2016 was an interesting year. Over the last twelve months, I've lost months of work through a file corruption incident, I've published a humor novel for cat lovers, and I started my first-ever long-running webcomic.
I all but lost one of my biggest clients, and gained several more. I started a business venture that maxed out both of my credit cards and made me wonder if I'd be able to pay the bills, then got enough client projects to pull me back from the brink.
I started a Patreon channel so I could get closer to my top fans and spend more time on my writing, videos and art, I joined Tumblr and DeviantArt, and I learned a lot about myself through the past year's crazy ups and downs.
In particular, I learned about some areas where I was making serious mistakes, and I discovered some things I can do to make 2017 a much better year than the ones that came before it.
Today, I'd like to share what I learned about myself, what I've resolved to do in 2017, and how I plan to make those resolutions stick and get results.
What I learned about myself:
1. I tend to give away too much of my time.
For a long time, I tried to get to my emails right away, even if I was supposed to be doing something else at that time. As a result, I fell further and further behind schedule, watching my free time get eaten by postponed tasks until I was lucky to get an hour or three at the end of the day.
I said "yes" to every project that came along, even if I didn't really have time for it. I found a way to fit it in, often at the expense of my happiness and well-being.
I assumed that people needed things right away, and would often pile extra things into an already full day.
As it turns out, that's not a very good way to live.
Lately, I've been rearranging my priorities. Unless an email is urgent, it can wait until I'm either through my to-do list, or have a lull between tasks.
If I can't take on a project right away, I tell people "I can do that for you, but it will have to happen later this week". Or, in some cases, I simply say "no".
It's a work in progress, and sometimes I still underestimate how much time something will take, or how much time I have. But I'm making a conscious effort to make myself, my productivity and my joy a higher priority than taking on every little thing as soon as it comes up.
2. I have a history of treating my life like it isn't my own.
Knowing things is a strange business. How many things do we know in our heads, and yet not really act upon?
I knew that my life is my own, I only get one chance on this Earth, and I should live my own life, not someone else's.
But I've often found myself seeking permission to take time for myself, to do the things I want to do, and to arrange my working time the way I want to.
I've apologized for, and been embarrassed by, my weird sleep schedule, instead of just embracing it and saying "these are the hours when I work and am available".
And I've treated the things I love to do like they don't matter, and felt like I was wasting my time by spending time on them, when I was really living in my purpose and giving my gifts to the world.
In 2017, I am setting aside more time to do the fiction writing, art and video-making that I love, and treating them like the valuable contributions that they are, instead of a spare-time thing that doesn't make a difference.
3. I wasn't being honest with myself about what I really want.
My coaching and marketing business is a part of me. There are countless coaches, business owners, and visionaries out there who are meant to change people's lives, and who can make an even bigger difference when they can reach more of the people they want to help.
I have a great contribution to make by connecting these people with the clients who need them... but I also have another contribution to make, and it's one I've been neglecting and devaluing, even though it's central to who I am and what I want to do with my life.
For a long time, I've treated making fiction like it wasn't important. But lately, more and more, I've been paying attention to the impact it has on people's lives.
Stories bring people together. Friendships that might never have existed are kindled because of books, movies, TV series, video games, and comics.
Stories bring people solace. How many times have I seen people comment to their favorite artists that "you helped me get through a really hard time"?
Stories bring people hope, and help them to understand themselves better. How many times have you read the story of a character you identified with, watched them struggle and grow through a challenge you share, and gotten a better understanding of who you are and what you want to do next?
Stories inspire people. I see people making art, fanfiction, music, contests and forums based on the stories they love, and I long to inspire that with my own creations.
I want to create more stories, to connect with my fans, and to have the time to engage them promptly and fully when they reach out to me.
For a long time, I acted like that part of me and my gifts didn't matter. But now, I'm coming to realize my love of stories and sharing them is central to who I am. It's my passion, and I believe it's a huge part of what I was born to bring to this world.
If I reach the end of my life with too many of these stories untold, too many readers unreached, and too many beautiful moments of emotion, learning and growth not expressed through the stories that were meant to carry them, then I'll have wasted an essential part of my life.
So in 2017, I am consciously setting aside more time to express this side of my gifts. To make more art, write more stories, make more videos, and connect with more people in the area of my greatest passion and strengths.
I'm still serving clients in the coaching and marketing field, but I'm no longer treating this other side of me as a nonessential spare-time thing.
How am I going to keep these resolutions?
New Year's resolutions are infamous for failing. So how do I plan to keep mine?
Here are 4 strategies I'm going to use, and I encourage you to use them for your own resolutions and goals:
1. Be specific.
Starting next week, I'm going to clearly delineate which hours belong to my coaching and marketing business, and which hours belong to art, writing, videos, and hanging out with my audience.
I'm not just going to "spend more time on my fiction creation". I'm going to get specific about how much time I'm going to spend and when.
2. Put it in my calendar.
Your calendar can eat your life, or it can set you free. It all depends on how you use it.
When you create your to-do list for each day, give each item a specific time slot. This will help you to know how much of your day is already booked, and whether or not you can fit more stuff into it.
It'll also help you to be more efficient. I've often found that tasks expand or contract to fill the time I give to them. If I give myself too much time, I find myself working slowly and letting my mind wander.
So give yourself enough time to do a good job without stressing yourself, but not so much that you'll end up letting a 45-minute task eat an hour and a half.
3. Tell people about my strategies and goals.
Promises you make only to yourself are easy to break. But when you have people who know what you're doing and why, who believe in your dream, and who check in with you on a regular basis, it's harder to break your promises.
4. Go easy on myself.
Maybe there will be days when I overschedule by accident, or something takes longer than planned, or an emergency comes up.
After years of overscheduling, underestimating time requirements, and treating my time like it wasn't my own, I don't expect to get it perfect instantly.
You'll probably also have days when you fall short of your own expectations. Maybe you'll eat too much. Maybe you'll lose your temper after promising not to, or won't go to the gym as often as you planned.
At times like these, you may feel tempted to feel like you've failed, and to think there's no point in trying anymore.
But while your past influences your future, it doesn't determine it.
Every day, every moment, you have a choice.
Each time you look at your schedule and think of adding one too many things, each time you think about eating another donut or skipping another day at the gym, each time you talk with someone who tempts you to slide back into your old habits, you have a choice to make.
No matter how many times you've failed in the past, you have an opportunity to say "that was then; this is now, and now, I choose to do the thing that will move me closer to my goals and dreams".
Making a shift toward your goals is seldom permanent. It isn't a "one incident fixes all" deal. It's a series of choices that you make, one opportunity at a time.
But as you make the right choice over and over again, it gets easier to do it the next time.
Now it's your turn.
What did you learn about yourself in 2016?
What are your New Year's resolutions?
And what steps will you take to make sure those resolutions stick?
I look forward to your comments.