December means snow, candy canes, clementines, and reflecting on the past year.
This month, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about 2016: what was rewarding and energizing, what was frustrating, what I wish I’d done differently.
My friend Barbara Erochina introduced me to a way of reflecting on what happened over the course of the year. I learned so much from visually mapping out 2016 in this way.
Reviewing my year taught me a lot. There were four things that particularly jumped out at me, and I know if I can internalize them, they will make 2017 happier and healthier for me.
I share these lessons with you in the hopes they will make next year happier and healthier for you too.
1. Accept that when you express an opinion, there will be blowback
Want to evoke some strong feelings? Say Trump.
In May, I wrote an article about Trump and language for the Washington Post. I argued that politicians should use simple language to be understood by a wide range of people.
That was eight months ago. I still get emails from strangers telling me why I’m wrong (the latest one included the word ‘heretofore’, which I found very amusing).
I stand by what I wrote then: simple language is better language. It is easier to understand. It is kinder. I learned these lessons while living in Cambodia, and I have taken them to heart.
RELATED: Want to write better? Go travelling.
Fortunately, I've found others who agree with my perspective. When you express an opinion, there will be some people who vehemently disagree, but you'll find the people who think similarly to you. Then you can work with them and forget the rest.
2. Don't do things because you think you should do them
This is obvious, but I learned it in 2016 anyway as it dawned on me that:
Networking is a waste of my time. My calendar in February was full of events. This was a conscious decision on my part to “get out there” and make those elusive business connections to find work. It didn’t really work, possibly because I’m better one-on-one.
- No, I don’t need a master’s degree. In January, I was completing grad school applications. I love learning, and many people I know have a master’s degree. Combined with some nagging doubt as to whether I could really make it working for myself, this had me filling out grad school applications. I got in, decided I didn’t want to go, and haven’t looked back since. (To date, none of my clients have asked for my academic credentials.)
3. Find your sweet spot
Some freelance writers are frustrated novelists who wish all their time could be spent on “creative” projects. The corporate writing pays the bills so they can work on the creative in their spare time.
This isn’t bad, but it’s not me. I genuinely enjoy working on my clients’ reports and blog posts. I like bringing the creative into the corporate whenever I can. That’s my sweet spot.
One of my favourite projects in 2016 was writing creative profiles for people nominated as Everyday Political Citizens. Profiles may not sound exciting, but Samara had me capture the essence of each individual to present a unique portrait of who they are and what makes them tick. These people are incredibly inspiring and it was so much fun to tell their stories.
The other wonderful thing about doing corporate writing is that tons of people read it. In some cases, the writing even takes physical form, like when it’s mounted and displayed on a wall at an event. It’s pretty cool.
4. Carve out breathing room
Things come up. I moved to Toronto in June. My neck gave out in September. I was without Internet in my apartment for four weeks in October and November.
These things were hella disruptive to my work. It’s no wonder I started a meditation practice in October, to create literal breathing room.
Just as important is metaphorical breathing room. Space in my days and weeks to deal with whatever comes up, whether that’s a health issue or a last-minute client project I really, really want to work on.
But breathing room is more than something to give me space if I’m sick or something comes up with a client. It’s where the magic happens. It’s where ideas form and conversations happen.
This was something I loved when I traveled a few years ago. I had time to follow whatever whim struck me, which always led to the most worthwhile experiences. I met my current partner on an impromptu trip to Morocco. I ended up living in Cambodia for two years after a fleeting thought of how great it would be to live there.
In 2017, I’m going to be even more deliberate about leaving free time in my days, weeks, and months for time to think, reflect, brainstorm, and create wonderful things that won’t happen otherwise.
If I can internalize that lesson alone, I know 2017 will be a happier and healthier year for me. I'm hoping 2017 will be happier and healthier for you too.
What did you learn in 2016? What will you do differently in 2017? Leave a comment.