If I had to name one of the things that I love most about myself, it would be my ability to be reflective. I’ve said it before in other posts that reflection is key to making sense of information and (often times) finding the story. Personally, reflection helps me honor where I’ve been and figure out where I’m going.
Today marks my 28th birthday and I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on this past year. It was a very fun process to think about the things I’ve learned this past year, which was a year of immense personal growth for me. I’ve always understood myself to have done a lot of personal growth work in past years, but this last year felt exponentially more impactful.
Without further ado, here are the 27 things I learned during my 27th year.
1. Storytelling is not a goal, it’s a process. Realizing this was a game changer for me. So often we focus on storytelling as a goal. But really, storytelling is a verb. It’s an on-going process. It’s not a place we will arrive at. We have to take lots of small steps consistently.
2. Asking great questions is key. One of the things I see people struggle with this most is finding a story to tell. Specifically, being able to get the information they need during an interview in order to write a great story. This comes down to asking great questions that provoke reflection and encourage people to go deeper. One amazing question can crack a story wide open.
3. It’s not about the production value. It’s about the emotion that comes shining through. I love that more organizations and people are using multimedia tools like video to tell stories. But what makes a great video story is not the production value (how expensive/polished it looks). What makes it great is the emotion that comes through, which often comes from authenticity.
4. Telling your personal story can be one of the most difficult tasks for people. I speak from experience on this one because this last year I challenged myself to be more open with my stories, which can sometimes be really difficult. It can feel extremely vulnerable to put yourself out there. It can feel like the scariest thing you’ve ever done. And yet, when you’ve done it, it can also be the most powerfully connecting experience you’ve ever had.
5. Empathy is everything. If there is one thing I keep learning over and over again, it’s that empathy is the foundation of storytelling. Empathy is what makes us care about a story. Empathy is what helps us support someone else to tell their story. Empathy gives us the self-compassion we need to tell our own stories.
6. Storytelling is a way to transform information into wisdom. I read about this notion in Walter Benjamin’s work recently and it shed new light on my understanding and appreciation of stories. I’ve always thought about stories as the being the result of reflection, and it’s through reflection that we often arrive at insights and wisdom about an experience we’ve had.
7. Feeling my way through my feelings is the only way to get to the other side. Like many people, I’ve often struggled to process my emotions. I am notorious for ignoring and deflecting feelings. The problem is that they always have a way of bubbling back up to the surface. A lot of my personal growth work this year has been centered around figuring out better ways of processing my emotions. That’s meant learning how to actually feel them and be comfortable in the discomfort of what I’m feeling.
8. Long-ingrained stories about myself can be changed. We all have stories about ourselves. Some stories positively contribute to our sense of self and self-esteem. But many stories can be problematic. After I read Rising Strong by Brene Brown last Fall, I realized just how many stories I had that were holding me back. Luckily, it’s possible to re-write those narratives and arrive at new understandings of our self.
9. I don’t actually enjoy waking up to the sound of an alarm clock and I always thought I need to use one. That was until this past April after a trip to the East Coast. My body was in the wrong time zone and I was waking up before my alarm. After a few days of that happening, I realized how much more peaceful it was to wake up without an alarm. So then I tried an experiment to see if I could wake up without an alarm. Lo and behold I could! It was a small change that has made a huge difference to the start of my days.
10. I am always more capable than I think. I have an uncanny ability to doubt my capabilities. But this year, one of my personal missions was to find ways of gently reminding myself that I am capable. It’s been helpful for me to think about the life force and milestones that have brought me to this point in my life. Sometimes I will mentally run through a list of things that I’ve accomplished that I never thought would have been possible (starting a business, writing a book).
11. Failure doesn’t make me a bad person. One of the stories that I’ve been working on rewriting for myself has been that failure is a reflection on my character. That it somehow makes me a bad person. From there, all sorts of shame erupts from a dark place. My new story will (hopefully be) that failure doesn’t have to mean anything more. It’s just something that didn’t work out. Period.
12. Process is everything. Learning to shift my understanding from goal-oriented to process-oriented has been so helpful!!
