Key Takeaways and Lessons Learned From 2023
An attempt at capturing the insights that turn into 'wisdom' 😉
I’ve always maintained some structure to my year-end reflection process. In 2021, I began capturing key takeaways from my experiences of that year. Now that I’ve collected 3 years of lessons learned, I wish that I had started this practice when I was younger. I can only imagine what treasure trove it would have been had I been doing this longer.
They say it’s not really in the having of experiences where we gain wisdom. It’s in reflecting upon those experiences and in extracting the insight that wisdom is earned. Here’s my attempt at gaining some of that wisdom!
In the interest of sharing my midlife experience with you, I’ve decided to start a new tradition. Starting this year, I’ll be sharing my annual lessons learned via the podcast, Second Breaks, and here on this website. I’m doing this for a few reasons: (1) to crystalize my learning, (2) as a form of accountability, and (3) to discover common experiences with you and hopefully form a deeper connection.
If you prefer listening, here’s the audio version (with minor editorial differences).
Okay, enough preamble. Here are 4 takeaways from this year of my life.
1. It’s about who I become in pursuit of a goal.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard the advice about loving the process more than the outcome. Although I’ve heard this so many times — and intellectually agree with it — I’ve had such a hard time internalizing and embracing it. I find myself still fixated on the outcome, the metric, the number, or whatever it is I’m trying to shoot for. I also find myself, distressingly enough, often repeating that mantra about loving the process, especially when I miss my target. So, it began to sound in my mind, at least, as something I only say when I don’t achieve what I want. “Oh, you gotta love the process more than the outcome, Lou.”
This year though, something clicked for me. I can’t really trace it to any one particular experience, conversation, or book. But I remember writing this sentence in my journal earlier this year: “It’s who I become in pursuit of my goal.”
A worthy goal pushes us to change our routine. Shift our behavior. Make a leap. Working toward a goal means taking action. We take steps that are uncomfortable because they’re new, awkward because we haven’t mastered them, and scary because they push us outside our comfort zones. In the process, we become a different kind of person, with new habits and new routines.
We become people who wake up early to run. Or people who love salads. Or people who watch less TV. Or people who take online classes. Or people who write daily.
At the very least, our goals turn us into people who commit, who initiate action, who aren’t passive bystanders but rather people who jump into the ring.
I may not be able to embrace the whole ‘love the process’ bit, but I can certainly get behind loving the kind of person I become — whether I hit my targets or not.
2. Stress is contagious.
For close to two decades, I worked in a highly stressful environment. It was a very competitive place, where almost everyone was good at their jobs or trying very hard to be. And most everyone wanted to move up the ladder of success. I was in on that game, voluntarily and quite happily so.
You know that story about the two young fish swimming along when they happened upon an older fish? The older fish greeted them, “Hey, how’s the water?” Confused, the two young fish looked at each other and asked, “What the hell is water?”
That parable finally hit home after I left my corporate life. Suddenly, I was no longer in that stressful environment. Whatever stress I may be experiencing, was, for the most part, something of my doing — which meant, I either put it there, sought it out, or didn’t stop it from getting in. I say for the most part because, yes, there are stresses in life that are outside of our control.
This year, in particular, I realized how much the environment wherein I find myself, influences how much stress I feel.
I experienced firsthand that stress has a particular energy about it, and that energy is highly contagious. If you surround yourself with stressful energy for a period of time, you will inevitably absorb some of that energy.
Several times this year, I found myself exhausted and stressed out after spending time in environments that were stressful — even if I didn’t have anything personally to be stressed about. I found a new resolve: to be as selective as I possibly can about the energy with which I surround myself. My body and brain will thank me for it.
3. Gratitude is a choice.
It isn't about making lists, although that is a good start, especially when you’re not particularly feeling grateful. And because there was a time when I wasn’t feeling particularly grateful, I started with a list as part of my daily morning routine. I wake up. I start my 10 Things List. First item on the list: One thing I’m grateful for that morning.
No doubt about it, this daily practice has helped me feel more grateful about my life in general. It definitely helps me start my day with a grateful spirit, which I think, is the best way to start any day.
However, a conversation I had earlier this year with Holly Bertone led to a profound shift in how I viewed gratitude.
I realized that gratitude is more than a practice. It’s a state of being that we choose to be in. And it can be the lens through which we see our lives.
I also recognized that the action of identifying one thing for which I’m grateful at the start of the day... that this deceptively simple step is a forcing function for me, a kind of instruction I send my brain that this is the choice I am making. Today, I am choosing to be in a state of gratitude, no matter what’s going on around me. No matter the challenges and frustrations I’m facing. No matter what happens. I’m grateful to be here.
4. Having a career is important to me.
After leaving my corporate career, I didn’t think I had it in me to want to start a new one. To be honest, those first few years, I didn’t know what I really wanted to do next. I tried many many things, and almost all of them felt off and not quite right, or something I couldn’t manage to get real excited about.
In 2021, I decided to live in Asia for extended periods of time to spend time with my mother, who had dementia. In order to give myself emotional and mental space to handle the uncertainty and new adventures, I shut down everything I was doing at that time, except for one thing — writing.
That proved to be the right decision for many reasons, the most important one being it led me to realize what I want to do next and for the rest of my life or, not be so dramatic, at least for the foreseeable future.
One day a couple of months ago, I wrote on my journal that I wanted a writing career. And as soon as I wrote those words, all the random puzzle pieces fell into place.
I want to direct my energy to building a writing career and growing as a writer. Writing these words feels like coming home. And I now know, not only that writing is something I’d want to continue to do and get better at but that I actually want to build a new career. I didn’t think I’d ever feel this way again. But here I am. I am building a new career. I’m building a writing career.
How did your 2023 go?
Well, there you have it. Those are my 4 lessons learned or key takeaways from 2023. I’d love to hear yours as well. Please leave a comment and let me know.
Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll join me for a weekly meditation on personal growth.