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Last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice

December 28, 2012

So, 2012, what was that all about? One minute you’re wondering what the year might have in store, the next you’re wondering what, if anything, you’ll remember it for and what you achieved.

Paroxysms of tears and joy on the sofas of Britain from television-addiction to the Olympics aside, when you recall ‘2012’ in years to come, what memories will it conjure?  Some obvious things suggest themselves immediately besides the Olympics: the Leveson inquiry; the re-election of President Obama; Higgs Boson; Felix Baumgartner’s leap; the tenth anniversary of the death of Joe Strummer;  the Stone Roses reunion concert in Manchester. In the end, X Factor was won by the permanently bored and miserable-looking James Arthur, who presumably appealed to the UK’s teenagers as a kindred spirit.

History is capricious about what it preserves and what it consigns to its dustbin. Only time will tell. In retrospect, we can look back 200 years at 1812 and recognise that this was the year when the outcome of the seemingly endless Napoleonic wars was determined. All sorts of things happened 100 years ago in 1912 that would change history, principally by helping to cause the First World War, but most of us recall that it was the year of the Titanic disaster and of Captain Scott’s disastrous race to the South Pole with Amundsen.

Like every year, this one has been exhilarating in its complexity. There were many technological triumphs to celebrate, from the chic of the £20 Raspberry Pi to the shoot-out between Google’s Nexus 7 and Apple’s iPad Mini. Apple was furious with Samsung, and Samsung was furious with Apple, but bigger arguments raged over the relentless amassing of patents by technology corporations. Facebook saw its billionth user sign up to the service in October, but this was scant consolation to the shareholders who’d invested in the company in May and had watched the share price tumble – at one point to less than 50% of its listing price.

For a few glorious weeks in an otherwise miserable year for weather (big drought, big flood and big freeze), the clouds parted, the sun shone a bit and a nation fell uncontrollably in love with sport. Putting aside all the great achievements, the humility of the athletes was memorable: Sir Chris Hoy, modest and magnificent. I shut my eyes and I lunged and drove it all the way to the line, he said, of the moment he became the country’s most successful-ever Olympian: Then I heard this massive roar, and I hoped that it was for me.

So, I’m contemplating the year behind me and the year ahead. It’s important to take time to contemplate the milestones of 2012 and how you’d like to grow in 2013. I’ve certainly had a year of twists and turns, here are my personal notes to self.

Embrace failure Some days it’s just not meant to be, through no lack of effort, wisdom or enthusiasm, you just don’t hit the mark and you end up with an outcome far removed from that desired or anticipated. I used to beat myself up ferociously and drill down to find out what went wrong. In reality I used to spend more time and energy on the inquest than was healthy. Now I shrug my shoulders, reflect and look for the learning points. I recognise failure means that I am moving, and it’s the learning not the result that I should embrace. I sometimes feel like the big dog chasing the nimble squirrel. That’s ok. You can’t take anything personally, because no one knows what will work or won’t work, but you’ve got to keep moving because inertia kills.

Always think positively I’ve turned into a new age yogi in the last twelve months, ok, turning 50 was a tough gig, looking backwards and forwards at a milestone that could have become a millstone. The trick is to keep up your momentum and set yourself Big Hairy Audacious GoaIs. I find the more ridiculously stretching they are, the more you smile inwardly and believe you can. The best book I read this year for giving me this refreshed attitude was Steve Jobs’ biography, his phrase Reality Distortion Field has become my new personal graffiti. This phrase pushes me to keep pedaling, even on those days I don’t want to get on the bike. I also avoid negative people like the SARS virus, it’s draining to be around energy sappers. An optimistic fool does more than a pessimistic genius. Trust your instincts.

Be agile, be alert On your marks, get set…GO! You are never ready. I de-cluttered everything this year, from my iTunes library, my old client files, my garden shed, indexed my project library and even sorted the sock drawer. I removed all baggage and got myself ready. Not sure what for, but it felt good, renewed and geared up to take that plunge to the next challenge, no excuses. You’ll never be ready, but that shouldn’t stop you from being ready, if that makes sense.