13. Self-care isn’t about the outcome. It’s about the process. I have been a long-time advocate of self-care and there is a lot that I do on a regular basis to care for myself. But one of the things that I struggled with was feeling like I had to have certain outcomes. For instance, having to have a certain type of experience during meditation or feeling a certain way after journaling. Both of these are examples of me being goal-oriented. But then a light bulb went on for me – the real benefit of self-care isn’t the outcome. It’s the time, space, and process you go through.
14. I do this work because I believe everyone should have the experience of what it’s like to be in your power, and to feel seen and heard. Last Fall, I had a real moment of confluence where it felt like my personal and professional work were merging into one. I realized that what I had been experiencing after several months of personal storytelling was the feeling of being in my own power, which made me feel seen and heard. Up until that point, I could never quite pinpoint what felt so personally significant about my professional work, but this was it.
About running a business
15. This is the hardest work I’ve ever done and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I put in a lot of hours and effort and resources into my company. Sometimes it’s exhausting. But like the good exhausting. At this point, I don’t know if I could ever go back to working for someone else. Working for myself (while challenging at times) is so incredibly rewarding.
16. Financial management is everything. I’m currently in year 4 of business ownership (so crazy!) and I’m now at the point where in order to mature and grow further, I needed to get serious about financial management. I never thought I would enjoy it, but my weekly financial check-ins are some of the times when I feel most satisfied during the week.
17. Personal conversation is where it’s at. When I think about all the marketing that I’ve done over the years, nothing beats personal conversation. I’ve had so many amazing phone calls with people. Some will lead to interesting work. Others are just a point of connection.
18. The more I’ve shown up, the more people have responded. This year I’ve made an effort to show more of myself in my work because I’ve never really understood my work and personal lives to be siloed. I am me and so I show up as a full person, imperfections and all. It’s been increasingly important for me to do work that is values-based and allows me to feel in full integrity with myself. Taking a step towards this felt like a real stretch for me and I was nervous about it, but I’ve had so many amazing responses to it that I feel like I’m on the right track.
19. Internalized oppression is real and it does affect me. Over the last 5 years, I’ve done a lot of learning about oppression and anti-oppression. But only in the last month have I allowed myself to really accept how it’s affected me. Specifically, internalized sexism. It’s shocking and it also made me feel bad that I was lacked such awareness. But now, I’m being more proactive about it. If you’re interested in learning about this, I highly encourage you to read this: Why Women Hurt Other Women: Understanding and Overcoming Internalized Sexism.
20. There is a need for new folklore about entrepreneurship. There is such a focus on successful entrepreneurship being a tech start-up typically run by a white man. There are even few stories about successful women entrepreneurs and even fewer about those who do business at a smaller (yet equally successful) scale. I think if there were a better spectrum of success stories, more women would be encouraged to start a business.
21. Being an entrepreneur is the best personal development work I’ve ever done. Since I started working for myself over 3 years ago, I have learned so much about myself. Things I’m pretty sure I would have never discovered had I not done this. It’s confronting at times, but it ultimately leads me to a better place.
A few fun things
22. I love the color yellow. I never thought of someone who likes the color yellow, but the pops of it in our living room and dining room easily make them my favorite spaces in our home. It’s bright, cheery, and fun.
23. I am really into planning and organization. If you’ve ever looked at my Instagram feed, you’ve probably noticed that I post a lot of pictures of my planner, my Filofax, and stationery in general. I LOVE paper planners and use a combination of several analog systems has helped me feel like I’m finally organized!
24. The more intentional I am about planning things, the more likely they are to happen. I used to think it would be silly to pencil in time for creative activities that I love (like knitting and art journaling), or to have to schedule date nights with Matt. But over the last few months, I’ve started putting things in my calendar and miraculously, I’m following through on them. I also think it’s brought a deep sense of satisfaction and meaning to my life because I’m finally making time for things I truly love.
