5 business lessons from 2016
Last year, as 2016 began, I took a leap of faith and told you my biggest mistakes of the previous year. The blog post, which would become the most visited one in my blog last year, and which landed me a place as Huffington Post blogger, was both an exercise in self-reflection, and in honesty towards you, my readers. And what started as semi-journaling, ended up guiding many of my actions and decisions.
When it comes to life and business, though, lessons don’t end with the accomplishment of a goal, or the turning of a calendar’s page. A putting 2015 lessons in action required more than just awareness of what had previously gone wrong.
So, this January, as I dreamed and planned the next 12 months and took stock of what worked and didn’t, I started looking for patterns to write this post. And here they are: my 5 most important business lessons from 2015.
May my mistakes help you avoid pitfalls, may the solutions I’ve found inspire you to find your own. More than anything, may we continue to grow businesses and lives we enjoy living, no matter how winding the path or hard the road.
1. Alignment comes first
I could write a book on how the outcome of every single decision in my life could have been predicted by paying attention at whether it was coming from a place of alignment or not. Business decisions were no exception.
Every time I made a decision from a place of fear, insecurity, or lack, it backfired and I ended up regretting it.
Every time I took on a client despite my gut telling me we weren’t the right fit for working together, it resulted in tears and exhaustion.
Every time I pushed myself to the limit of my resistance in the name of “hustle”, my creativity suffered.
Every time I pushed and pushed and pushed instead of allow, allow, allow the results I achieved were unsatisfactory.
Every time I rushed through important decisions, said YES when I should have said NO, and looked for answers outside of myself, either it all went to pieces, or I did.
What do I mean by alignment? That moment when words flow, we feel inspired to create our best work, ideal clients land at our feet as if by magic and we seem to glide through life, unstoppable, feeling in love with everything, and blessed by the forces of the Universe. Those moments of bliss, when we trust and know everything is alright.
Most of my life, I looked for alignment the wrong way: by pushing and working harder. By learning some new technique and practicing a new routine. Maybe I needed a new mantra, a different yoga routine, timing the moon cycles or following X ritual. The whole of it was mental, not intuitive, another item in my to do list…and lack of alignment another sign of my inadequacy.
I know, that there are plenty of people in the entrepreneur world who believe and say that hustling and pushing and hard work are the path to success. What I realized in 2016 is that this is not the only path, and even if it were, it’s definitely not mine.
In 2016, instead of adding another ease-seeking task to my to do list, I sought help to find a better way. Last April, I started working with Kerry Rowett, from Awaken Kinesiology, to unblock what kept me moving at snail-pace (or feeling like it), and learn ways to quickly get back into alignment when like kicks me down.
Kerry and I worked together, 1-1 for 6 months, and after our sessions were finished (because Kerry went into maternity leave), I signed up for her course, Align and Attract, so I could learn how to stay and get back into alignment on a consistent basis.
Every 15 days, Kerry and I met over skype and worked on my goals. She muscle tested blocks, we did EFT, and used a variety of other methods to clear them away. One by one, goals that seemed impossible became possible, doable, and things started to shift.
I honestly owe this process pretty much every breakthrough I had last year, and they were many: I doubled my revenue, I was hired to shoot abroad (case study coming soon), I was sought after for consulting services (which are not even advertised at the moment), I started outsourcing some areas of my work, I became clearer on where I want to go. I lost a crippling fear of the future that had been with me for so long, I only noticed it when, one November morning, I woke up and it was gone.
It was not easy, mind you. It was deep, core work. But by committing to it, and accepting I didn’t know how to do it alone, I committed to myself and to my business, and this consistent coming back to myself paid of.
I had at first wondered whether hiring Kerry had been the right decision. Whether perhaps I should have opted for a business coach, or a marketing coach or something more…tangible. By the end of our 6 months together, I realized why I had been guided to this instead: Beacause when we’re in alignment, the strategies, the tactics, the ideas, the specifics come to us, and the path ahead becomes clear. We become our business advisors.
When we’re able to shut all external voices and listen (really listen) to our inner guidance, everything else falls into place.
2. Keep planning simple and goals in check
I started 2016 like most years: over planning. But in 2016, I took it to the extreme.
Back in January (and don’t ask me why!) I found myself with 3 planners, 2 goal setting notebooks, a binder with printable rituals, a gratitude notebook, a journal, and a notebook for business ideas (the ones that strike in the middle of nowhere and seem so brilliant I just have to write down).
Needless to say, the “system” only ended up making me more overwhelmed. Filling up my to do list was so time consuming that it ended up being a dreadful- and excruciating- task in said list…and as you can imagine, one I ended up avoiding.
The obvious consequence of this was that important personal projects took the backseat, and never got done, while minutiae filled my days. I didn’t make time for what I truly wanted to do, because my priorities were scattered all over the place. I felt, at times, like that famous scene from The Notebook:
[ I should make a pause here and make it clear that this, in and of itself, is a sign of lack of aligment. And speaking about alignment, as I type these words, this graphic came up in my instagram feed…talk about being aligned!]
This year, I simplified everything: I dreamed and set my goals with the Life + Biz Planners by Leonie Dawson (and I have 3 main goals for the year only). For daily tasks, I have Danielle Laporte’s Desire Map Planner, daily edition. For everything else, I use a bullet journal (greatest invention ever!).
Leonie’s notebooks and Danielle’s planner are on my desk. Leonie’s, open on the main objectives for the year page (as a daily reminder of where I’m headed). Desire Map Planner stays put next to my computer. Bullet Journal comes with me everywhere.
