.

Do others share this complaint?

Complaints are opportunities. Stop complaining, start acting. ๐Ÿ’ช

7/ Our Desires Are Mimetic. They Come From Other People.

My wife and I were catching up with some friends who were all discussing their plans for buying a home.

When we come home from dinner, we then found ourselves looking up the housing market to find houses we might buy.

Then it hit us – why on earth where we doing this? ๐Ÿค”

We spend every moment of our life, from the moment we are born, wanting something.

And yet, I realised that I’ve never seriously taken the time to explore or understand how I’ve come to want specific things in the first place.

Which is crazy. ๐Ÿคฏ

It turns out that our desires come from others. The mimetic theory of desire by Rene Girard states that:

โ€œMan is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.”

This has a couple of implications:

[1] The way we perceive anything is coloured by the opinion of the role models we care about. ๐Ÿ‘€

[2] Over time we compete with our models (especially if they are nearby and accessible to us) to obtain the object of our desires.

So, what does this all mean?

Copying others desires isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it is just important to have awareness of where the desires are coming from, and whether they truly are ones we actually want for ourselves instead of us responding and desiring automatically.

For me, it’s been an equation of increasingly paying more attention to my wants, and asking myself:

Who did I get this desire from?

8/ Personal Values are Useless Unless You Have a Clear Hierarchy

I have a list of values that I wrote down as part of a leadership workshop and then promptly forgot about… ๐Ÿ˜ž

Having a clear set of values, in theory, makes a lot of sense.

When our desires are mimetic and we copy them from those around us, it’s incredibly easy for our wants to be hijacked.

That’s where having a clear sense of our values should enable us to stay true to our authentic selves as we navigate a world screaming for our attention.

And yet, I realised recently that I don’t use my values actively and intentionally to make decisions or if I do, it’s really a tool to justify and validate my existing course of action.

Why don’t we use our values actively & intentionally to make decisions?

Mistake #1: While I have a list of values, it’s a LONG list.

In fact, there are 19 values on this list…๐Ÿคฏ

You can already see the problem. I can’t even remember all the values on that list. It’s just way too long.

Mistake #2: I have no clear hierarchy identified in my values.

This means that when I’m faced with a decision, it’s pretty easy to FIND a value in my long list that suits me.

When all values are equal, the most mimetic one wins out (especially when it’s a tough decision).

Create a Clear Hierarchy of Your Values

Identify your top 3, non-negotiable, absolute values.

Then order the rest in order of importance.

Visualise your values in a model like a pyramid, or concentric circle so it’s easy to remember and identify which values to use to drive your decision making.

9/ FINE = Feelings Inside Not Expressed

For many years, I viewed emotions as something that was bad. ๐Ÿ˜ž

“To be emotional” wasn’t considered a good thing. It would just get in the way of making good decisions, or being able to act, and get shit done.

As I’ve got older, I’ve learned that this isn’t true:

Emotions are neither good, or bad.

They are important data where your body is trying to tell you something. It’s how we respond to them and use them that matters.

While I’d come to this place of appreciating the value of my emotions, my default response still when someone asks me, “How are you going?” is often:

“I’m going fine.” Or, “I’m good.”

I recently stumbled upon a fantastic definition for ‘fine’:

FINE = Feelings Inside Not Expressed. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

While I intellectually understood the value of my emotions, by simply saying, I was ‘FINE’, I was not actually acknowledging how I was feeling and labelling my emotion.

As a result, my emotional intelligence sucked. I was still ignoring my emotions because I wasn’t acknowledging them. ๐Ÿ˜ฌ

It also meant I wasn’t really understanding how those around me were really feeling.

One of my new practices in 2022 therefore is to have greater self-awareness when I, or someone else says, “I’m fine”.

My goal is to catch myself when I say it, and replace it with a specific emotion. Additionally, my intention is to dig in (with humour) when my friends & family say they are fine, to find out how they are REALLY going.

So the next time you hear, “I’m fine”, remember what it really means.

10/ We Need to be Reminded More than We Need to be Taught

When I’m presenting or coaching someone, I’ll occasionally get a look from them that says:

“I already know this, teach or show me something new that I don’t know.” ๐Ÿ˜

As humans we LOVE novelty and (based on my own experience) we’re always looking for something new.

We often however don’t apply shit. We get hooked on the novelty and feel smarter, but we don’t apply it.

I already know this vs I’m already doing this

When someone teaches or shares something with us, we so often push it to the side, because we ‘already know it’ and switch off from really paying attention.

Really, our standard should be, ‘Am I already doing this?’

So often in workshops and coaching sessions when I get the ‘I already know this look’ and I dig in I discover that while they know it, they aren’t applying it.

It turns out we all have huge knowing vs doing gaps. ๐Ÿ˜ž

This is why so often, we need to be reminded – not taught.

What do you need to be reminded about as you start 2022?

Here are some things I need to be reminded about:

  • Focus on one thing.
  • Pause and breathe.
  • Delegate more.
  • Journal each morning.
  • Talk less, listen more.

A good way to identify what you need to be reminded about is to listen carefully to the advice you are giving OTHER people.

Often it’s the exact advice you need to be reminded about as well. ๐Ÿ˜‚

I’d love to hear from you!
  1. Which one of the 10 lessons I shared here resonated with you the most?
  2. What’s something you learned in 2021 that has has an impact on your life?

Let me know in the comments! ๐Ÿ‘‡

Written by
Rowan Kunz
Join the discussion

  • Hey Rowan, these were super great mate. I loved them all and have found many of the same lessons in the last few years, probably owing to the curriculum point, which is one of my favorites.

    An important one was no. 10… it’s true to such a large degree. Most of us live in a state of constant distraction from the simple and peaceful reality that surrounds us.

    I don’t think as much about reminding though as much as re-programming and re-defining relationships – to people, things, feelings – everything, so as not to be attached. Too many reminders get snoozed lol. Two weeks ago I made some firm new decisions around balance and routines for writing, which gets me thinking clearly, as non-negotiables.

    I realise that trying to move too fast creates an unacceptable risk of losing perspective too easily.

    Great stuff mate – keen to see more of your wonderful learnings and ideas in 2022.

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