2011 was grand. I didn’t plan it that way, and I certainly didn’t expect it to take the turns that it did, but looking back I have to say that overall it was pretty friggin’ sweet. I had a few successes, some of them in spite of myself, and that was cool. But most importantly, I learned some things that I badly needed to learn. Here’s what 2011 taught me:
Do It Now
I wish I could do that, but I just don’t have time. 2011 was the year I learned to quit using that phrase. The truth is, 99% of us really do have the time to do cool things, what we don’t have is the ability to make it a priority. In my case it was writing novels, but it could have been anything. Learn an instrument, be an activist, do more with the family, whatever. When I said I didn’t have time, what I really meant was that I would rather spend the time I did have playing games, hanging out on the internet, or watching movies.
During 2011, I had a 60 hour a week job and a family. I also managed to put out two novels. Not because I’m just that awesome, but because I made writing a priority over entertaining myself. And you know what? I still ended up having time for that, too. Not as much, certainly, but I didn’t have to give it up entirely. Every long term effort has to be sustainable, and I found that doing what was important first made it possible in the long term. I could never have become a work-every-minute-forever kind of guy for more than a few months before I threw in the towel, but it turned out that I didn’t have to. All it took was the commitment to take care of business first. The next time you’re about to sit down in front of the TV, remember that you can do something that matters to you instead. The TV will still be there when you’re done.
There’s No Shame in Asking for Help
Everything I’ve ever done that was worth a damn, I did with the help of other people. My wife and friends mostly, but also professionals that were willing to share their expertise, both paid and unpaid. The real lesson wasn’t really that I needed help, it was learning to accept it. Criticism at its best is really just pointing out where you screwed up and how.
Don’t be defensive. Don’t make excuses about why it has to be that way or start on some long rambling story about how it got there, just suck it up, admit that you were wrong, and fix it. Don’t get me wrong, not every criticism is valid, but by and large if someone makes the effort to point it out to you, especially if that someone is an expert, you should really make an effort to stand on your ego and listen.
Helping Others is Helping Yourself
This is something that I knew before 2011, but it really came into focus this last year. When you help someone else, you end up getting at least as much out of it as the other person. Also, just because you happen to know more about a particular thing right now, that doesn’t mean that whoever you’re helping doesn’t know more than you about a half-dozen other things. You’re not handing down wisdom from some plateau to the clueless throng below you, you’re loaning a cup of sugar to a neighbor who may well be a better baker than you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared something with another person, only to turn right around and get help from them on something else. Also, don’t keep score. Give what you can, when you can. Don’t worry about getting as much as you give. Trust me, you’re getting plenty by being there for someone else when they need it.
This one is easy. I had way more success in 2011 than I had any right to expect. Part of it was hard work, part was because I had help from amazing people, and a large part was just good old fashioned luck. I have no illusions about taking all the credit, believe me.
For everyone who helped me along the way in 2011, including all of those who took a chance on an unknown author with their hard earned money, thanks. You have my gratitude.