I really should’ve called this blog ‘Dear Diary’, shouldn’t I? It’s that time of year when we start to look back and make all kinds of fancy resolutions to hopefully make the next 12 months better than the last 12, and maybe even become shiny new versions of ourselves.
Taylor Swift aside, the general consensus is that 2017 was a shit show but, in an effort to be more positive, I learnt a lot this year. My wellness obsession swelled to new heights and led me to spend a lot more time delving into self-care and self-help, spaces I previously scoffed at. There’s no book, blog post or podcast which changed my mind about these things – maybe it’s just part of getting older – but this year I’ve spent more time considering my own choices, looking at why I and those around me do what we do and, as twee as this sounds, generally seeking to be a bit more understanding.
Here’s 5 of the big lessons I learnt and started to apply in my life in 2017 and a few podcast recommendations thrown in for good measure:
1. Just accept people for who they are.
At the risk of sounding like the poor man’s Oprah, you can’t change people, you can only change your reaction to them and your own behaviour. This might be something you’ve known for years but honestly, this year the penny finally dropped for me, I took this self-help bible cliché to heart and it genuinely changed my life. I stopped being frustrated by the annoying quirks or bad habits of people around me, like when you repeatedly offer advice and are ignored or you see a friend doing the same toxic behaviour over and over again when you know the outcome won’t be pretty. As Gabby Bernstein writes, accepting people doesn’t mean agreeing with them or letting them walk all over you, but when you try to change people what you’re really doing is judging them. We’re all different and everyone can be annoying – yes, even you and me. So cut them some slack!
2. Self-deprecating BS is exactly that – BS.
One lesson I learnt in both my personal and professional life is that being self-deprecating – whether to put someone else at ease or because you worry that you’ll sound boastful – gets you nowhere. I’ve done this for years. You know, telling people who expressed envy that I got to travel for a living that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be (it was). Saying I’m ‘just a freelancer’ when anyone would say they saw my work in a magazine or hear my name on the radio. This year I realised that no one else will blow your trumpet for you (not a euphemism). For 99.9% of us, there is no Richard Branson waiting in the wings to tip you as the next big thing to Forbes magazine. Here’s the cheesy self-help bit: be your own cheerleader and own your achievements. You are not responsible for how other people feel and if someone feels jealous or threatened by the positives in your life, that’s on them, not you. Hillary Clinton knows a thing or two about people being intimidated by your success and she offers some really useful advice on this topic on Cheryl Strayed’s always excellent Dear Sugars podcast. I urge you to listen.
3. Freelancers, make sure you get the clearest brief before you accept a job.
This is one for the fellow writers out there. Admittedly it’s a lesson I should have learnt before now but better late than never, right? On two occasions this year I accepted projects which turned out to be completely different from what I expected – and not in the good way. On one occasion I accepted a role with Manager in the title but quickly found myself micromanaged at every step, with none of the responsibility I had gleefully anticipated and ended up feeling completely demoralised. The second example involved accepting a short project only to receive more detailed information a few days later which changed the brief completely. Had I asked a few more questions, I would’ve known it was something I could not deliver…and I didn’t get paid as a result. I could rant and rave about the companies here but the harsh truth is I didn’t ask enough questions before accepting the jobs and I ended up disappointed and out of pocket. If this is something you’re grappling with as a freelancer, at the end of Otegha Uwagba’s podcast interview with Suitcase founder Serena Guen there’s really helpful advice on this subject.
4. Stop making excuses and accept responsibility for your own actions or inaction.
Another obvious one but one that’s really tough to learn. I’m as guilty of this as the next person but I think it’s really easy to get into a habit of blaming outside forces for your choices in life and making excuses for yourself. You chose the wrong degree because your guidance counsellor didn’t spend enough time with you. No, you didn’t invest enough of your own time researching courses. Your friend stopped asking to meet you because they are a sucky friend. No, your friend got tired of you saying yes and then flaking out at the last minute. Instead of thinking ‘why is that happening to that person and not me?’ look at your own choices and why you made them. Accept them. Even though I found this a particularly hard pill to swallow, it’s completely changed how I look at my life and has given me a much needed reality check. If you want to read/hear more on this topic, Gala Darling did a great Facebook Live video on this very subject and why the best thing you can do is stop making excuses and accept responsibility so check it out.
5. Reality is enough.
In 2017 I learned – or maybe just realised – that while social media is undoubtedly useful, it’s not everything and should not be taken so seriously. In my post on digital detoxing I wrote about my feelings on this and since then, I’ve noticed more people addressing the negative side of life online. In her interview on Girlboss Radio, I was surprised to hear even Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine never feels great after an Instagram scroll. Don’t get me wrong, I still love social media (most of the time). But, useful as it is, it’s too easy to get caught up in likes, retweets and living for the ‘gram instead of being present. I’m guilty of the mindless scrolling as much as the next person and every time I close Instagram only to reopen it in 10 minutes, I feel disgusted at myself. So this year I’ve really changed how I use social media and my time online. While I’ll continue tweeting and posting photos that get 5 likes, social media is just a hobby, something I can take or leave. This year I also managed to curb my email anxiety, stopped stressing out about answering emails straight away and – shockingly – the world did not fall apart. In this episode of The High Low Pandora Sykes mentions some useful ways she’s been curbing her social media usage, such as only posting every second day, and I will definitely be following Pandora’s lead in 2018. If life online is causing you anxiety or making you compare yourself to others, step away and spend more time looking around you, not at a screen. No matter how many hours you spend curating the perfect Instagram grid, life online is not your life. You have to be satisfied with your real life first. End of my Oprah-style life coaching session!
Did you learn any valuable lessons in 2017? I would really love to hear about them in the comments. Happy new year everyone!