The 7 biggest lessons I learned in 2017

Lessons Learned in 2017

2017 was a weird year for me; one where I can’t really remember who I was at the start (because January feels like two years ago, not 11 months), much less who I hoped to be at the end. I do know I chose the word ‘Why’ to guide my year. And the main reason I chose that word was because 2016 was filled with me saying ‘Yes’ to a lot of stuff purely because I was flattered to be asked, wanted to impress someone I admired, or needed to be liked.

In 2017 I wanted to apply greater rigour to the things I was committing myself to. If I was going to spend time on something it needed to take me closer to where I wanted to be in life or closer to the person I wanted to be.

This saw me spend more time helping with stuff at my kids’ school while giving up my beloved Flying Solo Editor role. It also saw me spend more time working on someone else’s book than my own. In all, there were very few knee-jerk type decisions made about how I was spending my time in 2017 which made for a very deliberate and satisfying year; one in which I learned a lot.

So, rather than running through the usual ‘year in review’ type questions (which I’ve already answered in this ep of Straight and Curly), I thought I’d share some of those key learnings:

1. You’re not stuck in traffic; you are the traffic

When I read that line in a blog post it immediately transported me back to the days where the slightest impediment to my day (a slow driver in front of me, a long line, the doctor who was running late) was taken personally. All those people were out to ruin my day by getting in the way of me executing my tasks in the most efficient way possible and I hated them all.

One of the major transformations that have come from reducing overwhelm and having more whitespace in my life is I no longer spend a lot of time and energy hating the world. But I’ve been doing so with a bit of a superiority complex: Look how magnanimous I can be because I have time to be patient and forgiving of all the people getting in my way.

Realising that when I’m in traffic, I am the traffic as much as the next person has shifted my perspective from ‘me vs them’ to ‘us’. It’s a good reminder that we’re all in this messy thing called life together. Small actions can create big ripples and we get to choose if the small actions we take are in the service of others, or just ourselves.

2. It does hurt to ask

For the past two years, I’ve been experimenting. If I found myself wanting to contact someone to ask for something or offer something and found myself hesitating because I was scared they’d say ‘No’ … I made myself do it. Essentially, I was trying to increase my tolerance for rejection. Also, I’ve always figured:

  • If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
  • It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Now, these statements are true if you get the ask ‘right’ because, even if the answer is ‘no thanks’, you’ve started a dialogue with the person that could lead to a mutually beneficial relationship down the track.

It’s very easy to get the ask ‘wrong’, however.

  • It’s easy to forget someone you feel you know well (because you’ve read their blog or admired their work for years) doesn’t know you from Adam.
  • It’s easy to think their enthusiasm for your idea should match yours.
  • You may not realise your request or suggestion is one of several in a similar vein they’ve received that day/week/month/year.
  • You may not realise you’ve contacted them at a very bad time.

Getting your ask wrong makes future correspondence from you easy to ‘delete without reading’.

I’ve got the ask wrong several times this year. I’ve made my future chances of working with certain people unlikely because I made all the mistakes above in my rush to ‘embrace rejection’.

On the upside, I now have a better feel for where and when to be a bit more discerning.

3. Just play the song

We’ve all seen that thing where a musician is auditioning for a TV talent show and instead of performing the song the way the original artist did (i.e. the way it was intended), they deliver it in a way that demonstrates (or tries to demonstrate) their impressive range and skill.

This is what I’ve been doing when writing my own books.

Instead of ‘just playing the song’ I’ve been trying show off my impressive ability to think and present information in a way no one else has. I’ve gotten so caught up in this, in fact, that 18 months after starting work on Overthinkers Anonymous, I have reams of pages full of research and outlines, but only about 2000 words worth of book, none of which are usable.

I found it approximately 1 billion times easier to write James’ book. Why? Because the ideas contained within were not mine. Since I was no longer caught up trying to show how smart I was, I could focus on delivering an outcome for the reader.

Which should always be the primary driver of a book – right?

4. There are great perils in mortgaging the present to pay for the future

Some people sacrifice sleep and health in the present to pay for a financially secure future.

Some people sacrifice relationships in the present to achieve a big goal (like, say, becoming a concert pianist, or Olympian).

