by Niall Doherty

At the end of every year I like to look back and consider what I’ve learned throughout the previous twelve months. I’ve shared some of my biggest lessons the last two years here on the blog:

Below I’ve listed what I feel have been five of the most important lessons I’ve learned in 2011, a year which saw an unprecedented amount of change and uncertainty for me.

But before we get into that, I’d like you to consider what you’ve learned this past year. Which lessons have been the most profound? And why?

Let me know via the comments at the bottom of the post.

5 Lessons Learned in 2011

A year ago, on the eve of 2011, I wrote the following:

I’m excited for the new year. I’ll be focusing on upping my writing game, building my audience, making a living online, becoming fluent in a language other than English, and travel. At the very least, it should be an adventure.

Well, it definitely has been an adventure :-). I feel I’ve made significant strides in all those areas. Here are the lessons I’ve learned along the way…

1. Trust yourself

For me, this past year was mostly about taking the leap. I started off in January with no idea how I was going to make a living. I struggled for months to earn good income, ran into a lot of dead ends, had to switch tactics several times. At the end of September, still no closer to figuring out this self-employment lark, I threw caution to the wind and started my round the world trip with an ever-dwindling amount of cash in the bank.

But here I am at the end of the year, and I’m pretty confident now that everything is going to turn out just fine. For the past two months I’ve earned enough to cover my expenses, and these days the work seems to be finding me instead of me having to go chase it. The momentum is building.

The lesson here is that I was able to find a way to make it work. I didn’t really leave myself any other choice. I took a public leap and it would have been pretty humiliating to fall flat.

And I don’t believe I’m special here. I think most of us are fully capable of breaking away from 9-to-5 to go chase our wildest dreams. We feel like we need to know exactly how everything will unfold before we take the leap, but the problem isn’t a lack of knowledge. It’s a lack of trust in ourselves.

2. The world is your playground

Back in January I did Random Acts of Courage. In November I tried flirting with 100+ women in two weeks in Amsterdam. I grew tremendously on account of both experiences, and from them emerged many of the best moments of my year.

What’s interesting though is that all it took to make those experiences happen was to go out and face my fears. I didn’t need lots of money. I didn’t need someone else’s permission. I didn’t need luck.

The lesson here is that you can go out and make something amazing happen whenever you choose to. It’s completely within your power. There’s absolutely no reason for us to be bored when there’s a world full of other people to play and interact with. Sure, some of those people won’t want to play, but there are plenty out there who will. They’re just waiting for you to make the first move.

3. Empathy

I wrote a couple of blog posts this past year that really upset specific people, real-life friends of mine. That wouldn’t be such a big deal in itself — I understand and accept that I’ll never be able to please everyone — except that I completely failed to anticipate their reactions. In fact, it took me by complete surprise when I found out I’d upset them.

I used to pride myself on being quite empathetic, but after those misjudgments I had to admit that my empathy was severely lacking. I hadn’t been doing a good job of putting myself in other people’s shoes, and I was quite disappointed in myself for that. I found that I was often projecting my own values on to others, assuming that they’d be okay with something if I was okay with it myself.

Yeah, that was dumb. But hopefully I’ve learned my lesson.

Time will tell.

4. Advanced self-discipline

I thought I was pretty self-disciplined and hard working before this year, but I took it to a whole new level in 2011. I realize now how dependant I once was on routine to get stuff done. And if that routine was broken, things quickly got out of control.

For example, I’m very much a morning person. I’ve found that I’m at my best when I wake up early and get to work before the birds start singing. But with the vagabond lifestyle comes an oft-irregular schedule. I don’t always have the luxury of an early bed time and a quiet place to work the next morning. I also used to get derailed by long breaks during the day. I wouldn’t be able to get back into the work frame of mind if I took three or four hours in the afternoon to go do something fun.

But this year, I didn’t really have any choice but to develop that advanced self-discipline. You can get away with arseing around on Facebook for several hours when you work in a cubicle, but do that too often when you’re self-employed and you’ll find yourself going hungry.

As such, I now find that I’m able to do what needs doing at any time of the day or night. I can flip that switch and enter work mode whenever I choose.

Of course, as Spider-man’s uncle reminds us, with great power comes great responsibility. Nowadays my challenge is to not work too much.

5. Strange becomes normal

This has definitely been the most adventurous travel year of my life so far. Before 2011, I’d only ever stepped foot in five different countries. This year I’ve stepped foot in ten, hitchhiked 1,141 kilometers, and traveled further East than ever before.

As regards work, I’d spent the previous eleven years of my life never going more than a month without a job. Now I’ve been self-employed for over a year and I’m learning more about entrepreneurship every day.

As regards relationships, I used to see an attractive woman and feel like she was the last person on Earth I could go talk to. Now I’m quite direct in such situations, approaching the girl and letting her know in no uncertain terms that I’m attracted to her, and having lots of fun with the interaction.

I also gave up alcohol this year. I used to depend on it quite a lot to be at my best socially, but it wasn’t long before I became accustomed to having a great time without a drink in my hand. Now I find that I’m more social than ever and see no good reason to go back drinking again.

While all these things were once very strange and uncomfortable for me, they’ve become quite normal now. And it leads me to believe that we humans can adapt to pretty much anything. Whether it’s quitting your job, moving to a foreign country, or repeatedly putting yourself out there in social situations, you’ll find that it all eventually becomes your new normal.

The tricky part is fighting through your initial internal resistance to change. But after battling through it a few times, guess what? Winning that fight becomes normal, too 😉

Here’s to 2012

Now is also a good time to consider what you’d like to learn and achieve in 2012. What experiences would you like to have, and how can you make them happen?

A few things I have in mind:

  • Continue to make steady progress on my trip around the world without flying.
  • Level up my business skills so I can earn more while working less.
  • Get comfortable walking on my hands.
  • Continue to improve my Spanish.
  • Learn the basics of playing guitar.
  • Continue to build community and engagement here at Disrupting the Rabblement.
  • Become a newspaper columnist.
  • Read at least one book every two weeks.

Now, over to you 🙂