As the calendar rolls deeper into December people often like to say ‘I’ve learned a lot this year‘.

Whilst probably true, we don’t often think about exactly what we’re we referring to. 

Here are a few of the things I’ve noticed in myself this year. 

Note: Rather than taking lots of time to put this together, I’ve deliberately avoided putting extensive deep thought into it.  These items have come mainly from instinct; things that have been recurrent themes for me over the course of the year and through the specific experiences I’ve had. The full article took an hour or so to write, but the list itself came about in less than 2 minutes.

1. Inspiration from scribbles

I’ve filled 5 notebooks and countless collections of post-it pads and index cards this year. Each time one gets filled up I take 15 minutes to flick through it and also its predecessor. I’ve found this practice valuable for a few reasons:

  • I can see to what degree my thinking has evolved
  • Recurring themes become easier to spot
  • The pathway of goals, especially those that fizzled away, can be tracked

And most importantly, it’s often where my best ideas come from. Piecing notes together can be like solving a puzzle or mystery; the ‘new’ idea or solution was always there, it just needed me to uncover and connect all the clues along the way. Steven Johnson and Charles Darwin are worth referencing for more on this (and both are mentioned in this post on the joy of stationery)

Take a few minutes to go back through your notes; every week, every month, or just when you fill the book.

2. Podcasts for laughs, learning, and research

Living in a city where I can walk a lot has several upsides, one of which is that I can make time to listen to lots of podcasts. 

I’ve learnt a lot from podcasts this year, both as a listener and a creator. Aside from learnings derived from specific content or episodes, I’ve also realised:

  • As a guest or host, listening back to your podcast really focuses your mind on enunciation, delivery, flow and also the various micro gestures and idiosyncratic habits we all have.
  • The intimacy of the spoken word can be hugely impactful, particularly around topics of the heart and mind. There are now podcast versions of therapy sessions, and shows like the Reboot podcast are windows into the challenges others are wrestling with – often challenges we all share but don’t voice. Podcasts can help us get a deeper understanding of other people; what they think, what they feel, who they really are.
  • Podcasts can be an excellent research tool. Gimlet’s Alex Blumberg started his Without Fail podcast partly to be able to help himself deal with the inevitable failures and bumps in the road that come with being a founder. One of the drivers behind season 2 of my Tickets podcast was my fascination with the intertwining of entertainment and education. I wanted to start new ventures in this area, so speaking with people already doing great work here was such a high value way of doing research (not to mention the extra insights gleaned from having to forensically review each episode during the edit)

And of course, some podcasts are just great fun. The odd Joe Rogan episode still hits the spot, and I can’t resist James Richardson’s sardonic tones and triple-layered puns on The Guardian’s Football Weekly.

3. Fear of Finishing

This one is a little counter-intuitive. It’s a cousin of the more well-known fear of failure. 

Fear of failure often crops up before a project even starts, paralysing us from even getting going. 

Fear of finishing, as you can imagine, kicks in closer to the finish line. It’s particularly lethal for side projects.

This post by Dave Martin on Resistance sums it up nicely.

To temper this, I’ve started building in deadlines, finish lines and lap times (these latter two came about from metaphors during a coaching session…see below). Rather than only focusing on the big finish line I’m looking at lap times and getting around the track quickly, stylishly…and in one piece.

Related: Steven Pressfield, and Seth Godin’s The Dip

4. Coaching really works

A couple of years ago I tried out working with a coach. Despite seeing seeds of progress, I didn’t feel I could justify the investment of time and money and stopped within a month or two.

Over the course of this year I found myself becoming more interested again; both as a client, and as I began getting approached by people looking for support in their journeys of entrepreneurship or career transition.

In September I enrolled in a coaching certification program, and its effects have already been startling – for the clients I work with, for me as a coach, and for me as a person. I am far from the finished article (if there is even such a thing), but from observing my own development and the skills of those around me – this stuff really works.

It’s pretty amazing how much human potential there is, how much of it is hidden beneath the surface, and what we can do to bring it out.

5. Learning design is a valuable skill

Episode 3 in Season 2 of Tickets is with author, entrepreneur and educator Rob Fitzpatrick. Rob’s new book ‘The Workshop Survival Guide’ has a ton of excellent tips for creating high quality education experiences. At its core is a principle I’ve come to understand to a far more profound level this year: the importance of learning design.

Whilst as a term and a discipline it’s not widely recognised (although teachers have been doing this in one shape or form for centuries of course), I’m sensing this changing. This year I’ve been involved in education work as a student, teacher, facilitator and designer, and what’s most noticeable is the variances in outcomes and experience have been hugely dependent on the quality of the design. 

Following the practice of design at a broader level shifting from being just a ‘Capital’ pursuit to ‘Lowercase’, the ability and potential to create more immersive, personalised and successful learning experiences is going to keep on increasing. 

6. Ignore pedestals

It’s exciting to meet with or just be around someone who’s impressive, successful, charismatic, admired. The trouble starts when they’re put on a pedestal, worshipped as (false) idols, deferred to by default.

I still get trapped in this one from time to time. On many occasions I’ve let the excitement of being around one of these people turn into overly deferential or cautious behaviour, and have made bad decisions or not put my foot down when they behave in ways that I believe to be wrong.

The most important guiding point on this topic is to remember everyone’s human. They all eat, breathe, sleep, desire. And everyone has their own struggles, challenges, and insecurities. Reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations book is an excellent reminder of this – as relevant in 2018 as it was in 118.

Be respectful, but resist worship.

7. Journaling

This is now a fairly popular practice, and I’m far from a daily journaler, but the value of taking stock of your thoughts can be helpful in so many ways.

Journals, as their name suggests, are usually held in short form notebooks or digital tools like Evernote. However, I don’t believe journals necessarily have to be written. They could be audio recordings, verbal conversations, comic strips – whatever works for you to help articulate and communicate your thoughts.

My own journal entries are usually 200 words or so, often a blend of sentences and bullet points, and punctuated with little diagrams and the odd word cloud of feelings for that time.

Those are some of my biggest learnings from 2018.

What about you? 

7 things I learnt in 2018

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