My thing is looking ahead from the present moment, predicting all the bad things that can happen in the future, and putting things in place to ensure those bad things don’t happen. The goal? That one day I’ll finally be able to relax because life will be sorted and perfect.

In other words, I’m sacrificing joy in the moment to pay for a comfortable, trouble-free future; one that doesn’t actually exist.

5. The reality gap is a big anxiety trap

Humans sit atop the food chain today because of our ability to see what ‘could be’ (understand future possibilities) and make those things reality. Our instinct to strive for more underpins innovation, raises living standards and increases effective life-spans.

This instinct also means that much of our existence is spent in the gap between what is, and what could be – the reality gap.

The reality gap is an unhappy place to be if you haven’t developed the skill of working towards what could be while also sitting comfortably with what is.

I’ve never developed that skill and the result has been anxiety when I can’t control a situation into being the way I feel it should. Which is … pretty much always.

The best antidote for this is ‘acceptance’.

Acceptance that there will always be things you can’t control.

The concept of acceptance scares me, however, because where’s the line between:

  • Acceptance and giving in?
  • Healthy striving and relationship-destroying single-mindedness?
  • Pursuing a passion responsibly versus recklessly?

6. There is no line

‘Why do you need a line?’ my therapist asked.

At the time I didn’t have an answer beyond, ‘I … I just do.’

I have the answer now.

Quite simply, I don’t trust myself to make sound judgement calls.

If left to my own devices I tend to err on the wrong side of the line, the one that strains relationships and health. If someone else tells me where the line is, it allows me to outsource judgement calls to them.

The thing is, not only is this lazy and refusing to take personal responsibility; it ignores the fact that the line is constantly moving. Every situation is different, every person is different and everything in life is a judgement call.

The only way to make better judgement calls is to make mistakes, learn from them, and make better choices next time.

7. For growth to occur, learning needs to be applied

Which leads to my final uncomfortable discovery for the year. A friend and I were discussing a writer we both follow. (FYI: If you’re reading this post, then no, you’re not the writer in question.)

I expressed my admiration for the writer’s vulnerability and brutal honesty about all the mistakes they’d made. My friend was less impressed.

‘I’m just not seeing a lot of growth there. The same mistakes keep getting made over and over again.’


I realised the same could be said about me. I’m that person who has to make a mistake repeatedly before I relent and actually apply what I’ve learned. It’s like I need to make sure of the lesson before I apply it!

The thing is, I’ve only been able to do this because of the unwavering and unconditional love of a partner who’s accepted this is just how I am and goes with it, knowing I’ll eventually figure things out.

Which brings me to 2018

It’s time to stop taking advantage of my partner’s patience. It’s time to stop being so slow to apply life’s lessons.

My biggest problem in life right now is anxiety. I’ve always managed that anxiety using two methods:

  1. Control
  2. Avoidance

My therapist has suggested a better (or at least, complementary) management tool might be ‘getting better at sitting with discomfort’.

Frankly, the very thought exhausts me because it involves remodelling patterns of behaviour I’ve been building for over 20 years.

But, in the absence of any other worthwhile goal for 2018, I’ve decided this should be it.

Every year I set a word for the year that will guide my year. Given the above, I think the best word to guide 2018 should be ‘Acceptance’.

This may be almost as laughable as the year I experimented with ‘Relax, nothing is under control’.

But I’m going to try anyway ?

Are you using one word to guide your year? What is it?

Comments 36

  1. Thanks Kelly – enjoyed reading this article and I think acceptance is a great word and one all of us control freaks could really benefit from even though it is really hard. May 2018 be awesome for us all ?

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      Haha you know it Lorraine – I love (and hate) that we have this in common. But I think you manage it so much better than me xx

  2. Great read Kelly, I love your honesty. My word for the year is supernova. I’ve been pondering a word for the last few days and after failing miserably to find one that fit , randomly threw this one in the mix from the “Tired of trying to cram her sparkly, star-shaped self into society’s beige square holes, she chose to embrace her ridiculous awesomeness and shine like the freaking supernova she was” quote. I was also tempted by “ridiculous” to remind myself not to take things so seriously!

    As I debated my word choices a friend sent me this definition – which was perfect:

    Supernova – a star that suddenly increases greatly in brightness because of a catastrophic explosion that ejects most of its mass. The “mass” analogy would be the noise from being too busy in general life to concentrate on creating.

