In the blink of an eye, 2022 is behind us and we're faced with the opportunity to consider the potential of a new year. As with last year, I like to use this transition period to reflect on the year that was and to consider what it is I want to take into 2023.
Personally, 2022 was an absolutely hectic year. I started the year in the Acting CEO role at Leadership Victoria with ColourSpace and (to a lesser extent) Curiosity Journals continuing to grow in parallel, against a backdrop of varying degrees of lockdown / hybrid uncertainty over the year.
I'm really proud of the many achievements and milestones along the way, including but not limited to:
When I take a moment to reflect on what I did over the year, I recognise that there was 'a lot'. When people ask me how I manage it all, my go-to sassy quip is: "I don't have a life," but as per last year's YIR on Finding Purpose, there is an underlying purpose that drives me. I stopped thinking of work as 'work'; that whilst I may wear multiple hats, I'm really only doing one job (being me) and everything I do is simply a part of that.
Thus I knew coming into 2022 that there was going to be a lot on my plate. Armed with an overarching purpose and driven by a morbid fascination to understand my capacity, I went in search of my limits. Can I do it all? Is having an overarching purpose sufficient? How much energy can I genuinely sustain? What balls might I drop? Importantly, what might I learn?
Or at least, that's what I told myself so I could pretend I'm not a workaholic, but whatever.
I'd like to say I made it through the year and achieved all my goals whilst maintaining some semblance of a healthy balance, but that'd be dishonest. There were times when I shot right over the edge, over-indulging in self-destructive behaviours such as stress eating and drinking. Other times, I withdrew emotionally from family and friends, going through the motions for the sake of it.
Why? What contributed to these behaviours? Which 'limits' did I exceed, and how? Over the year and with much self-reflection, I ended up grouping these limits into 3 broad categories.
First is practical limits. Namely: How much time do I have? How much physical energy can I draw upon? How much mental focus can I muster? The good news is that I feel like I managed these limits reasonably well. I got enough sleep (for me, at least), exercised well enough, and didn't drop too many balls when maintaining focus during any given workweek.
The next category of limits I would define as emotional limits. Unlike practical limits, my emotional limits can expand or contract on any given day (or week) depending on my mood, the people I'm engaging with or the environmental / situational context I'm in. On days when my emotional limits were expanded, I could roll with the punches and demonstrate a higher tolerance for challenging people or situations. On days when my emotional limits were contracted, I'm more likely to find myself in a funk.
To manage this, there were weeks when a simple practice of gratitude or a Netflix binge was sufficient whilst other times, I needed to remind myself (and accept) that I was going through a 'rough patch'. I'm also extremely fortunate to have a great support network of peers, mentors, and supporters (you know who you are) with whom I can work through the even rougher patches.
But the problem was that in spite of all the daily practices, all those support mechanisms, and with my purpose front and centre, it wasn't enough to stop me slipping from indulgence into over-indulgence. It wasn't until the end of the year and after several deep conversations with a dear friend of mine (thank you Ian for challenging me to stare directly at the issues), that I realised I was bumping up against another category of limits: conceptual limits.
I define conceptual limits as the realm of ethics and beliefs, of morals and values, of ideas, of identity, of spirituality, and of purpose. This is where limits become Schrödinger-esque, where even attempting to define a 'limit' can change its very nature. A world of grey where limits can change radically based on new experiences, new learnings, and interactions with different people.
What I found most interesting about conceptual limits is that whilst they may be hard to define, I believe they have a significant influence on all other limits. Whereas I might treat myself to an indulgent splurge when I exceeded my emotional limits, overstepping my conceptual limits was what turned indulgence into persistent over-indulgence. When I realised that I was becoming over-extended in some of the conceptual limits (say when I was questioning my personal values or capabilities), it helped me understand why I was engaging in destructive behaviours and provided some semblance of pathway to finding balance.
If all of that's too wishy-washy and you're trying to find a point of reference, the simplest example I can offer is to imagine you're working in a job that doesn't align with your values or beliefs. Whilst you can still show up and perform, your tolerance for ambiguity or working with colleagues may be significantly reduced, even if you can't quite put your finger on why.
In writing this Year In Review, it hasn't escaped my awareness that the idea of 'finding and exceeding limits' may not sound like the healthiest approach - especially since I've been talking about over-indulging in self-destructive behaviours - however there are positive implications too.
At a practical level, I became far more conscious of what I focused my energies on. For example, for those of you who may have wondered why I haven't written anything for a few months, that was a conscious decision to preserve my energy. Similarly, I didn't pressure myself to publish this Year In Review at the end of 2022 to meet a self-imposed deadline.
The second implication of exceeding limits is that I learned a great deal. In fact, I argue that an alternative way of thinking about limits is that it defines my comfort zone. Expanding beyond my comfort zone was tough, but it's also where I learned a great deal about myself, enhanced my capabilities and capacities, and thus also built my resilience (a topic I cover here).
And finally, by going on a journey of finding limits, I came to have a deeper appreciation of what my limits actually are. For example, I don't think I could have articulated the idea of practical, emotional, and conceptual limits had I not specifically sought to explore the topic. I know which limits are fixed, which ones might contribute to self-destructive behaviours, and perhaps most importantly, which limits are self-imposed or don't actually exist; aka artificial limits.
I'm reminded of this TED talk from the late Sir Ken Robinson on changing education paradigms in which he shares longitudinal research conducted by George Land and Beth Jarman on the topic of 'divergent thinking'. In a nutshell, a creativity test used to select innovative engineers and scientists was given to 1,600 5-year-olds, reapplied to the same group of kids 5 years later, and reapplied again 5 years after that.
The conclusion that was drawn was that 'non-creative behaviour is learned'. I've come to think of limits in a not dissimilar way, and I wonder if quite a few of our limits (especially the self-imposed ones) are also learned.
When I watch young children play, I'm inspired by their joyful liberation or creativity because no one's yet told them what they can't do. With no limits holding them back, they can imagine the impossible. At times like that, I feel like I've come to understand what Picasso meant by his saying:
Much as I've enjoyed finding limits in 2022, I do still want to acknowledge that I agree to some extent that it's probably not the most sustainable or healthiest approach. Whilst I jest about 'having no life', there's perhaps a grain of truth in that. I've neglected friendships, my health isn't where I want it to be, and I've deliberately set aside personal interests (such as keeping up the Ko Lab which serves as an important creative outlet) because it was easier to get lost in work.
It's something I'm aware of, and something I want to explore in 2023. Thus my theme for 2023 is Finding Balance.
Happy new year!
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