For the start of 2017 I committed to a theme rather than some New Year resolutions I knew I wouldn’t carry out.
From my post on my theme for 2018:
The point of this was to focus on a specific aspect of myself to improve. And then, throughout the year take opportunities, study and gain experiences with the intention of improving the theme.
The theme for 2017 was leadership. So throughout the year I worked on improving my leadership abilities.
This reflection serves as a list of a lot of what I accomplished in 2017 in relation to this theme.
It’s been an interesting year. With lot’s of ups and down, meeting new people, making new relationships, and bringing to a close many chapters of my life. I’ve grown a lot and for that I wouldn’t change a thing about this past year.
LinkedIn Conscious Business Course
The first opportunity I had to work on my leadership was through the LinkedIn Conscious Business Course led by Fred Kofman.
The course was great and I enjoyed working on it. Even though a lot of the information seemed a little obvious there were some good nuggets of information.
In the final module of the course, Fred addresses this obvious nature of the information. He reminds you that there’s a difference between knowing and doing. Although it may seem obvious when you’re learning about it, the hard part is putting it into practice when you’re stressed and under pressure.
This was exactly what I needed to hear. It made me realise that I needed to humble myself and focus on practicing good leadership. Preferably in some stressful situations.
Even with this outlook, there was still a lot from the course which I didn’t put into practice, or that I could’ve applied better. For that reason I have included my notes on the course as individual blog posts per module.
This course was a good way to start and it set the tone for the rest of the year.
Managing an Intern
When I went back to work in January there were a group of interns who had recently started. One of them was in my team and so I requested to mentor and manage them over their three months in the office.
This was the first time I had mentored someone in a professional capacity. Back in high school I taught groups of students how to code after school. But that didn’t have close to the level of responsibility of managing an intern.
This was an amazing experience. It was a lot of work taking on the extra responsibilities but it was very rewarding and so much fun. Doing this made me even more excited to improve my leadership skills.
O’Week Leader at Colombo House
As the interns were finishing up their time in the office, UNSW was getting ready to host it’s annual O’Week.
The week before classes go back, Orientation Week is a week of events for all the new students to get familiar with the university. The college I was staying in also holds it’s own O’Week in conjunction with the uni, for all its new residents.
There were two openings to lead the team of O’Week organisers for the college. So a friend and I put our names down straight away.
There was a few months of planning all the events and filling in paper work and then O’Week rolled around.
Running the actually week was a lot of fun. We had around 150 new residents and getting up in front of them to speak, dance and rally them was amazing.
Yet, behind the scenes it was an insane week full of stress and issues cropping up left, right, and centre. And not for lack of planning!
It was a unique situation managing a team of close to ten volunteers, each having varying degrees of involvement. And on top of that managing my own stress and running events for the new residents. But it was a great opportunity to use some of stuff I learnt from the Conscious Business Course.
All the planning, and especially the week itself were great experiences. Looking back it was the hardest thing I did in 2017. But it was also one of the most rewarding.
I learnt a lot about myself, and a lot about leadership, management, and planning. And it gave me the confidence to sought out more leadership opportunities in the future.
Running a Workout Group
After O’Week had finished I got the opportunity to run a weekly workout for UNSW FitClub, a society at uni. It seemed like a great way to continue practicing leading a group, and keep my fitness up through the year.
Each session was for between five and thirty people. At the start it was daunting but I became a lot more comfortable with it over the weeks.
By the end I had become much more comfortable in front of a group. Which, writing about it now, makes me think of doing more public speaking in 2018.
Working on Pylon
After the semester was well underway I started to make more time to work on Pylon. This was a project of mine I discussed in this post. But for the short version:
Pylon had the goal of being an automation platform, that gave you access to individual pylons to do work for you. A pylon (lowercase) was a black box with very simplistic inputs and outputs, but usually a complex inner working, and it had the goal of automating some process for you to save time, money, or whatever.
I started getting in touch with some other entrepreneurs. They were all around the world, but each of them had been part of a successful venture in the tech industry.
A lot of the feedback I got was positive and encouraging. And it made me even more motivated to work on Pylon and get it off the ground.
Yet, my biggest takeaway from this experience was from the act, not the substance.