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  3. This was a moving post, Kelly.
    My biggest personal takeaway was “you are the traffic.” I also think there’s such a tough balance between striving and being content with your life which I also remember was discussed in a podcast once and really resonated with me.
    For me, my word of the year is tradition. Like yourself, I am quite future focused and I want to focus on the now by building meaning into my days. My kids have left home and every now and then I catch myself thinking that some things are just too late now – like having regular family holidays. I want to change this before grandchildren come.
    I’m also feeling the need to disconnect from some of my social media and even podcast listening as I’m feeling some of the stuff I’m listening to is making me feel like a failure due to the comparison game – kind of making that reality gap painful.
    Thanks for your words and also FB and podcasts this year. I’ve appreciated them and learnt from them.

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      Thanks so much for listening and reading this year Kate – it means so much. And I thoroughly endorse disconnecting from social media if it’s triggering comparisonitis.

      Although – you could try ‘noticing’ which things trigger the comparisonitis and just wonder to yourself ‘why’ … (be curious about it rather than avoiding it) 🙂

  4. Wow! Acceptance and sitting with discomfort are 2 big hard things that I completely need to do too. I connect with your anxiety coping techniques of control and avoidance. They are 2 great ? ways I survive ?

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      I’ll be honest – I’d really just rather avoid discomfort. I’m going to have to introduce it into my life in verrrrrry small doses xx

  5. I think acceptance is the best word, so much so that I’m going to use it for my word too. I don’t usually choose a word, because I always forget what it is by about march, but this I’ve been really focusing on accepting, allowing and letting go.
    I was sad to hear that Brooke and yourself won’t be podcasting any more. I would love another round up one from you both in a year or two just to follow your evolution.
    Happy new year
    Cheers Kate

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      Yay – I am glad you like the word so much you’re going to use it 🙂

      And I’m sad about Let It Be too. I shed a tear listening to the last episode! I am sure we’ll find a way to do a ‘catch up’ type episode mid next year!

  6. This is a great article Kelly – I particularly like number 7! I read a lot of ‘personal development’ books this year (one of which may have been by the writer you mentioned, if my guess is correct), and found it so much easier to just read them, rather than to do the work as well. I also found it was too much too quickly – I need to allow more time for changes to occur before I push on to the next thing.

    I think my guiding word for 2018 would be self-love! I’ve let fear and anxiety govern my world for far too long.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, and best wishes for 2018.

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      Thanks so much Erin. I hope 2018 holds much more self-acceptance and self-love for you. These things are hard to get to, but they’re worth fighting for xx

  7. Thank you for this writing.
    Acceptance is hard – I used control very effectively for a long time. But I found that accepting the little things (while still living life according to my values) really helped lower my anxiety, and ‘trained’ my brain to
    accept the bigger things with grace and kindness. Good luck.

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  8. Great post Kelly. A lot resonated with me too – both about your 2017 and 2018. Particularly the idea of being comfortable with discomfort.

    My word for the year is growth. After many years in the public service I’ve recently started working with my husband in our small business, so it relates to that, but also to personal growth.

    I’ve struggled a bit with how to capture my desire to a) feel safe and b) have a full life, as I was concerned my wish for safety would keep me small. But after sitting on it for a while (and trying the 5 whys exercise – ie “I want to feel safe – why…?) I realised that feeling safe gives me a strong foundation from which to try new things, (including possibly failing).

    So growth it is, with the idea of safe discomfort included in the concept.

    Here’s to a full year 🙂

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  9. A beautifully written honest reflection of your year in lessons Kelly. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us once again. Your posts always leave me thinking – I like that.

    I also believe you’ll know when you have crossed ‘the line’ from acceptance to giving up. From a ‘feeling’ perspective all I can say is ‘accepting’ and ‘giving up’ FEEL very different. You’ll just know!

    One thing I’ve learned to live with is that acceptance doesn’t mean I’m completely free from anxiety; for me it means simply that anxiety has to come along for the ride and I demand it always uses its ‘inside voice’. 😉

    All the best for the New Year Kelly. Xx

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      Aha – I do see what you mean there Sandra. I think the idea of accepting scares me because I’m worried it might sap some of the drive I have. And my drive is what defines me. But now we’re getting into overthinking territory right?!