25. Being gluten-free and dairy-free is not as hard as I thought it would be. In the spring of 2015, I had some health issues that required me to make some new dietary adjustments. I have been gluten-free since 2011 ( after the discovery of a food allergy), but in 2015, my doctor recommended that I give up dairy, too. Initially, it was a hard change to make. I like to bake, which required butter, and I also enjoy cheese. I do my best with these changes, though I’m not always perfect. Remembering how much better I feel is a huge motivator.
26. I have more of a green thumb than I thought. I never really thought I was good at keeping plants alive. In fact, I have a track record that speaks to the contrary. But after successfully keeping a gardina plant alive for over two years, I decided to get a few more plants for around the house. So far, so good!
27. I have so much gratitude for where I am in my life right now. A few weeks after my book came out and my dad was finally starting his recovery, I allowed myself to really feel the whole gamut of emotions I was going through in March and April. To say it was a roller coaster is a bit of an understatement. The one thing that came shining through in this process was all the gratitude I have for my life. I am so grateful for the thousands of people who read my blog and weekly emails. I’m grateful for everyone who has ever bought anything from me. I am grateful that there are other people who are interested in storytelling. I am grateful for the work that I get to do every day. What I’ve learned from all this though is that gratitude changes everything.
Sometimes I worry about publicly owning and sharing my gratitude. There’s a start of a story my mind that says, “What if everything falls apart? You’ll look like a fool for being so happy.” This is the story that I have been working hard to change. The only way I know how to feel more comfortable and confident as myself is to feel this gratitude I have. It’s that profound.
There you have it. Those are the 27 things I learned this past year. It truly has been an amazing year for me and the gratitude that I have for it and my life is nearly indescribable.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What lessons has this past year taught you?
PS – You can read my birthday post from 2 years ago here – This is My Biggest Secret
Linda Grigg says
Thanks for sharing these lessons with us, Vanessa. I enjoy learning from you about different strands of thought you have come across in your reading. Several of the books you mention in your posts have been added to my list of personal and professional development and storytelling ‘must-reads’ (which now totals more than 60!)
Lessons this past year has taught me? The efficacy of daily reviewing goals and core values. The importance of journaling to track thought processes over time. And the importance of recognising the signs of stress (which can be subtle, yet stealthily destructive).
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Thank you so much for the lovely comment, Linda! My “to read” list is also every-growing and I’ll likely never get to the bottom of it. There are just so many good books to read!
I love that you mentioned the importance of reviewing goals and core values. Although I didn’t mention it in this post, knowing and living my values is something I’ve thought a lot about over the last few years. I love that you’ve created a process for yourself to stay connected to them.
Carol Knight Watson says
I really haven’t read much of your material, Vanessa, because my life centers around rescuing and caring for donkeys who reside permanently at Amberwood Sanctuary. The donkeys can’t tell their stories of their sad past lives or of the pleasure of their new beginning. And, of course, the people who perpetrated their sadness will not tell their stories, although I learn from others what has transpired. So I feel storytelling for me is quite different than it is for nonprofits helping people. In our newsletters and thank you notes, I merely tell what is going on generally for the donkeys living here or for one in particular at any given time.
Anyway, for whatever reason, I read your “27 Things” and it was nice reading and very insightful. I would like to add to your thoughts on failure that failure can be the next step on your way to success.
Thanks for sharing yourself with others.
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Hi Carol – thank you so much for stopping by and sharing a bit of your story! It sounds like you’re on the right track with how you tell stories about your organization’s work. I really appreciate what you said about failure and how it can be a next step. I’m going to keep that in mind : )
Keri Schoenthaler says
Thank you, Vanessa, for sharing your birthday reflections – so beautiful! And what a great process. I think I will give this a try myself.
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
You are most welcome, Keri! Let me know how your process goes.
I really identify with #18. In our increasing normalized behaviour of bailing, it means a lot to turn up and be present. Awesome!
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Thank you so much for your comment, Sonam! You are so right.
I was only recently introduced to you and your work, and I am so grateful I have joined your following. Thank you for sharing in such an authentic way. The growth you describe, your learnings and the happiness that shines through your posts are inspiring.
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Hi Evie – Thank you so much for your amazing comment and welcome to the community!