Having just one little notebook that I can carry with me at all times, and where I can jot down all ideas, to dos, strategies, journaling prompts and check ups means I’ve already accomplished more in one month, with more ease, and without all nighters or working on weekends than in previous years.
Which brings me to the next point…
3. Reduce, reduce, reduce
There’s no point in simple planning if the list of goals is never ending or your project list overly ambitious. Which is what I did until this year…
At the beginning of 2016, I had too many big projects on the pipeline. Whenever I would start working in one, the others would get neglected and when I was fully booked with clients, many important things (like this blog) had to take a back seat.
The worst part was that I felt guilty for not accomplishing more, which in turn impacted my ability to work at peak performance levels (guilt and shame are not catalysts for action, in my case they cause paralysis). And my energy, scattered as it was, affected not just me, but those with whom I shared joint ventures.
By the middle of the year, it became obvious that I couldn’t continue like this, and that if I wanted to reach December 31st accomplishing my most important objectives, I needed to determine what those were, and let go of the rest.
And it was really hard to do so.
It’s easy to let go of what doesn’t work, or the things we don’t like. It’s freaking hard to let go of projects we love, with people I love and who may feel disappointed or even angry by our decision.
And yet, I found that, for me, it was necessary, not just for myself and my business, but also for the sake of those I was working with. Growing any business venture requires work, effort, commitment, focus, time and energy. My scattered energy was causing, not just my own projects to become stalled, but also my shared projects not to grow as fast as they could have. I was stretching myself to the limit and, to make it worse, I wasn’t being of use to anyone.
So I released them. I released everything that wasn’t a priority and decided to focus on just 3 goals: 1 financial goal, and 2 creative goals. That’s it. No more.
The logical consequence of which is …
4. Say NO
I’m a people pleaser, especially of those I love. This has brought me one too many headaches, and a good deal of overwhelm and exhaustion. I’ve always had a tendency of getting involved in way too many projects because I don’t want to disapoint others.
And because not disappointing others was so important, historically other people’s projects, ideas, and time took precedence over mine, until I exploded and ended up cutting everything off from my plate…only to start again a few months after.
Let’s call it my special blend of sabotage, as Denise frames it in her bootcamp.
The solution, I found, was not in reclaiming my time ex post facto, as I had been doing all these years, but in saying NO from the beginning, when less explanations are needed and there’s less chance of hurt feelings and broken friendships.
In view of my natural tendencies, though, I created a test for me to know when to say yes to something new. Want to use it too? Here it goes:
I ask myself the following questions and only move ahead if I feel, in my gut, a clear YES for all of them
1. Does this project make your heart sing?
2. Do you know very well the person you’ll be JVing with? Would a contract be written, spelling out clearly from the beginning all responsibilities and other legal matters such as copyright?
3. Does this project allow enough time for pursuing of your main business and personal goals? (No more than 15% of total time)
4. Have you waited 48hrs since the proposal? I’ve found this one is key because it kills the initial people pleasing impact.
But it’s not just projects I now say NO to. I also say NO to courses, for example, unless I’m planning to follow them and implement them within a month. I say NO to prospective clients that I feel wouldn’t be a good match. I say NO to food that doesn’t give me energy. I say NO to exercise routines that don’t make my body glee with joy.
And by saying NO more, I create space for what I truly want. For the opportunities that make my heart sing. For the work I adore doing. For the moments of idleness, play and recreation that feed my soul.
5. Nurture thy creativity
In last year’s post, I mentioned one of 2015 big mistakes was that I had stopped creating.
In 2016, I wanted to break this cycle but forgot one crucial step: to nurture my creativity.
Because of points 2 to 4 above, my agenda was full to the core and I felt that all I did was work work work. And when I wasn’t working? I felt guilty for not working, because therewassomuchtodo. So I told myself I didn’t have time to go on artist dates. That I should limit my reading to business-related books. That I should take advantage of house chores to listen to business podcasts. That maybe I should skip my daily walk in the park and catch up on work since early morning.
And do you know what happened? I became creatively blocked.
I spent full month looking at the blank page in my monitor, unable to write a single word of copy, a single blog post. I couldn’t come up with single photo project idea.
My soul was starved. I couldn’t create because I didn’t have where to create from.
And then came Outlander.
Some time in the middle of November, 4 different and unrelated persons recommended this epic, historical, sci-fi series to me. 4 persons within a week. On that same week, my whole Instagram feed burst with quotes from the books and photos from locations in Scotland. “You should see it”, a friend said, and I felt that the Universe was kind of screaming at me to do it.
So one night, I found episode 1 on Netflix and pressed play. One episode became 6, and I went to sleep at 4 am in the morning. I was so hooked I couldn’t stop watching. I loved everything: the dialogues, the costumes, the scenery,the music, the story, the magic. I binge watched two seasons in a weekend, the downloaded the 8 books in my kindle and read them all in 3 weeks.
And the more I read, the more I watched, the more I allowed myself to do something in my free time just for the joy of it, ideas started to come back. Photo projects began to pop up, fully fleshed in my mind’s eye, ready for me to sketch. Poems, blog posts and copy started to flow. Daily tasks became simpler and more joyful. And I realized creative time is not just made of the moments we produce, but also of the moments we consume the work set to inspire us.
This year, I’ve set aside in my calendar days to create and times to gather inspiration. And I’ve blocked them both in my calendar.
This year, I’m starting my mornings by reviewing my goals and aligning to them. I’m making time and space for what matters most, including iddle times to nurture my soul.
Your turn: What lessons did 2016 leave you? What are you committing to, in your business and life, in 2017?