2016 Life Lessons

I actually can't believe I'm sat here, writing to you with only a few more days left of 2016. This year has, by far, gone quicker than any year I can remember and yet at the same time it was the most arduous and gruelling year I've experienced to date. 

It's not hard to get sentimental, retrospective and thoughtful about the past 12 months when faced with the idea of a fresh 12 months ahead. We all love a do-over, a chance to redeem ourselves for not spending the year in the way we 'should have done' with this sparkly eyed dream that we'll somehow crack this thing called 'life' and we'll look back on 2017 with dewy eyed pride that it had been a great year and we are truly greats amongst mere men. 

That's a lot of pressure to put on yourself, but yet we still do it every January 1st with long resolution lists, credit cards armed ready to sign up to gym memberships or juicers aligned perfectly in your kitchen ready for all those green blends you're going to make before heading to work, walking the dog and hitting said gym. And all before 6am, of course! 

As a freelancer it's easy to apply these borderless, unattainable and what I like to call 'quicksand' goals to your own business. 

'Make more sales!'
'Have more stockists!'
'Be known online!'
'Get more likes!'
'Be as successful as [insert favourite creative you lust over]'  

These goals, that have no measure, that are open and that allow you to keep shifting the goal posts can only pull you down in a quicksand way. Before you know you're drowning in your own unattainable goals you'll be fighting against your own judgement, limits and health till you're swallowed whole by them. 

Trust me when I tell you, that I can vouch for this first hand. 2016's biggest gift to me, alongside other nuggets of wisdom, was this realisation which I feel now is more of a tool than a sad realisation. 

After reading Lola Hoad's inspirational blog post 'What I've Learned in 2016' I felt inspired to share some of the things that I've learnt from the past year which I've decided to use as my 'resolutions', or more fittingly my 'personal reminders'. 

You can withstand more than you think you are capable of

When I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in June I wondered how I would survive it. I didn't believe that I would - I felt un-fixable, broken and extremely lost in a world that seemed to have it all figured out.

Only 4 weeks later I then found out I was pregnant, and after having only started my first of 20 sessions of CBT I didn't know how I would cope with living a life that was filled with this sadness and darkness alongside a new life that was new, frightening and completely unknown. 

When a week later we thought we had lost our baby I didn't then know how I would cope in a world without the new life that was new, frightening and completely unknown. And what it would all mean if we did lose the baby - that perhaps my depression and anxiety had been the cause and I had effectively taken that life away. 

And after a year of poor sales, a slowed down economy and some daring financial investments that were seeing no return I didn't know how I would cope with all this internal stuff, body morphing internal stuff, as well as an uncertain financial future that was swirling all around me on a daily basis. 

Yet, I did, I have, and I still am surviving. I survived all those things I didn't think I could. I stood in the eye of the storm and weathered it, despite the lack of faith I had in not only myself but my fate. 

Everyone has limits, and that's ok

Everyone has a point where they decide they can't go any further - a limit that tells them that from this point onwards it will be only trouble. For a long time I didn't know this limit, I believed that somehow I was above that and that I almost didn't deserve to think I could say no when the time was right. So I would keep working or burning myself out until I became unwell physically or mentally. 

But remember all the stuff I mentioned before? All that stuff has forced me to learn to know when I'm reaching my limit before I end up on the road to burnout. Most importantly, I'm learning that it's ok. It's ok to know that you can't do everything, whether that's for others, for your loved ones, or for clients and customers. We are just humans.

Phase out the negative energies in your life

I've come to see that I allowed a lot of negative energies into my life, and these were just limited to people but also to objects and habits. And the trouble with negative energies is that if you aren't strong enough in your resolve for what you want in life, in your values, then you'll keep letting these negativities keep driving your life. 

So I've been on a negative energy diet in business and my personal life. 

All the practises that weren't bringing me joy, that were wasting my time or were fruitless for business, they've been ditched. The biggest thing I've ditched since Boxing Day is my Facebook. It truly has sucked the very life out of me, so I've waved bye-bye to countless analytic checking, planning posts to be published at the optimal time, trying to concoct varied content and the days filled with frustration as to why I haven't gained more followers in 12 months than I have after having the damn thing for 4 years.

