2009 in Retrospect: Ten Lessons Learned This Year

Ten Lessons Learned in 2009

The 2009 in Retrospect week continues today – and instead of doing any ‘best of’ posts I wanted to get a little more reflective on the personal side of things and talk about 10 valuable ‘life’ lessons I learned through everything I went through in the past year. It was a year of transitions, ups and downs, disappointments and successes. And through it all, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m proud of where I stand today – the man I’ve become, and above all, I’ve learned that the right attitude will get you through just about anything.

Lesson #1: Sometimes you just have to say, “I Quit!”

As difficult as quitting may be, sometimes, it’s the right thing to do. Before moving to Chicago I quit my job in Nashville – what made it even scarier was that I had nothing “on deck” – I quit and HOPED I would find something better. My advice to anyone who’s debating whether or not to stay at a job, thinking about quitting a project, or whatever the case may be, is to think about yourself first and foremost. Be selfish and do what’s best for you, even if it doesn’t make the most sense. It might sting at first, but over time, you’ll realize that selfishness often times prefaces selflessness.

Lesson #2: It’s OK to be vulnerable

I’m a guy, so naturally, I want to look tough and confident – I shouldn’t wear my emotions on my sleeve, right? WRONG. It’s OK to let your guard down. It’s OK to let people in. It’s OK to show who you really are – to ask for help and admit that you don’t know everything. Vulnerability paves the way for growth and learning. When you stop worrying about what other people think and start being yourself, good things will start happening.

Lesson #3: Honesty sells

For those of you who don’t know – I do a bit of freelance design and consulting on the side. I may be just another sheep in the flock of people who can say they do the same thing, but where I stand out is in my willingness to work WITH people and my honest approach. I don’t claim to be a world class designer – I don’t ever plan to be a web marketing expert – but I can hold my own, and I let every person I work with know what I can and cannot do. Laying an honest foundation has paid dividends for me, and it’s something I will always commit to in the work I do. In short, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.

Lesson #4: Take things offline whenever possible

I love my blog – I’m a big fan of Twitter and Social Media – but I also understand that these are merely tools – a means to an end that has led to some awesome connections and friendships in the “real world” – you know, the one where we aren’t sitting behind our computers? If you have the opportunity, especially with folks who live in the same city, set up a time to meet for coffee or grab a drink – take your online conversations offline.

Lesson #5: Meeting people on the Internet is no longer creepy

Speaking of meeting people – that old idea of meeting people on the Internet being “creepy” is long gone (in most cases – there are still the “To Catch a Predator” people out there). The Internet is a GREAT way to meet people. Full disclosure, I wouldn’t know ANYONE in Chicago if it wasn’t for Twitter and my blog. I would have NEVER found my job if I wasn’t networking like a maniac before I moved here. Use the Internet to your advantage.

Lesson #6: Sometimes you’re going to disappoint people.

When I moved to Chicago and left Nashville, my home of 23 years, I knew I was going to be letting some people down. I left all of my friends and my parents behind – and it wasn’t easy, not at all. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about being back home, but I knew that this was the next step for me – for my fiance – and for our future together. You’re not always going to please everyone, so stop trying. At the end of the day – you have to make the best decision for you. Just make sure you promise you mom and dad you’ll visit often.

Lesson #7: Hard work pays off, but you have to know when to take a step back

This year I became something I never thought I would – A workaholic. Chalk it up to everything being up in the air for half the year, going through a move, trying to figure out what I wanted to do – but, regardless, I have worked my ass off – and have a lot to show for it, which I couldn’t be happier about. But now, what I’m starting to realize, and what I’m finally doing, is taking time for the things that matter most – my fiance, my dog, my friends and family, and…well, myself. I love the work that I do, don’t get be wrong, but I also know that I don’t want to consume myself with work and miss out on LIVING in the meantime. It’s all about balance – and forcing yourself to step away from time to time.

Lesson #8: You can’t do it all by yourself

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the help of other people.” – I feel like I’m at an AA meeting saying that but you don’t realize how hard it was for me to admit I’m not invincible. Until recently, I thought I could do anything and everything all by myself. But what I learned this year is not only is that impossible, but it’s OK to get by with a little help from you friends, family, in-laws who let you stay in their basement until you get your feet on the ground, whatever. I couldn’t be more grateful for those who helped pave the way to where I am today – and I’m humble enough to admit that I when I needed them the most, they were there for me.

Lesson #9: Support from the people you love is a must

My fiance is what keeps me going (well, her, and maybe snuggle sessions with my dog Cowboy). I’m where I am today because of her. She motivates me to be the best I can possibly be every single day and sees the good in me even when no one else does. This year has been full of difficult decisions, but also, amazing life changing ones – including getting engaged last May. It was THE best decision I’ve ever made. If there’s ever a doubt about what I’m doing or where I’m going in my life, I find comfort in knowing that no matter what happens, we will be together. Whether it be your fiance, your dog, or a good friend – we all need someone who believes in us, even when we don’t. Support and unconditional love is a key ingredient to success.

Lesson #10: For the love of God, ask questions!

This speaks for itself. Talk less, listen more, and NEVER be afraid to ask questions. It’s not a sign of weakness. I repeat, it is NOT a sign of weakness. It’s time to throw your pride out the window and admit you’re not a know it all. Ask questions until the cows come home, then ask some more. It’s the only way to LEARN.

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what I’ve taken away this year. What valuable lessons have you learned? What will you be putting into action in 2010?

Stay tuned tomorrow for a list of 10 things I’ll be doing in 2010!