Another year has come to an end. And as it often does, it ends with me revisiting the past year. With the help of my word files, and a ritualistic picking of photos on my phone, I looked back at what happened. This ‘looking back’ is always inflected with lessons that often overwhelm the feeling of what is being remembered.
Unlike the previous years, 2017 was a year of multiple intermissions that included major lessons on the gamut of my career, and my role as both a local and global citizen. In a lot of ways, 2017 taught me to not always strive for more, but to understand and harvest those experiences that give me energy, and also to acknowledge those that rob me of it.
Rather than jump straight into goal setting for 2018, and pen down all my ambitions for the New Year in glorious detail – I like to take time to soak in all the triumphs and tribulations that I’ve weathered. And although I believe there are lessons in every interaction, here’s a highlight of the 5 major learnings that have helped me reach closer to my goals.
- Focus on what you can control
Borrowing one of Mark Manson’s key philosophies – the idea here is to only focus on setting targets that I can directly influence. For instance, I’ve learned to never say ‘I want this article to reach X number of readers’ because I can’t control that. Instead the equivalent would be, ‘I’m going to publish X number of articles a week’. Too often we are focused on the outcome rather than the process, but once we reverse our thinking, our productivity picks up, we learn from our mistakes and consequently the results are better.
This is how business works. You can’t control how many people buy your product. You can only control your own effort and skills, and work towards delivering the best product or services everyday.
Similarly, likeness (or even love) cannot be willed into existence. But we can all focus on becoming better, nicer, kinder human beings.
There are so many distractions that disguise themselves as work. For years, it wasn’t an uncommon sight to find me working on more than 1 task at a time. However, this year I realised that multitasking is one of the worst productivity destroyers of the workday. Not to be confused by context switching (of which I am still an advocate), which is jumping between various (unrelated) projects in quick successions.
For this I have Elon Musk to thank – after simulating his 15 minute blocks of super-focused-no-interruption workflow, my productivity increased significantly. This includes ridding all visual peripheral distractions, snipping impatiently at interruptors, and keeping my phone and all the evil inside it far away from my reach.
Whenever a ‘Chase-your-dream’ creed is concerned, grit and uncompromising focus are compulsory. Eliminate the frills and the distractions, because single-minded creative ambition does wonders to your capacity to succeed.
- Pause and breathe sometimes
Perhaps one of the biggest changes I’ve learned to embrace this year is to slow down and pause. With this time to recharge, I deliberately set up time to pave the way for the next task in a way that is both effective and purposeful.
I know too many people, myself included, who look with disdain at anything that smacks of inactivity. I understand now that I have always been under constant self-scrutiny when it comes to being sufficiently productive, and had inevitably lost the ability to relax.
I realise now that taking time to retreat from work is more than a sign of prosperity and control in a frenetic world. Deliberate self-reflection and mindfulness are important parts of a psychologically healthy life. And although I’m still on the lopsided end of the scale, 2017 has helped me take a small step towards getting the balance right.
- Build Communities
If there is one thing I know for certain from my very short start-up career – it is that an entrepreneur’s biggest asset is the network and communities they build. The process of bouncing ideas and problems back and forth with others who have similar or complementary skill sets means you build a community of innovators who can all teach and learn from one another.
When I came back home sometime in the middle of 2017, I was surprised to find out that there wasn’t a more tightly knit startup community in Bhutan – especially since this culture of sharing and social safety nets is heavily embedded in other aspects of our culture. Since then I’ve been seeking out young innovators who are all working on amazing projects in silos in the hopes of bringing them all together to create a positive ecosystem in our country.
Because isn’t life about sharing experiences and building dreams (and companies) together?
- Read a lot
This isn’t necessarily a lesson from 2017, but one that I feel the need to emphasize every single year. There is no secret to becoming wiser – you just have to read a lot. The books that taught me the biggest lessons this year are Option B by Sheryl Sandberg, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to name a few.
I’ve always believed that building brainpower is that straightforward. So why don’t more people do it? For the same reason that we fail to do so many worthy projects – we’re all ‘really busy’. But if you take a moment to reassess how much time you spend on social media or fretting over things you can’t control, you’ll soon have to face the uncomfortable fact that it is in your control to create more time, to refocus your energy and read a lot more to become better versions of ourselves.
Let’s start thinking about 2018, by looking back to help us look forward.
Overall it’s been a noisy year, but don’t take that as a complaint – from marches to open letters, from Uber to Trump to Bitcoin. It was a year of online petitions, of speaking out and grievances broadcasted on social media. But there are lessons in every strand of 2017 that can only help us gear for a better 2018.
I have no idea what’s coming in the New Year, especially considering how this one played out. It only sounds right to start it off by controlling the controllable, focusing on doing good honest work, and building stronger communities, while always remembering to pause and reflect.
After all, when reality comes down like a ton of bricks, before you get back up and dust yourself off, it may be a good idea to daydream a little and decide what you really want to do when you’re on your feet again – and that’s the spirit with which I plan to start 2018.