Facebook can honestly do one, I'm ready to see the next big thing. 

I've also started to cut ties with certain people in my life who did nothing but bring me down - People who aren't bad human beings, but who I don't have a connection with anymore. People who don't seem to have the same values that align with mine. People who make me feel guilty, who attack me, who have nothing positive to say. People who would rather check up on my life via Instagram rather than just send me a text to ask how I'm doing.

I'm sending those people all the positive vibes for their life - I wish them well, I wish them happiness, but from now on I need to cultivate an environment for myself and my daughter which fills us with joy.

It's nice to take a backseat sometimes  

I've always been a 'do-er'. I always want to organise things, help people, save them from making mistakes or from suffering heartache. I want to be able to control life in a way that's not meddling but more with good intentions. 

2016 has made me learn to sit in the backseat for once and to stop trying to always take the steering wheel. 

Amazingly, wonderful things happen when you stop trying to control every aspect of your life; Plans still get made, deadlines still get reached, and funnily enough the whole world doesn't fall apart. In fact, you can be surprised by what people can pull out of the bag, or even what offers are made when you don't work on a knee jerk reaction. 

Taking just 30 seconds to catch a breath and think, 'Do I need to react to this now, or plan to be proactive now?' can make all the difference to stop you from falling into the controlling trap. I've found that it's allowed people to surprise me, and for business to run smoother rather than the sensation of frantically trying to plug all the leaking holes. 

Truly embrace just being you

You can try to be like someone else, whether that's another business person or someone who follow online, but ultimately no one does you better than ... you. There is no set recipe for fame, popularity or even financial success, and emulating someone else through the extremely filtered lens of social media does not guarantee that you'll end up with the same rewards that they have reaped. 

Ultimately, you can only be you. The life of trying to live like someone else will only drain you out, or bore you before it comes to that. Seriously, life is really just too short to try and trace it off the blueprint of someone else's. 

What you may not also realise is that someone may be tracing your blueprint too. You might read this and think I'm in no position to make that assumption, but as the old adage goes 'there's always someone who has less than you.' That doesn't have to mean financial though - They may have less followers, less blog readers, less sales, less access to opportunities or even less confidence. 

There is plenty we have that we can sometimes take for granted or just not appreciate the value of, which to others are what drives them or fills them with jealousy. 

So just say 'fuck it' and be yourself - all the things you love, hate, wear, eat, listen to, read or do. Enjoy them, shout about them, be proud of them. Ultimately people will buy more into your brand and identity when it's genuine, and if you lose followers along the way then they just weren't your tribe. 

Nothing comes to you

This feels like such an obvious one, yet I fall into the trap time and time again. You can't sit in your studio and expect your inbox to be full of enquiries when you haven't put the graft and time into putting yourself out there into the world. 

It's easy to think that this is what happens with other freelancers or illustrators, but let me tell you that you're not seeing the hours put in every week to chase every lead, to email any kind of potential client, or create promotional material to post to agencies. Magic happens when you put some spark into it. So go create sparks wherever you can - create a list of dream clients and start working on making connections, or go to networking events to get to know the local businesses in your area. 

Stop sitting and waiting for life to come to you, but seek it out. Rejection is a very strong possibility, but is a better outcome that waiting around for something to happen, and the frustration that comes with it. 

I encourage this practise more so when you actually have work, so that when that client has finished you have leads to carry you through the quieter times. Stay proactive. 

Above all else... 

Remain grateful for everything you have received over the year. In finances, opportunities, friendships, experiences and objects. So Thank You, each and every one of you who have purchased from my shop, read my blog, double tapped my Instagram photos or hired me for freelance work. You keep the dream alive and allow me to keep living a life I've always dreamed of. 

However, or whatever, you plan for 2017 I hope it's one filled with adventure, daring, bravery, happiness and authenticity.

Wishing you a Happy New Year,