In preparation for those pesky new year’s resolutions, I turned to lessons learned in 2019. The list may seem embarrassingly simple but were important for me to avoid a rinse repeat.
Lesson One: Visual sells
I have written for decades — for clients, as a hobby, you name it. The title of my series, At My Pace, aptly describes my slow realization that today’s pieces need to be visually appealing. In food terms, one’s writings need to be well plated. I understood this when an editor rejected a piece of mine and wrote, “Nice content but visually it needs some love.” For hire: a millennial to add visual pop to my work.
Lesson Two: Identify communication preferences
A client who I have served for decades has been getting progressively slower in responding to my emails. My assumption was that I was no longer needed. In a recent call where I cited his slow response, he said, “Oh, well I only periodically read email, but if you text me, I’ll get back to you immediately.” How did I miss this? He is 40-year-old CFO texter! I texted him soon after, and then I got, “Welcome to text … way better.” So after asking, “How are you?” I need to follow with, “What are your communication preferences?”
Lesson Three: Small differences don’t feel small sometimes
A close friend recently visited from California. I am a transplanted New Englander, and I believe that our regions shape our thinking. After we covered the personal topics — family, work, health — we went to the dreadful topic of politics. We didn’t see eye-to-eye, but in truth our values are not very different. Our conversation was painful but also enlightening as we each left our echo chambers. Afterward, we needed to affirm our love for each other. Small differences don’t always feel small, but love can still survive (sounds like a Bee Gees song).
Lesson Four: Confidence supersedes talent
I grew up believing that building expertise was the ticket to my future. Well, yes and no. Confidence supersedes talent. Who hasn’t experienced the senior executive who wins over a room with bold sales skills because he believed in himself? The message matters less than the conviction. Talented individual contributors often times can’t rise to the next level because they’ve bet on skills in a world that is seduced by confidence. Of course the two are not mutually exclusive, so note to my children: Have both.
Lesson Five: Virtue-signaling is humble brag on steroids
In a previous era, “humble brag” was a faux, self-deprecating admission like, “It always feels a little odd to me when I get recognized randomly in public” (a BitFunk tweet) or, “Listening to my voice on TV is so painful” (BagSnob tweet).
Now we have worse: Virtue signaling. The virtue signaler uses their cause of choice to demonstrate strong moral character and thereby gain approval. It goes something like this: “I want to volunteer at the food pantry, but I am too busy helping orphan children find shelter.” It makes humble brag seem, well … humble.
Can we be virtuous without heralding our virtuosity? This feels unnatural in a world driven by social media.
Lesson Six: Persistence wins the day
The value of resilience has been strongly heralded in recent years. Anyone bereft will benefit from a healthy dose. No knock against resilience, but I hail persistence as the virtue of choice in 2019.
You can’t find that special job? Tired of looking for a soul mate online? Waiting for approval from someone you love? Can’t get your tennis serve just right? Can’t keep up with your list of entertainment picks? Don’t give up. Persist.
A colleague’s retirement cost me half of my freelance business. I spent the year trying to open new doors and felt lucky when I found a small window. With “Eye of the Tiger” as my earworm, I persisted. Step by step, I recreated my business with new work and new clients.
Persistence is our best chance to get us to where we want to be.
Lesson Seven: Think “local” to combat world pessimism
Tired of the headlines? Disheartened by leaders who don’t lead? After giving a pep talk to my sister who has served as a Democratic precinct captain in California (need I say more?), I was reminded of the value of acting local.
These acts can be small as in visiting a senior center and engaging in conversation; making a sad colleague laugh; shoveling a neighbor’s sidewalk. Acts can be larger as when my friend opened her home to an immigrant family of five to facilitate acculturation. While maybe not tide waves, ripples count, too.
I hate long lists. Otherwise I would have added the need to honor our hamstrings (guess whose had physical therapy in 2019). Straight from the song Dem Bones, I learned “The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone,” and when not appropriately connected, the wheels fall off.
I also didn’t add the Sisyphean battle of communicating better across generations. We should start with language differences. The career ladder that many tumbled from has become our children’s gig economy. Our belief that “haste makes waste” has been upended by “better, faster, cheaper.” We need to reach across the generational aisle and build a better bridge.
For all the challenges I listed, and many that I didn’t, go back to lesson six: Persistence.