5 lessons I’ve learned in the past year

You know how you go through a roller coaster ride, and then you get off, and your head is spinning? That’s how I’ve been feeling after the past year.

In the past year, my role has changed dramatically at work, and my responsibilities as a manager have grown exponentially. Sometimes I feel like I’ve learned enough to have gone through an MBA program… twice.

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.

Johnny Cash

I’ve made mistakes. A lot of mistakes. And sometimes I feel like I don’t want to make any more mistakes. But mistakes give us an opportunity to learn.

I’ve learned a lot about business, management and running a team. Some lessons are universal — things I wish I had learned a LONG, LONG time ago. I thought I’d share the five things I learned in the past  year.

Here’s advice from me to you

1. Decide quickly, but be able to back it up with sound reasoning

You don’t have to agree with everything. You SHOULD be able to make sound decisions even when others disagree. But you should also be able to back it up. Think through your decision:

  1. How strongly do I feel about this, and am I committed?
  2. Who does it affect?
  3. Am I making this decision emotionally or objectively?
  4. What evidence do I have that this will succeed?
  5. What are the risks?

I tend to make snap decisions before thinking them all the way through. Sometimes the decision came later than it should have. In some cases, this got me in trouble. For example, this year, I decided to end our relationship with a client.

I should have made the decision long before I actually did. Our relationship with the client had started off positively, but within a few months the client stopped paying us on time. The relationship deteriorated from there. After six months and excuse after excuse about why we hadn’t been paid, I decided it was time to end the relationship.

My decision did not go over well, and I spent the next month speaking to the client through our attorney.

Yeah, fun stuff.

I don’t regret the decision I made, but I do regret how long it took me to make it. It’s not a good idea to sit on a decision regarding clients, employment matters, money or product ideas. I’m not saying you should make decisions lightly. Rather — quickly gather the information you need so you can make a decision. The longer you wait, the worse it could get.

There are plenty of articles that can advise you on how to make faster decisions.

2. Delivery matters

If I could name just one thing I learned from my business coach, it would be to careful in how you present yourself. His advice to me was to stay positive, when things seem dark.

“Just say, ‘It’s all good!'”

I remember when my general manager at KVUE would deliver news that was not always so positive. She was frank, but also tempered that with something positive and encouraging.

I made the mistake of being too transparent without thinking about how I delivered the news. I saw how it demoralized my team.

How I project myself and the business to the team and the world can impact morale and decisions about whether to do business with me. I found my team is most productive when they feel excited about the work and our prospects. That doesn’t mean transparency isn’t important, but a strong and positive leader sets the tone for the company.

“It’s all good,” is a regular phrase in my conversation.

3. Be humbly confident

This is an incredibly fine line to walk. I’ve learned through my interactions that people are turned off by arrogance, but they also are turned off by lack of confidence. The trick here is to be humbly confident.

There is a cognitive theory called the Dunning-Kruger effect that states that those who are unskilled suffer from the illusion that they are more skilled than they really are. And those who are skilled underestimate their own competence. So it’s hard to know whether to trust your own assessment of your skills. But you need to.  Otherwise, why would anyone want to do business with you?

That whole “fake it till you make it” cliche has its roots in truth. I know this is tough. Here’s something that may help: Practice saying thank you.

When you say thank you, you are acknowledging the compliment from another person. That is humble. But at the same time you are taking credit for what you did — that’s confidence.

4. Embrace who you are

I spent most of my life wishing I was someone other than myself. For me, it was both physical and mental self-consciousness, caused mainly from comparing myself to others. Physically, I didn’t like how I looked. With my deep set eyes and full curves, I didn’t look like the girls on the magazines. I had trouble seeing my own beauty. Mentally, there was always someone smarter who could easily out think me. Despite my decent grades, I felt jealous of those who seemed wittier or more intelligent.

What baloney. I wasted too many years comparing myself to other people. All that did was make me feel worse and worse about myself, when I could have been out there learning or pursuing my passions.

Look, you are who you are. And you know what? You are beautiful. You are smart and funny. You are an amazing person. And if you don’t truly believe it when I tell you that, then seek help, because you might have low self-esteem.

In the past year I learned it doesn’t matter what other people think. If you love yourself, people will love you. It took me years and years to finally embrace and love myself, and I feel amazing. I could give a flying crap what other people think of me, and it feels incredibly liberating.

5. Look fear straight in the eye

Fear is going to screw with you. It’s going to try to hold you back. It will take the wheel and drive you in a completely different direction.

You can’t let it.

You absolutely cannot let fear rule you. I have lived with fear, and it sucks. I sat around and waited for life to happen and worried until my stomach ached. I could have gone so much farther had I NOT let fear rule the roost. How do I know? This year I went on a campaign against fear. I named it my year of being fearless. I thought about why fear was good. I pondered how to overcome it.

I stood up and gave fear the middle finger.

And things got better. OK — maybe life isn’t perfect, and I still have issues I need to work on, but it’s a lot easier to manage when fear isn’t constantly hanging over you.

One final bit of advice

Never stop learning. The world is always changing, and you can’t stay ahead if you don’t keep up.

Have a learning mentality. For me, I decided to learn more about project management and business management. Now I am gaining valuable experience than only benefits me and my team.

You can do this too. Develop a learning mentality and never stop.