Never use time for idleness Olympians spend hours practicing their technique, and seeking to improve. An ethos of deliberate practice ensures the bar continues to rise – but you’ve got to make the decision to focus on self-improvement. What investment in yourself have you made this year? You cannot borrow time, so think, act and push to be your best today, live in the moment, and don’t kid yourself you can cruise for a short-time, because others are overtaking you. Never stop striving for that personal best. Today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost.

Plans mean nothing, but planning is everything. The Mars Rover landing of ‘Curiosity’ in August was an incredible feat, but lurking behind the technical pyrotechnics is a story of planning in the face of almost-unbelievable uncertainty. Often missed in the retelling of Curiosity’s landing is the fact that no-one at NASA could do a single thing about the outcome. Once the landing module had begun its descent, everything–every tiny movement, every one of the millions of microscopic adjustments–was being made by pre-programmed software. Either everything worked out okay, or it didn’t. There was no way to adjust on the fly. In the end, all those plans were essentially meaningless. But planning? Planning is what put Curiosity on Mars. It can get you anywhere you want to go.

Do not underestimate yourself I’ve always set the bar high. We grow up overly critical of ourselves, which is fine to a point in seeking improvement, but do not doubt yourself – in today’s busy world, you’re either remarkable or invisible – so seize the moment, it’s down to you. As Bradley Wiggins said There’s a point in every race when a rider encounters the real opponent – and he realises that it’s himself. I don’t think I’ve got a puncture yet, I maybe on the hill climb (still) but let’s keep peddling! When we get onto the downhill bit we can freewheel and stand on the handlebars – which will make it all worthwhile. Believe you can.

Be mentally tough. Successful people are consistent in their approach, control their emotions, pick themselves up after a setback, and go again. They are as fresh on a Friday as they are on a Monday. They are able to ‘get in the zone’ and have huge stickability. Never make excuses or feel sorry for yourself, it’s simply down to you. Boxers have 10 seconds to get back up from being knocked down, that’s mental toughness. As Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they’re punched on the nose. Remember nothing worthwhile comes easily. Half effort does not produce half results. It produces no results. Keep trying, regardless.

Realise nothing is an overnight success I am where I am, which is a good place to be, but I’m starting to believe that it’s all about hard work. Having said that, If you ever meet a fairy who wants to grant you a wish, my advice is don’t go for beauty or wealth – they are not all they are cracked up to be – instead go for hard work and a set of clear goals. Without explicit goals you don’t have a chance of any major success. As the quote goes, Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people. Just keep going, stay hungry, however, as Einstein said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is a definition of insanity. Remember, Vision without Execution is Hallucination, or is that the result of too many drinks last night?

It will get better, but it’s going to get worse before it gets better. This year I had a particularly frustrating surprise. I am a risk taker and tend to follow my instinct, so it is expected things sometimes veer off course. The unforeseen event that happened threw me and I stalled. I wasn’t prepared and I lost myself for a little while. I had to dig down in my soul to get back on course. What I couldn’t see was that this unforeseen event that left me flailing was a test of strength and character. This one particular experience made me a lot stronger but no one could have told me at the time that this curveball was actually a gift. You learn a lot about yourself, and other people, in adversity, especially when it’s human behaviour – and specifically a lack of integrity – that is contra to all your instincts and beliefs in the best of people, that lets you down.

Impossible Things There is a line in Alice in Wonderland about thinking six impossible things before breakfast. This has stuck in my mind, so I started to play with it, setting myself ‘a daily disruptive thought’ challenge to come up with new ideas. As a result, I have lots of answers and ideas to move ahead. But I have no particular wizard-like talent, it’s just that I am driven, focused, curious and inquisitive. It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I’ve got more tenacity than most and stay with challenges longer, and reflect.

Reflection is something I’m good at, and need to do more of, which reminds me of these lines from A. A. Milne in Winnie-the-Pooh: Here is Edward Bear coming downstairs now, bump, bump. Bump on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.

This quote is a great example of our everyday lives. We have to move so fast to get by that we never get the chance to stop and think about what we do and why we do it.  I guess my key learning from 2012 is to take time to stop and think about the future – and my interest should be about the future because I’m going to spend the rest of my life there!

Ending 2012, as T. S Elliott said. last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice,  I know I’m happiest when my hands are dirty and I’m creating things, that laughter leads to better work, and that not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Having said that, if I had the year to live over again, I’d be a roofer. Could I get one when needed this year?

 

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