Around this time last year, I wrote an article titled Hey fellow content marketers, these are my 7 big learnings from 2020. I can’t remember why I did it. I even joked about the ‘learnings of the year post by some random guy on the internet’ trope in the opening paragraph.
But with nearly a year’s extra experience under my belt since then, I know why I’m doing it now. I’ve learned things this year that I’ve found really valuable. And they aren’t things that stay fresh in my mind. By default, they’re always sliding down the slippery slope to the abyss of my memory, where they’ll remain forgotten until I relearn them.
Which is why I like to write them down. So… this article is really for me.
But where’s the fun keeping it to myself?
Some interesting things happened with me this year
- I changed my mind about remote work (fully remote work is not necessarily better)
- I started regularly going back to the office again (and now stopped… again)
- I created a running habit (🏃♂️💨)
- I shared my struggles with depression in a public forum
- I started a newsletter
- I handed over the reins of my whisky club (🥃🤝)
- I got back on Twitter, professionally
- I tried creating a new “thing” every 2 weeks… (#LifeSprintProject)
- … which resulted in 12 new short stories
- … a book
- … a video game
- … and a new podcast mini-series
- And I got promoted (Senior Writer ➡️ Content Lead)
Some of this relates to my learnings. And some of it doesn’t — they’re just things I want to reflect on and remember. And some learnings come from things entirely unmentioned here.
But now that I’ve finished indulging in my achievements, let’s crack into my 5 big takeaways of the year.
My 5 big learnings from 2021
1) Be the right version of you, for the audience you’re speaking to
I’m a huge proponent of everyone being their whole selves in any given situation. Me, I’m a silly guy. I like joking around. I can also be very direct, curious, and tend to speak hyperbolically to illustrate my points.
But to some, that silliness is inappropriate. Directness is blunt. Curiosity is irritating. And what I say hyperbolically can be misinterpreted as literal. This year has given me an appreciation for applying a few, let’s say, “light touch filters” in some situations.
2) Decide fast and act lots
When the consequences of failure are low, amount of execution rather than quality of execution drives better results in the long run. This doesn’t mean doing things randomly and uninformed. Or abandoning every standard of quality. It means learn, and win, by doing — execute, iterate, improve.
3) You can do way more than you think you can
In September — when I wrote about dealing with depression on and off over the past 10 years — I made a lifestyle decision. In the midst of feeling low at the time, I decided to try and avoid the easy distraction of media consumption, and focus on creating. Not just miscellaneous, aimless creating, but the completion of things.
I started what I called the #LifeSprintProject — completing a new creative ‘thing’ every 2 weeks. And within 2 months I’d written 12 new short stories, published a book, made a video game (which I wrote about), and published a new podcast mini-series (which I also wrote about).
Some friends asked me how I did it.
And the answer is as easy as it is hard: You just do it.
You choose to do it, and you fight every single thing that gets in your way. I had late nights. Early mornings. I skipped a lot of Netflix. I ignored my phone. I used my weekends. I didn’t wait until I was motivated. I didn’t rely on myself to be accountable to. And most importantly, I didn’t let ‘perfect’ get in the way of ‘done’.
If you want to do something, just do it. Do the scrappiest version of it, and give yourself a short deadline a deliver it by. Work on it daily, no matter how you feel. And share your progress with some kind of audience.
I guarantee you’ll feel better, and learn more, doing a scrappy thing quickly than you will dwelling over the perfect version of what you want to achieve.
4) Stay insanely, maniacally, ruthlessly focused (It’s really, really hard)
Things change. They can change a lot, fast. And it’s easy to get caught up in that and lose sight of what the north star is. What really matters. Particularly when you’re surrounded by great people with great ideas. And even more particularly so when you’re trying to decide fast and act lots.
And you might not realise the times you’ve veered off course until much later. For me, it came when I did a retro of my whole year. When I assembled the list of everything I’d worked on over 2021 I immediately eyed a few things that, with the benefit of hindsight, should’ve been things I said no to.
It’s not a huge loss. I did vastly more work that was a good call. And these slips in focus are an innate human mistake that everyone is susceptible to.
But next year? I’m putting the north star at the top of every document I make. If what follows below doesn’t move us towards it, then I need more info about why we’re doing it, and why we’re doing it now.
5) ‘Learning to say no’ is a double-edged sword
Saying yes to every request is a weakness of mine that I’ve been aware of for a number of years now. But I’ve been working on it, and I like to think I’ve come a long way.
But this year it dawned on me that it’s not exclusively a weakness. Not only a flaw. Let’s put aside the obvious counterargument of being a team player — being a ‘yes man’ has:
- Helped my personal brand (help more people → be more widely known)
- Developed my broader skillset (do a variety of things → become better at them)
- And helped me discover where I want my career path to lead next (subscribe to my newsletter, Content Righting, if you want to follow this journey)