Without even meaning to, I’ve started a little tradition where I write a post about the things I’ve learned in the past year (read what I learned in 2015 and what I learned in 2016). I think it’s because the end of the year is a natural time of self-reflection combined with that rare period of time off (as a self-employed freelancer, it’s the only time in the year when everyone I work for is out of the office, so the only time that I can truly switch off from emails and deadlines).
So what did I learn in 2017?
- Focus on your own path – it’s so easy to be distracted by the shiny exciting things that other people are doing. Whether they’re moving home, starting a new job, booking a holiday or writing a book, that’s GREAT. Be happy for them without allowing it to make you feel bad about YOUR achievements and life choices. Don’t allow it to sway you from your path – stay focused on your goals, which might be (and probably are) totally different to the next person’s.
- Sometimes, conversations with friends will bring you the best life advice. Self help books and Pinterest quotes are all well and good, but sometimes, the best advice comes from those conversations over coffee and cake. Podcasts kind of fall into this category too because they can often feel like you’re listening to a friend. Even if you’re not.
- Just because you have a strong opinion on a lot of things, it doesn’t mean you should always share it. This has been a pretty big learning for me, in 2017. As someone who HAS A LOT OF OPINIONS, it took me until age 37 to work out that sometimes, those opinions should stay in your head. If it’s going to offend someone, or upset someone, or it’s just the wrong time or place to share, or if you know it won’t go down well and you’re not feeling strong enough to deal with the backlash… it’s OK to not share your feelings. OR better still, find that person you know will agree with you / not be upset / disagree and be up for a genuine debate about it, and share your opinion with them. As an off-shoot from this, I learned that friendships are usually more important than convincing someone that they should re-think their views on something.
- It’s OK to be a size 16 and I don’t have to be on a never-ending quest to be slimmer. Can someone go back to 2002 and tell my 23-year-old-self this please? Then I wouldn’t have to endure years of bloody Weight Watchers classes, going to bed feeling hungry and a job-lot of self-hate when I stepped on the scales. But in 2017, thanks to conversations I had with other women on social media, I actually started to reshape the way I think about my body – rather than trying to reshape my body. And I posted photos of me wearing swimwear on the internet!
- Building genuine connections with people is the secret to social media. I’ve had so many people ask me how to build a following on social media, whether it’s for their personal account or a small business, and one thing I’ve learned in 2017 is that you can have the fanciest strategies in the land, and the swankiest product or service ever, but the key to building an engaged following on social media is creating genuine connections. Chat to people, get to know them – none of this ‘like for like’ business and don’t even TALK to me about using bots to boost your following, or following 4000 accounts in one day, only to unfollow them the next – I’m talking good old-fashioned getting to know people. My lovely friend Vickie is a brilliant example of this. She started 2017 with a handful of Instagram followers and ended it with nearly 14,000. Not a bot in sight. Which leads me onto…
- I’d rather choose friends based on how nice a person they are, rather than how many social media followers or likes they have. This might seem obvious to you, but does someone having 50,000 or 350,000 or 2.5m followers on a social platform make them a) a nicer person b) worth being friends with? We live in a strange world where lots of people think the answer to both question is yes. And it’s nothing new – I was reminded of this while watching The Crown on Netflix. You know the episode where Jackie O visits Buckingham Palace and HRH The Queen finds herself trying to impress her? We probably all wanted to be friends with the popular girl at school, at some point. And sometimes, of course, those people are worth knowing. Popularity doesn’t automatically strip you of being a nice person or a good friend. But we should want to be friends with them for the right reasons.
- I much prefer being a guest at a party than being the host. Does that make me sound really bad? Some people have a real knack for being a host, and they really seem to enjoy doing it! They greet you with warmth, they top up everyone’s glass promptly, they have homemade snacks to munch on, their home is tidy and clean… In stark contrast, I end up running around in a frazzled state, snapping at people who get in my way, feeling anxious about the number of people in my home, fretting about things being broken or something being spilled on my rug. Clearly, I need to chill the feck out, but maybe I just need to stop inviting people over and focus on being the perfect party guest?
- Sometimes it’s good to focus on work that makes you happy rather than the work that will make you the most money. I say this as someone who has not had an easy year financially. Being freelance and relying on invoices being paid on time in order to pay the mortgage has been stressful at times, and has resulted in my bank card being declined in the supermarket on more than one occasion. But even still, I’ve learned that focusing on work that brings in money rather than work that makes you happy isn’t always the most productive way of working. By that I mean – in 2017, I started a podcast which takes up roughly one day of my working week, every week. And before it launched, I spent weeks teaching myself how to set up a podcast. I poured hours and hours into a project that didn’t bring in any money until just recently but starting the podcast was one of the best decisions I made all year. Partly because I LOVE making the podcast – I mean, I get to meet up with and chat to some amazing and interesting people – but also because it’s had a knock-on effect and while I can’t be sure, I think it’s opened the door to new opportunities.
- Even strong relationships need an MOT from time to time. Mr P and I are pretty solid, after 17 years together but we recently went to a couples retreat which taught us that taking some time, on a regular basis to discuss goals, values and desires will only make you stronger. I wrote about it for Red magazine, and you can read it in the February issue which hits news stands this week!
- Life doesn’t always work out the way you planned, but make the most of what you got. I kept seeing a quote pop up on Instagram over Christmas – it was “Remember when you really wanted what you currently have?” And while it might make you gag slightly (if cheesy quotes aren’t your thing) the sentiment made me think. We’re often so busy striving for the next thing, we forget to appreciate what we have. In 2017, we went through a round of IVF after years of other fertility treatment, and it didn’t work. It’s still something I’m processing and dealing with, if I’m honest, but I’m trying to count my blessings (“hashtag-blessed” and all that) rather than focus on the unfairness. Because, as we know, life isn’t fair.
So, tell me. What did YOU learn in 2017?