What a year.
A good year is a year that taught me new concepts I can explain and share. A great year is a good year that ended better than the year before.
2014 was a great year. It didn't start out looking like it would turn great. It started with failure of my startup and continued to a place of deep fear and uncertainty. By June my fears faded. Uncertainty turned to optimism. In July my plans for my future fell apart completely. That still hurts, and I expect that pain to last for years to come. When you expect and plan for something to happen and it doesn't, you realize how much is out of your direct control. It's a lesson in what Stephen Covey calls The Circle of Influence and the Circle of Control. I failed at that. Lesson learned, I hope.
I took ample time to consider my future, explored and chose a path that so far has been rewarding and enriching. Was it the best choice? Time will tell, but my optimism hasn't waned.
I learned a lot in 2014 and a blank canvas is hard to fill. I'm categorizing what I've learned under three core areas:
- Communication & Community
- My Personal Mission Statement and Personal Growth
- Leadership and Partnership
Sharing fear is important, but also triumphs. This lesson hit me hard, and still echoes through my thoughts. Also it's important to be familiar with other's perceptions and expectations. Communication is the key to managing your Circle of Influence and building stronger personal relationships.
Perhaps the hardest spot this year was the missed opportunity mentioned above. I was so excited, it felt perfect. Full of learning, growth, and working with friends. It didn't work out that way, and the best part of this year is understand that it was ok it didn't work out. I kept my head up, looking around and I discovered that new opportunities will always present themselves. Even though the feeling of loss is still present I've discovered opportunities and bettered myself, most importantly learning the importance of proactive communication. Things work out when you have the right mindset, and they did for me. I'm excited to work alongside some awesome new friends and do my part in building a sustainable, durable business that focuses and optimizes for happiness.
Happiness is important. It keeps me going with zeal and enthusiasm. My wife and I celebrated our 11th anniversary. Wow. My wife has always been a great supporter and this year she has transitioned to being a partner in my growth, both professionally and personally. The catalyst to change is more structured communications. She's been reading a lot of coaching books, and we've explored that. She's pretty great.
We have weekly check-ins about what I'm working on and what's causing anxiety or frustration. We list out 3 things I can do to advance in important, but not necessarily urgent, ways. We check-in midweek again to review progress. It's such a simple technique, but it's been amazingly powerful and fuel for some wonderful conversations between us that branch out much further than we expected.
Enhance. Enhance. Enhance.
I've adopted "Enhancing the Human Experience with Technology" as my personal mission statement. It is a guiding principle that I use to weigh decisions. I've formalized a few ideas, but largely have not jumped into building products.
I even had some great validation! There were two articles on my "Must, Should, Want" method on LifeHacker and Wrike's blog. I feel very happy and proud, not for being featured but resisting the drive to build a product before fully validating and verifying the idea. I've gone through two notebooks using Must, Should, Want and it truly helps. I even got my dad using the method, which is profoundly amazing to me. Maybe I will build an app for it. I'm not sure, yet. What's important is I don't feel compelled to build. I'm free from needing that.
This experience was foreign to me. I had always struggled to quickly jump into building long before I fully looked at who I was building for. I always identified with myself as an ideal customer, but in this case all I needed was a notebook. I think others may need more. It's staggering to feel the effects when a compulsion fades away. In 2014, I'm practicing being still and finding peace. It's hard to throw off these self-imposed shackles.
Recap: Must. Should. Want.
Write 3 specific things you can do that day. Review and repeat.
- What must I do to create the most impact today?
- What should I do to build a better future?
- What do I want to do so that I may enjoy today and life more completely?
I was (and still am, to some degree) a slave to "passion". Passion is fear forcing us to always be busy. I let Imposter Syndrome convince me the only way to be "free" was to have my own company and run my own products. It's a lie. Passion is a prison. Freedom comes from shifting away from fear. Freedom is the spirit of abundance. I naturally want to work hard because I am hard-working. I enjoy solving problems and want to share my solution with others. I can be passionate about who I am without passion forcing me to act.
