2019 is almost over. What a year. What a decade. I think I had more growth this year than any other year of my life. I faced real challenges. I’m proud of myself for having the strength and the fortitude to face my challenges head-on.
What have I learned through my adventures? What has this year taught me? Let’s begin.
Lesson #1 – I Am Not Indestructible
I’ve lived most of my life as though I could not be hurt. I’ve made some terribly dangerous choices in my life. I’ve run thousands of miles. I dove into full contact sports with reckless abandon. I’ve driven way to fast. I’ve thrown myself into brawls and fistfights. Somehow, I’ve come out of it without any damage.
I was born with a strong body. I’m fast and tall and strong and I can push myself. I’ve always felt comfortable with physicality. I arrogantly feel as though I can take on the world.
That was until my back blew out. Somehow, I double herniated a disc in my lower back. The disk was bulging out both sides of my spine and completely pinched the nerves that run down my spine, through my legs, and into my feet.
I’ve never felt pain like the nerve pain that radiated down my legs. For years I told myself that it would go away, but it never did. I pretended like it didn’t bother me, but it kept getting worse. Finally, after months of physical therapy, I decided to see a surgeon.
Back surgery terrified me, but I could hardly function anymore.
I don’t mind being in pain. When you’re an athlete, you’re always sore or cramped or banged up. Pain is something that I’m comfortable with. This was different. This was debilitating. I couldn’t lift my legs. I couldn’t twist my torso. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t walk. It was a constant hum of numbness and radiating buzz. It wasn’t something I could tough out.
It was brutal.
When I woke up from surgery, I was close to tears. I felt instant relief. It was overwhelming to know that I would be okay and that I didn’t have to live with that pain anymore. Every day, I have this newfound gratitude.
I know I will never be the same. I’ll never squat heavy weights, I’ll never run on pavement, I’ll never deadlift 300+ pounds again.
But that’s okay. I am so grateful for my health and my body. I need to protect this at all costs.
Lesson learned. I am in fact… human.
Lesson #2 – Less is More
I worked really hard on building my blog this year.
I wrote and posted more than 250 blog posts.
Was it worth it? Yes. Was it effective?
Almost all of the growth from my blog in 2019 was from a handful of long-form, well researched, valuable and well-written articles. In 2019, I learned that it was worth it to take your time and do work that is meaningful as opposed to short-sighted.
There were benefits to pumping out daily articles. People would tell me every day how great they thought I was.
Did it feel good to get those daily comments and responses from people? Did I enjoy hearing from people and having them tell me how much they loved reading my blog? Of course I did. But the reality is that the short term wins came at the expense of long term growth.
If I would have taken my time and wrote articles that had more power and value to them, I would have probably doubled my traffic. If I had the courage to fight off short term gratification, I would have been rewarded with substantial growth.
In fact, I lost almost all my inbound search traffic over the course of the year because of it. Ouch.
Keep in mind, my blog is more than another avenue for me to find success. To me, it is more than another “brand to grow.” I do it for reasons outside of growing my influence or building my email list. I found lots of enjoyment in writing an article every day. It was a great exercise of creativity and discipline.
But I won’t do it again.
Lesson learned. Quality over quantity. Isn’t that always the case?
Lesson #3 – Systems are More Important than Hustle
7 years ago, I read a book that changed my life. The book was called The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. It’s a legendary book that has impacted millions of people.
Since reading that book, I’ve made it a point to build systems in my businesses. This year, I took it to another level.
I read a quote by James Clear earlier this year. I wrote the quote on my whiteboard in my home office.
“You do not raise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
After reading that, I decided to systemize (is that a word?) everything in my business and most things in my life.
I automated my investment portfolio. I systemized Stodzy. I built systems at Sober Nation. I built systems in my day and my week.
It changed the way I think about things. For instance, I’ve often read that the trick to real success in life is mastery of one particular skillset. You want to be the best at one thing. However, my brain doesn’t work that way. I like having my hands in multiple projects. It would give me anxiety because I would constantly be questioning if I was doing the right thing by working on multiple projects at the same time.
In 2019, I feel that I proved myself right by focusing on building systems as a priority in any project I get involved in. It’s worked. In fact, I think it has worked very well.
It’s the only reason I’ve been able to manage so many projects with success.
I have bad days. There are days when I get overwhelmed and there are days when I have to check myself from taking on more work or more projects. The reality is that every time I bring a new commitment into my life, I am taking up valuable real estate in my mind and my time.
I say no to things almost every day. I’m fully on board with the notion of knowing your limitations and I realize that I can’t constantly be chasing shiny objects.
However, the point I am making is that systems can supplement effort. They enable you to use money and resources to build automation.
It’s a secret weapon. It’s my secret weapon.
I feel bad for young entrepreneurs still banking on hustle. The hustle culture needs to stop. Hustle is linear, there are only 24 hours in the day. You can’t scale hustle or effort. You will never get more than 24 hours in a day. But if you build systems, you can leverage resources to make up for the time.
Lesson learned. Systems scale exponentially more than hustle.
Lesson #4 – The Value Knowing Your Ultimate Outcome
Out of all the lessons I learned this year, this one has been the most valuable.
I owe it to my business coach. She taught me this technique. I would recommend this way of thinking to anyone. In fact, I just did.
Most of us spend our days thinking about what it is that we need to do. We put together our to-do lists, then we begin. We start at the beginning.
But that’s completely backward.
What we should do instead is start with the end.
What do you want? What is it exactly that you want? Why you want it? When do you want it by? Write it down and then work backward to figure out what it is you have to do to get you there.
It’s a much clearer path to victory. If you live in this kind of thinking, you won’t waste time on erroneous tasks. Everything you do is done for the sole purpose of getting you closer to your ultimate outcome.
