A Not So Even Year - Reflections On My 2018
Over the last few weeks, I’ve had some time to truly reflect on my 2018. I found two great tools for those still looking to do this, an Annual Life Review through Steve Schlafman on Medium, and through Hilary Rushford if writing vs. typing is more your style. There’s still time!
If there was one word to describe my year, it would be “unexpected.” It seems that at every intersection, what I thought I would see when I peeked around the corner was not what I had expected, both good and bad. As a result, I had countless adventures, learned many things I didn’t expect, met people outside of my usual circle, adapted to different environments and also had to stay strong during some very unexpected twists and turns.
My Top Eight Life & Strategy Lessons of 2018
Develop A Flexible Roadmap
In 2018, I went on my first guided tour where each activity from 9am to 7pm was meticulously planned. While I delighted in the two-hour indulgent Barcelona lunches and saw the city in its entirety, there was little time for reflection and the wonderful experiences that come from serendipity. Later that year, I booked a trip to Italy where I chose to fly by the seat of my pants. The result was lots of luck and serendipity (because come on, Italy!) but also needing to stay calm and course-correct when I got on the wrong train, accidentally booked a hotel 45 minutes outside the Perugia city center, paid too much for another hotel, and spent time in cities that could have been skipped.
But of course, I learned a valuable lesson - there’s an art to planning. Plan enough so you can enjoy the experience and aren’t doing things on the fly, but also leave room for the the magic that happens when you follow the wind or that street that is begging to be explored.
Learn to ask for, and accept feedback
In the Spring of last year, I took a fiction writing class through Sackett Street Writers. It was incredibly challenging and I still question whether or not I have a novel to write or even want to write one. Each week, we critiqued a writer’s work, divorcing their name from the work, and advising them on what they did well and what we felt they could improve upon using criteria outlined earlier in the workshop.
In the strategy world, we encourage our clients to create feedback loops between customer and product, employee and employer yet there are few constructs beyond annual reviews to do so in our work. We reference concepts like Carol Dweck’s growth mindset but fail to see how that concept can be applied to our own growth. Feedback is nothing to be afraid of and it’s critical to receive in order to grow. It is within our power as employees or managers to craft that feedback loop framework together. In fact, a hot-off-the-presses Harvard Business Review article echoes the same sentiment with advice on how to tackle performance reviews that lead to improvements.
A Strategy is a Strategy is a Strategy
”Have you done brand architecture? Design strategy? Naming strategy? Packaging design strategy?” Last year, rather than continually delivering the same output over and over, I dived into a wide range of strategic challenges, some that I didn’t even know I was getting into. I touched on design strategy, categorizing various elements of packaging and uncovering emerging trends. I helped build the beginnings of a brand with a purpose, but with many other unknowns. I shared POVs around brand architecture, seeing the parallels between that and user experience. And I ended the year delving back into culture with a few fast-paced pitches.
The current world of strategy is increasingly fragmented just as the possibility of outputs continues to expand. But the frameworks in how to achieve a strategy remains constant. Most strategists this day-in-age are no stranger to being asked to deliver on something beyond what they’ve done. So perhaps the question is not “Can you do this?” but rather, “Is this something you’re excited about and feel you have the tools to discover how to do so?” With communities like Sweathead, Open Strategy and Fishbowl you’ll probably find that the answer is “I’ve never done it but I can figure it out, and fast.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Push Past Your Limits
Last Spring, I achieved two personal, physical milestones, running further than I’ve ever ran without stopping and running a crazy, uneven path up and down through an orchard. I survived both and not only survived but kept going when my quads and lungs wanted me to stop.
So maybe I’m driven by competition, with myself and others. But in the end, I learned a valuable lesson. I can push myself beyond what I think are my limits and the results of that achievement are far greater and more positive than the pain and suffering I’m feeling during those moments I want to quit. I also continue to learn that it’s never too late to get in shape. How will you push yourself further in 2019?
I Value Community
Last summer, I visited the farm of my CSA (community sponsored agriculture) where I slept on the grounds of the farm and met the farmers and my fellow CSA members. I found myself surrounded by people who shared the same values; a desire to make a positive contribution to the world in any way they could, a group of people who wanted to get to know their neighbors and find a deeper connection to their food source and a group of people who value the simple happiness and support that being a part of a community provides.
So in 2019 when “community” means Facebook and Instagram and we’re all increasingly comfortable avoiding our neighbors, how can we seek to rebuild those communities that we have lost? How can we make a bigger effort to foster those timeless and universal moments of connection, shared over bread and sometimes wine, of hearing the cadence of each other’s voices or sometimes the comfortable silence that comes from simply enjoying each other’s presence?
Listen to Your Gut
2018 could also be characterized as a year of great meals. From the wholesome potluck dinner of my CSA farm visit, to experiencing the pleasures of New York City fine dining, to fresh dishes throughout Barcelona and Northern, Italy. It was the year I gained more than I’d like to admit but also a taste for good wine and an insight into what I truly seek in a meal.
So whether your gut is telling you to stop eating cheese, start eating more vegetables or that the company itself is more important than the contents of the meal - listen to it! It will guide you in a way that no external source can.
Keep It Simple
If I really look back, month by month and call out the moments that made me happy, they were simple and timeless - reconnecting with friends I haven’t seen in years, meeting new people, better connecting with friends and colleagues, Sunday afternoons experimenting in my kitchen, nature, running, being alone, yoga, listening to music, or curled up in the warmth of my apartment.
We’re so quick to chase the latest cool experience or project a certain lifestyle to the world, but what are the moments in life that truly make us happy? What experiences do we look back with fondness? Do we remember the incredibly Instagrammeable, brag-worthy meal with company also doing it for the gram, or those moments where we’re so wrapped up in conversation that our phones are far from our hands and minds? I learned to cherish and invest in creating more of these moments.
The Power of Team Work
Finally, in 2018, I found myself doing more solo work and short assignments than I would have liked. Rather than having those exchanges that come from hallway conversations and a common goal, I leveraged my online networks for insight and support- a helpful tool but not a replacement for an actual team.
In 2018, I learned that it’s time for me to become part of the pack again. After over 2 1/2 years consulting, I’m seeking full a time strategy role.
I realize that although freelance offers adventure and experience that comes from tackling exciting projects, I’m not a lone wolf. Even the thought of writing a novel is intimidating, not for the task, but for the solitude. Some of my fondest work experiences over my career have come from the camaraderie that comes from solving an exciting challenge, together. So in 2019, I will seek just that.