16 Things I Learned In 2016

2016 for me, will always be the year I restored my family.

At the end of 2015, I was certain to be the patriarch of a broken family. I was pretty much ready to throw it in.Heather and I had done all sorts of things to one another. Our bleak moments, failures had seemed insurmountable. That story isn’t mine alone to tell, so I can’t tell it here. But with fear and trembling and help from friends and others.

Heather and I had done all sorts of things to one another. Our bleak moments, failures had seemed insurmountable. That story isn’t mine alone to tell, so I can’t tell it here. But with fear and trembling and help from friends and others.

Somehow, something changed. I had time to think things through. I had time to think about what kind of life I wanted, what meant something. My delusions of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg waned enough (but just enough) for me to let joy back in. And now? I would say that with wide swaths of areas that we need to claim, my marriage has never been stronger.

With that as a foundation, I want to go into 2017 with vigor and strength.

But first, a few things I learned this year (16 to be exact).

1. Self-Sabotage is a real thing. 

This is hard to write. But it’s true. There are a million different ways to self-sabotage. I have done them all.

I’ve been drawn into moronic conversations. I’ve flushed sales conversations down the drain because of one offhand remark someone makes. I’ve been drawn into political fights. It’s always tempting to take the toothpaste out of the tube.

It’s very easy to just give in to the lesser angels of our nature and screw things up. I self-sabotaged more than my share of sales calls after I proved I had the deal.

Most of the adversity is because of self-sabotage.  (And thanks to Kent Littlejohn for articulating that on a coaching call).


2. I’m Addicted To Risk

This is a problem for me – and absolutely a real one.  The thrill of “saving the day” or “nearly collapsing” drives me. It’s fun. The rush you get from making the amount of money that you can make, that can save the day, is better than any drug.  That addiction has to be cured for me to level up to where I want to be.

I’ll work on all of it this year, I’m putting it down here as a way of drawing a line in the sand and fixing it.

#2, the risk addiction, drives #1 for sure.  Being aware of it is the first step.

3. I’m addicted to squalor.

“Laying Low, Seeking out the places where the ragged people go/looking for the places only they will know.”
-Paul Simon

That quote could be my mantra. I have done it all my life. And I have to cure my curiosity about Bukowski type nights. In High School, I wanted to know what it would be like to push all the limits. To get beat up or kicked out of class. Because I had to experience it. None of those experiences mattered much, and they didn’t build any character.

Tom Wolfe said:  “Believe me, there is no insight to be gathered from the life of the working-class milieu…” and he wasn’t wrong.

I have a good life, but there was something romantic about Portland and its squalor. I’ve left Portland (more on that later) but the things you could do there, the seedy people and scumbags and transients that you could interact with gave me a thrill. I always felt like they were calling to me.  I tried to recreate it a little bit in the Tri-Cities (a wholesome haven), and yet…

4. We Are Not Our Darkest Moments

In my life, a litany of mistakes plays in my head way more often than it ought to. There are lies I’ve told, things I’ve done and words I’d love to take back. All told, these moments make up a small portion of my life, say about 40 minutes over 40 years. But it’s where my mind goes all the time.

The benefit of moments like this is that we’re reminded that things could, in fact, be worse.

5. Mental Health Is Fragile & Needs Maintenance

This is true. Before I read Charlie Hoehn’s “play it away” I thought I was in good shape, mentally, and that everything was fine. No, no, no.  I have to make sure that I treat my body right, treat my mind right, and work hard to stay sane.

When you’re a little off, it’s harder on everyone. You turn inward and become entitled, and you become a strange dude. This happened at various times as I was dealing with stressful stuff. Reading biographies, exercise, and other things help. But doing things to keep your sanity is the most important thing you can do for your productivity.

There are diminishing returns from working more, even in crisis.  So stay sane.

6. You Gotta Focus on What You Can Control

I put a lot of energy into the 2016 election. I didn’t like either of the candidates. And yet, I’m compulsively checking polls and sites like 538.  I’m checking prop betting sites. Why? I have no earthly idea. But the month of November was lost to me, lost to prospecting and growing my business.