  10. My word is content backed by the mantra “I have enough, I do enough, I am enough.” Thank you for your insights in this and your other posts throughout tje year. Special thanks for the green smoothie recipe you shared witg me on FB, it is a firm favourite for brekkie now.

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  11. I love this! Number two is a hard one… it’s true, you can get the ask wrong but I don’t think that’s the end point. The future is long and the world works in weird ways.
    I find the line between striving and accepting hard too… for me it’s whether I am overly prioritising myself instead of my family.

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      Oh God, I’ve got it so wrong a few times this year. I do fear I’ve done some permanent damage. But … live and learn (and APPLY!)

  12. “Sitting with discomfort ” is something I struggle with too. Changing behaviour patterns can be so tedious yet very satisfying!

    My word is Connection. By the end of this year I’d realised that I was spending so much time doing things I thought I was “supposed” to do with anyone who asked. I wasn’t being honest about what I wanted.

    So 2018 will be guided by Connection. To myself, my partner, my kids, the people who matter most to me.

    Happy New Year, Kelly.

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      Connection is a really great word Lin – love it.

      And yes, changing those behaviour patterns – especially ones that have been laid down over 20-30 years! So hard, and I’m tired just thinking about it. But ready for the challenge xx

  13. I appreciate all that you share with us, so thank you. Have you looked much into the Enneagram? I love my personality tests and this year the Enneagram really clicked for me (previously I just didn’t understand it). Once I understood my type it helped me to accept much more about myself and how I accept things in life. Just curious what your thoughts were about this.

    My word for 2018 is ABUNDANCE: being grateful for and generous with the abundance I already have. I originally thought it could be ‘enough’ (for instance I’m trying to curb my spending and eating patterns) but I felt it was a little negative for me. Abundance puts the focus more on all that I’m already blessed with and can use instead of acquiring and consuming more.

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      Yes! I came across the Enneagram just this year. I think I’m a 1 with a 9 wing?

      Finding out my Myers Briggs years ago really helped me with self-acceptance.

      And funnily enough, Abundance was my word for 2016. I too loved that it put an emphasis on everything I had rather than focusing on what I didn’t

  14. Number 7 is so good. I’ve always assumed that one follows the other but you’re spot on-there’s a distinction there.

    Acceptance sounds like a great word for 2018 Kelly. Mine is ‘slow’. I don’t run at lightning speed often but I do bury myself in busy work, at the sacrifice of being intentional with my time and energy. Permission just to stop and enjoy life is something I’m going to work on (and it’s not going to come from anyone but me).

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      Yeah – the distinction didn’t really hit me till my friend mentioned it either! But it’s definitely there!

      I love the word Slow for you Clare. I think it’s going to be a great guide through the year xx

  15. Just listened to you chatting to Brooke on the last ‘Let it be’ podcast. I discovered your blog and podcasts this year and always look forward to reading your thoughts. Interesting comments re your blog. I really enjoyed your birthday posts – provided background on your journey. Perhaps your blog could evolve just as we all do and morph into a new version of itself.

    I love reading your posts and value the honesty and authenticity that you bing.

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      Thank you so much Kylie. I so appreciate the lovely words xx

      I too hope my blog can evolve in a direction where I’m better able to meet readers where they are 🙂

  16. Thanks Kelly and all the other contributors in response to your post.
    I too struggle with “sitting with discomfort” as I am yet to distinguish between sitting with discomfort as being ok – versus feeling discomfort – believing this means I am failing to do something right.
    My mantra this year is just to “close my eyes and jump into it and give it a go!”
    This is a great goal to start 2018. I hope I can stop crippling and retarding long held personal goals due to my fear of discomfort and my need to over analyse and over prepare in order to avoid feeling discomfort.
    Happy New Year everyone.

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      Yeah – exactly! I struggle with that distinction too.

      That said, closing my eyes and jumping into goals is not something I’ve ever had trouble doing. I’ve always felt it’s better to have tried something and failed, than it is to never have given it a go. I’m a very ‘never die wondering’ kind of person!

  17. When I ’overthunked’ (totally a word) acceptance I came up with ‘What if acceptance brings me empowering clarity?” If that happens then maybe it won’t dampen your drive but help fuel it? Yup, totally over thinking it now ? ?

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