This is the best way I have found to get you to where you want to go.
You can have anything you want, but first, you have to know what it is you want and then cut out all the unnecessary steps to getting it.
Lesson #5 – The Importance of Facing Your Fears Head On
I listened to a lot of Jordan Peterson this year. Because of my surgery, I had to go for walks every night and I would listen to his lectures.
Jordan Peterson is a controversial figure, and I don’t agree with all of his ideas. However, I am fascinated with his understanding and his obsession with archetypical stories in our culture and our race.
As human beings, we need to tell stories. There is evidence that storytelling is embedded in our DNA. The hero’s journey has been recreated millions of times in our history. This archetype is in every culture in every society ever discovered throughout history. Why do we need this story so much?
Every hero goes through the same journey. Luke Skywalker, Elsa, Pinocchio, Jesus Christ, Odysseus, Ragnar Lothbrok, Ironman, Harry Potter, Sarah Connar, Siddhārtha Gautama. Every hero experiences the same archetype.
Why is this pattern so prevalent? Why does every culture in history come up with their own version of the hero? Why do we need this?
After listening to this podcast, I believe that we need the hero’s journey because it reminds us of the value of being responsible and facing your challenges head-on.
The best I can tell, we have two options. We can run from our problems or we can face them.
What happens when you run from your problems? Do they go away? No. They get stronger. They follow you. They infest your thoughts and your emotions. They are the serpent or the fire breathing dragon.
Furthermore, what happens when you turn and face your problems? What happens when you “look into the abyss?” When you stand up to Darth Vador? What happens when you face Lord Voldemort? What happens when you turn and face The Terminator?
You get stronger. You break down and become reborn. You come out of the experience as a different person. You are the Pheonix. You are now “a real boy.” You are now the King of Kings who rules over Middle Earth.
Facing your problems is the equivalent of diving into “the belly of the whale to rescue your ancestral father.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this year. I’ve really enjoyed my nighttime walks and the hours reflecting on my willingness to face my fears. I’ve never been one to run from my problems, but if I’m being honest, I’ve never been completely willing to face my problems either.
What does that say about me? Am I weak? Am I afraid?
There’s nothing scarier than facing my own limitations because that means that I am coming to grips with my own mortality. The simple truth is that one day, I am doing to die.
So what am I doing with my time on earth? Am I going after the things I want? Am I willing to stand up to the dragon? Or am I wondering like a leaf in the wind?
I have too much to lose. There is too much at stake. I am responsible for myself and my family and my community.
This year taught me, more than anything, that turning to face your problems head-on is a true recipe for meaning and purpose in my life. When I take responsibility for my life, I am better able to be of service to the people around me.
It’s been a painful, messy, dirty process. But it makes life more worthwhile.
Lesson learned. If you want to find meaning, you have to get dirty.
“In sterquiliniis invenitur”—in filth it will be found.Carl Jung
I firmly believe that pain is your friend. I believe that coping with pain and learning from pain is one of the most important skills we can cultivate. Most of us spend our lives avoiding pain at all costs.
But in doing that, we shield ourselves from growth.
That has been the theme of 2019. Jules and I were in a new place. I’ve been a bit lonely and isolated. I was living with great physical pain. My wife has dealt with some health issues. It’s been incredibly stressful and taxing. A lot happened this year that very few people know about. But we got through it, together.
We are both better people because of it.
2020 is our year. I can’t wait to share with you what I’ve been working on. I can’t wait to document this journey together. I can’t wait for more adventures. I hope you will follow me, or better yet, I hope you will join me.
Create your own success.
Watch the video for more details.
What did you learn this year? What did 2019 teach you? Leave your comments below?
Michael Smeth says
I know this is a couple of months late, but I related COMPLETELY with just about every one of your lessons from 2019 – as well as your experiences. I’m in recovery and have background in authority site creation / SEO / content strategy.
I herniated a disc in my back in 2011. The pain and frustration from the 4 surgeries that followed wore me down and isolated me. As an entrepreneur obsessed with building my online business, I was already able to work at home a lot. After my injury I became a recluse with very little face to face time with anyone. That combined with lots of pain meds was a pretty dangerous combination. I was able to maintain for awhile. After a couple of years, I relapsed after 10 years of sobriety and burned down every area of my life.
By the time I had another moment of clarity 4 years into my relapse it was the summer of 2018, defeated in every way. I lost my business, marriage, house and was ruined financially.
So 2019 was a very, very powerful make-or-break year for me. Here are the most important lessons I learned:
1) Embrace The Void / Enter the Abyss
Growth is always uncomfortable. The only way is straight through it. I learned to live for the other side of the fear. If I deal with it head on, find the most direct pathway through it the pain WILL be temporary. If I dwell in it, I will suffer. I will be trapped and stuck.
I was stripped of all the “things” I had, so all that was left was to confront who I was. Therapy, treatment and step work. Personal relationships.
2) My Deepest Wound = My Greatest Strength
Ask someone who they truly are, when everything they used to define themselves is stripped away. Very few people will ever know. But I do. There is so much freedom in that. And strength.
3) Beauty in The Struggle, Ugliness in The Success
J Cole was dead on. Happiness doesn’t tackle me the second I cross some imaginary finish line. It lives IN the journey. If I’m doing it right. Stay present for the journey. When I get to where I’m going (which absolutely feels great), I’m full, not empty. I continue the journey.
I could go on and on as this post really got me thinking, but I’ll leave it at that. My goals for 2020 are much more focused on reestablishing myself professionally:
1) Start a new business utilizing my strengths / experience, that aligns with my passions and purpose
2) Start rebuilding financially
3) Move out of Atlanta.
I appreciate what you do Tim. Will be checking back regularly.
Tim Stoddart says
This made my day. Thank you Michael.