I’ve been in transition for so long now that uncertainty and discomfort had become my life’s norms. How strange to be able to look back on a year and notice the extent of my transformation. Where once was a void, there now is a path. No doubt, I am still trailblazing (can I say trailblazing even though it still feels like bushwhacking?), but now I can clear the way for longer stretches at a time. If I had to distill 2013’s biggest lessons into pat formulas, I would say they were:
1. When facing your fears, the immediate objective is not to become “good” at something, but to become better at being a beginner.
I’m much better at skiing than at ice climbing, but I was a much better sport in my beginners’ ice climbing course than I was in ski school. It wasn’t due so much to a sudden gain in athletic ability (climbing in the cold is insanely tough—emphasis on insane), but to the boost in confidence that past accomplishments gave me (having learned to ski as an adult who spent her entire childhood just north of the equator). Most important of all, I was determined to be kind to myself.
In the professional realm I dealt head-on with my anxiety around exposure, and I learned that repeatedly sticking my neck out leads to a positive feedback loop. I’ve made a lot of serendipitous connections through my networking efforts (both in real life and on Twitter), and I’ve also managed to attract a bigger audience to my ideas and writing. I’m especially grateful to Social Justice Solutions for syndicating my blog and interviewing me about my work.
2. Coming into yourself through an intentional process of change will be weird at first, but you will feel immediately at home in your new self.
Doing the internal work will seem impossible in the beginning, and so artificial. It’s to be expected. You’re learning and experimenting with new ways of being in the world. When old habits finally fall away and new ones take their place, it will feel miraculous, yet strangely familiar.
When I set goals at the beginning of the year to grow my business and expand my social and professional circles, I assumed that I would have to wear an extrovert’s mask to accomplish all that. But after reading about introvert entrepreneurship and self-promotion, I decided to test the assertion that introverts could network and sell ideas without making fundamental changes to their temperaments (as if that were possible or desirable). To acquire additional tools, I invested in some vocal coaching classes. I signed up for Meetup and said yes whenever someone invited me to join a networking group. I eventually learned how to put myself into unfamiliar situations without masking myself over completely. The self I present to a roomful of strangers is certainly not the self I bare to my intimates, but there is a congruence between my public and private faces. Being comfortable in networking mode allows me to make authentic connections with people.
3. Take advantage of the years that are especially blessed.
They don’t come often, at least not around these parts. I had gotten so used to the slow trudge toward my professional goals in academia that I’d forgotten I once had it in me to live life at a swifter clip. By July I realized that I had already hit all of the goals I had set for myself. I took advantage of that momentum and many more good things came my way in the last quarter of the year, including things I had never even put on my to-do or wish lists.
I’m going to capitalize on this good fortune and be even more ambitious about what I want out of 2014. I spent most of the past two years opening doors for myself. Next year will be largely about persuading people to help me open doors for others.