This has been a year of liberation. I finally feel I can stop, look around and simply observe. I am learning to follow, learn and most importantly to support others I care about. Learning how to simply pause has allowed me to better support and listen to my friends and colleagues. This change creates space for me to focus on being effective.
Leadership, Fear, and Uncertainty
Perhaps the biggest and most valuable concept learned is to understand the difference between fear and uncertainty. Fear is a reasonable response to a legitimate threat. Uncertainty may or may not be reasonable, but often times uncertainty generates a sense of impending doom. In these circumstances, working through the uncertainty and focusing on learning about it, and discovering why the uncertainty triggers such a feeling of dread is beneficial. Even good natured attempts to soothe the fear may backfire, as it legitimizes the sense of impending doom. Focus on the uncertainty, discover the true origin, and use that energy to transform the uncertainty into calculated risk and optimism.
This year I've struggled with optimism. That's tough to admit, but fortunately I found people who will tell me the truth. I learned that ideas are fragile, and clinging to uncertainty will prematurely kill even the best of ideas. I'm grateful to be working alongside people who know how to talk about this. I'm surrounded by people who are good leaders.
Through the year I looked at what makes great leaders (and the good and bad). This could be an objective assessment that scores people on revenue, growth, turnover, or whatever. I'm less interested in those numbers, and those types of leaders. There are leaders in families, groups of friends, and business. Some of the best leaders are not in executive roles.
I believe there are two distinct types of leaders, those who manipulate and those who educate. Manipulation inevitably leads to alienation and resistance. Manipulation opposes the spirit of abundance. Abundance is at the core of leading by education.
Manipulation, unfortunately, comes so easily and naturally. We are a fearful species, and manipulation is a symptom of fear. Fear originates from the acknowledgement that anything we have can be taken away. Education is not about we have but what we are. Education remove fears and uncertainty. Manipulation feeds fear, and often times delivers a false sense of comfort when we get our way and believe it was effective, not realizing the debt incurred.
This year I've watched people in leadership positions blatantly use manipulation tactics and learned they rarely realize it. It's far too easy to condemn someone for being malicious than it is to empathize with their uncertainty and guiding fear. I'm guilty of this, I criticize and complain even though I understand the underlying suffering creating the situation. I have a long way to go.
The lack of empathy is a two-pronged problem. Leaders that rely on manipulation are doomed to receive poor work. This perpetuates a vicious cycle that fulfills the ego's need to be in charge and reinforces the perception that nobody else does good enough work. Progress comes at a high human cost; it is merely a race against burn-out.
Manipulation gradually slows down progress and increases the cost of progress. Morale gets lower and lower. Any relationship built on manipulation requires constantly increasing energy just to sustain the same levels of progress. Eventually people quit or simply cease being productive, behaving little different than automatons.
Leaders who focus on education are partners. They present problems and co-create solutions with the understanding the best solutions comes from the person doing the work. My cynicism ran high that this could ever be present in any company I would work for. I read Maverick but still didn't believe such a company would exist.
I found a company. Well, my best friend found it and went to go work there. Then another friend knew told me about the company after meeting Kyle, their CEO. And then another person told me about the company. Three unrelated people telling me about this company piqued my interest. I had to learn more.
I'm glad it did. I'm ending 2014 in a good place. I'm gradually becoming more optimistic and I've found like-minded people who care deeply about people. The company itself is working on interesting problems all while striving towards the goal of the workplace being a platform for happiness and self-actualization. I'm pretty excited.
Enough about me
What about your year? What went right? What could have been better? And now that we're starting a new year it's customary to make those silly resolutions and not keep them. I have a better idea.
List 3 to 5 areas in which you can improve and spend time and energy in. For the last year, my areas of focus were Public Presence, Increase Knowledge about Psychology & Behavioral Economics, Balance Career with Relationships, and Writing. It's very beneficial to have these beacons. Sharing with others makes it concrete and real, and gives the people close to you an opportunity to support and be partners. Include them! I'll be working with my wife to review and redefine my areas of focus for 2015. This idea comes from Peter Bregman's 18 Minutes, and he helpfully provides a template for listing out daily tasks that align with your annual focal points.