2019 Year In Review

With 2019 coming to a close, I've finally found a bit of quiet time to pause and think back across what has frankly been a ridiculous year of personal and professional growth.

Whilst I could talk about business milestones and achievements and whatnot, I want to put that all aside in this YIR and reflect on my personal journey instead, as I feel this is where I've achieved my greatest milestone: a much clearer sense of alignment within myself.

First, let me rewind 12 months. At the start of 2019, I was in a state of flux. I wasn't sure what I was doing, both personally and with ColourSpace. As with many startup founders, I felt like a bit of a fraud, a bit of an imposter. In spite of the various successes (and failures) of ColourSpace, I would frequently get out of bed with the following thoughts: "Do I actually know what I'm doing? Am I any good at what I do? Or am I really just full of s--t?"

It always felt like other people were better, smarter, and doing the 'right' thing. Intellectually, I knew that wasn't true, but I couldn't quash that feeling. As a result, I would often be riddled with self doubt, manifesting in situations where I would second guess myself and override decisions that didn't feel right to me.

So what changed? What happened? There isn't a single event that's resulted in this 'alignment', but I wanted to share several insights / observations I picked up over the course of the year that I believe helped me become significantly more comfortable with myself.

Everyone is (not) an expert

So bear with me on this as it's a long one.

These days, we have a world of advice and knowledge freely available at our fingertips. LinkedIn, podcasts, webinars, eBooks, and any number of business magazines serve up mountains of 'secrets', 'top tips', and 'hacks' for our consumption all from successful people.

On the one hand, this is amazing. We can learn from the best of the best. On the other hand, the more I consumed this information, the less I felt sure about what I was doing. I felt like I needed to be publishing an eBook, documenting my journey 7 times a day, and sharing my 'authentic voice'. Oh and get 8 hours of sleep with a slamming 5am morning routine.

The trap I unconsciously fell into was that I was putting content creators and authors up on a pedestal. The fallacy that just because they are publishing something or are being written about must mean that they are doing something right.

This fallacy also extends to seeing other people's successes; professional FOMO if you will. And so for the past few months, I've had this concept in my head (pardon it's crudeness):

I'm picking on LinkedIn here because it's the most prevalent channel though this applies equally elsewhere, but what I'm trying to depict is that as individuals, we are encouraged to share expertise, successes, and advice because we gotta 'add value'. However, these bits of added value that we publicise represent the peaks of our personal journeys. We typically don't depict the troughs of the mundane or our (un-glamourised) failures.

As someone consuming this information on LinkedIn, I realised that I was surrounded by everyone else's successes. I would subconsciously compare everyone else's peaks to my troughs, resulting in me feeling professionally inadequate (P-FOMO). I would try to plaster over this gap by emulating what I thought other people did - sharing my 'top tips' or 'truth bombs' or #whatever - but to be brutally honest, it never felt right to me.

On the flip side, it also never quite sat right with me that my friends and colleagues would come up to me and say how they thought I was 'killing it' on LinkedIn. I kept thinking: "Yeah... but you're only really seeing 'the good stuff'."

What changed for me in 2019 was that as I got to know more people, I came to truly appreciate how many of us share the exact same journey, with the same peaks and troughs. I stopped seeing everyone as 'experts', actually stopped listening to a lot of podcasts, and stopped trying to emulate others. In doing so, I started cultivating a stronger sense of confidence in my own abilities.

I appreciate the sentiment that 'everyone shares similar journeys' is pretty obvious, but I've always believed that it's one thing to intellectually understand something, and another to actually embrace it.

Being ok with 'not knowing'

A direct corollary of recognising that not everyone's an expert is realising that I don't need to be an expert either; that my level of personal value did not correlate with having all the solutions to problems. I became really comfortable with openly saying: "I don't know." ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Something I came to really appreciate in 2019 is that it is far better to have a clear understanding of a problem than it is to know what the solution is. By starting with a position of 'not knowing', I realised I asked a lot more questions than I normally would, and would openly challenge pre-conceived ideas just so I could better understand the problems I was trying to address. 'Not knowing' came to represent a genuine opportunity to learn.

Or to be twee about it: "The joy is in exploring the journey, and not about knowing what the destination is." The more I came to enjoy the journey, the more I felt at peace with myself.

Personal alignment and re-defining vulnerability

I had a fascinating conversation with business coach and mentor Margareth Thomas at the tail end of 2019. I mentioned that I had begun to feel very attuned to what I'm thinking and feeling. More than that, I became extremely comfortable with being radically transparent and sharing it all (much like this blog).

She asked me why I felt that way, and what contributed to my willingness to be 'vulnerable'.

I mulled over this for a while before responding that I felt like I had achieved a level of 'personal alignment', a state of mind where my intellectual and emotional selves were not at odds with each other. Previously, when faced with a fork in the road, my 'gut feel' might be to go down Path A but my brain would over-intellectualise and push me down Path B. Now, I'm far more comfortable listening to my intuition and going down whichever path my gut takes me. My brain doesn't get in the way, but I also have full awareness of why I made the decision; it enables my intuition, rather than impeding it.

This personal alignment - coupled with my earlier insights around being ok with 'not knowing' - resulted in me no longer seeing my vulnerabilities as 'something I'm not good at' or 'a soft spot I'm ashamed of', and instead started seeing it as 'something I haven't explored yet'. And by that definition, I just stopped feeling like I had vulnerabilities at all.

Now that's by no means saying that I'm somehow perfect or 'invulnerable', it's just that I stopped seeing vulnerabilities as such, and why I felt quite comfortable being 'vulnerable'.

Finding alignment

And thus as 2019 comes to a close, I feel like I've found a good sense of alignment within myself; a sense that is permeating into all aspects of my life both personal and professional.

I am ok with not being perfect, not having all the answers, not comparing myself to others, and just knowing that my emotional and intellectual selves are enabling each other.

As I look forward to 2020 with its challenges, peaks, troughs, and everything in-between, all I know is that I am filled with a sense of excitement and joy for the year ahead!

Acknowledgements

A lot has happened this year, and I want to give some shout outs:

  • The entire QUTCEA and Collider Accelerator team, without whom I wouldn't have had the opportunity to take ColourSpace and myself as a Founder to the next level
  • The 2019 Collidee cohort, who has become an amazing group of friends that I've come to count on for support (and an unnecessarily deep understanding of who will be eaten first should we all be stuck on a desert island)
  • The City of Melbourne (in particular Tammy Stokie), for giving ColourSpace the support of the city and being a 'tipping point' that started the momentum for 2019
  • My various mentors, coaches, and advisers. In particular I want to thank Jamie Pride, Olivia Tyler, Ian Mason, Chris Heuer, Peter Laurie, Margereth Thomas, Will Heine, and Denis Fey
  • My amazing team in ColourSpace, without whom we couldn't have built what we've built. Equally important are all of the artists, clients, and partners who have helped us along the way
  • My peer support groups (y'all know who you are)
  • And of course my family and friends. I'm sorry I don't spend enough time with you as I should, and this is a balance I hope to address in 2020

Happy 2020 everyone!

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