7. Practice Matters

I did a lot of practice sales calls with a variety of people and I got better at them. More of them were in my control than ever.

And, having a practice partner works perfectly.  It’s tedious often, but on the other side of tedium lie vast riches.  James Altucher and Jeff Goins have different takes on this and they have influenced me quite a bit this year.

8. Relationships Matter

“But these days he don’t talk to me and he won’t tell me why. I miss him every time I say his name.”
-Greg Brown

I lost a number of relationships this year. Some my choice, some not. When you’re not totally sane, it’s hard to build anything. I’ve never been saner (though I think that Dunning-Krueger certainly applies).

The people I’ve met and the people I’ve helped me have always been underrated. In our mind, we delusionally think that we are the hero, the principle and the only person in the story.

There are a few skills involved in relationships:

  • Initiating
  • Sustaining
  • Renewing
  • Repairing

We’ll be talking about this as we go through our year.

9. Integrity In Small Things Matters

I let a mentor go because of a fairly minor billing issue, but I don’t have any regrets.

That billing issue led me to question their lives, their conduct and everything else about their business and teaching. I saw a shit-show type facebook fight that was unattractive and unseemly, so I moved on.

I was overbilled, I think 65, bucks on a bill of a couple hundred a month. Yet, it was never corrected. I couldn’t let it go. It was never refunded to me, and so I ended the relationship. Because it was a small thing, there was no motivation to track it down.I had to ask, I think 7-8 times and I don’t think it’s resolved yet, but it really soured me.

10. Sales Does NOT Cure All

In late 2015, I had some of the best quarters I ever had. It meant I had to hire fast to get the work done. I didn’t have the capacity, and it created a shitstorm that hurt my reputation, my company and my mental health. I’m still “digging out” from overselling my capacity.  I was optimistic to think I could grow all at once, but the company wasn’t ready to grow.

Operations matter.

Deliveries matter.

People matter.

None of those are improved by selling more.

11: Routines Matter

My best days this year were when I got up early, read, wrote, connected and exercised.  When I really started to move the needle and build something I was totally into my routine. In the days where it wandered, I was apart from my routine. Doing the hard work that it takes matters a great deal.

12. The Stories We Tell Ourselves Matter Most

How we frame things that happened, the things we say to ourselves matters quite a bit. In our own stories lies either excuses or inspiration. If we have a gap between our current and ideal self, and we focus on the reason we’re here (stressful year) we’re going to stay in the same place. If we tell ourselves a different story we have a shot at a different outcome.

13. Family Is Underrated

Family is hard. Because they remember every mistake you’ve made. They see you a certain way and pull you back to your familiar or present self all the time. That makes family difficult to relate to because if you’re in your head and aspiring for more, they are something to overcome.

But at its best, Family creates a support that makes everything work. You can sit on a foundation and take risks in business because you know you’ll always be loved. To do that, you have to cherish everything.

14. Delusion Stalks Everyone

Cultivating self-awareness is hard for all of us. Dunning-Kruger speaks to that. And our brains change the facts into a story that suits us, much to our dismay and much to our detriment. Fixing that is the stuff of life itself.  Fighting the tendency to spin a story into something else is the most important thing we can do.

15.  Systems Beat Goal Setting

If you’re doing the wrong thing it doesn’t matter how hard you work. However, if you create a working system, whatever you seek to accomplish becomes much easier. Focusing on building the system and measuring our days is the most important part of what we’re after.

16. Tidying Up Changes Your Life

I’ve spent most of the year with a fairly neat office, cleaning it more days than not. It takes a few moments but it’s made a big difference to me. I’ve got some distance to cover, but it’s done me good things.


Whenever I go dark, I get “concern trolls” coming out of the woodwork. Don’t do that. You have the same thoughts and feelings.

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Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is writing this blog. He's a startup veteran, having built a company called Simplifilm. This blog is about things that he's starting to - but may not actually - think yet. It publishes irregularly.

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