Before the first call I was nervous. I couldn’t work out why a much wiser, more successful entrepreneur would want to talk to a kid still studying at uni.
But after the first couple of calls I went into the process with a lot less nerves. I was reminded that they are people too, who have families and who make mistakes. After that, the conversation flowed more naturally, I got more out of the call and it was a lot more fun.
For the second half of the year I decided to turn my leadership attention inwards.
Before the year started I thought I was pretty good at handling stress. I managed a lot of these experiences without thinking too much about it.
Yet the stress from those events lingered around for longer than I expected. And this started to impact my work-life balance which I found hard enough to keep in check on a good day.
I had this saying in the back of my head that “you can’t help others if you can’t help yourself.” And it seems the same is true for leadership and management.
Reading and Writing
I thought it best to start improving my inward leadership in two parts. The first was through upping my reading and writing.
As we were all told in school, reading helps to expand your mind. I didn’t find this to be the case back then. But now, I see getting back into reading as one of the best things I did in 2017.
I started out with Jordan Peterson’s reading list. And I made an effort not to read only programming and tech books. I read my first fiction book for the first time in many years. And I’ve been reading books on history, psychology, and leadership to list a few.
The pattern that I’ve adopted is to have two books going at the same time: one fiction, and one non-fiction. Then I switch between the two, reading one in the morning and the other at night.
Writing has also been a very valuable task. I’ve tried keeping a personal blog going four times in the past, but this is the first time it’s stuck.
The difference is I’m now writing for myself. Sure, it’s nice to see graphs go up and to the right in Google Analytics. But that isn’t why write these posts.
For me, this blog is like a note book. It serves as a reference for things that I’m thinking, and things that I’ve learnt. And it’s also a great way to see who I was when I wrote a post, and how far I’ve come since then.
Having my personal notebook being completely public may seem against the idea of it being ‘personal’. But, the reason for this is that it helps me to crystallise my thoughts.
Everyone has a lot of ideas and thoughts racing through their heads. It can be hard to grab one and make sense of it without another thought requiring attention.
When I write, I enter into a flow state, and I can focus on one thought or experience at a time. So there’s no getting distracted by wondering what I’m going to have for dinner.
Finally, regular writing has improved my communication skills, more than I would’ve thought after such a short time. Whether a leader or not, I view that as a very important skill that I’m glad to be working on after so many attempts.
Meditation and Self Inquiry
The other way I started to improve my inner leadership was through meditation and self inquiry.
Meditation, like blogging, has been something I’ve tried to grasp many times before.
Getting to a stage where I am meditating everyday is still something that needs more work. Yet, I’m already seeing benefits from meditating more.
I have noticed a massive improvement in my ability to control stress and anxiety. I am happier, calmer, and my work-life balance is much stronger. The other day I actually stopped to smell the Roses, well the Star Jasmine.
My current meditation routine is twenty minutes. I sit cross-legged on the floor, back straight and close my eyes. Over the time I count my breaths, perform body scans, and then try to think about nothing.
That last part is the hardest because of all the chatter that is going on in my head. For the first few sessions, I felt more frustrated and irritated than when I started. But, like going to the gym, it takes some time to get into. And once you’ve pushed through the irritation, you’ll realise how glad you are to have stuck with it.
Towards the end of the year I read the book Fierce Reinvention by Rand Leeb-du Toit.
Full disclaimer, Rand is my Dad, but that doesn’t take away from how much this book affected me. After reading it I put it back on my list to read it again in 2018.
One section of the book runs you through the process of self inquiry. As the name suggests you get asked a bunch of questions about yourself. The goal is to take time to think and answer them truthfully, with as little influence from your ego as possible.
I have learnt a lot about myself from answering these questions. Things about my fears and worries, how I view the world, and more recently, what my core motivations are.
Understanding what motivates me was a big milestone. Combined with the idea of Goals of Consequence, Rand’s book helps you direct yourself to the kind of work you’re going to find most meaningful.
For me, this is something I call IHAaC, or “Increasing Humanity’s Altruism and Cognition” which I wrote a post about.
As I said at the start, this year has been interesting. There have been some downs, of course, but this post serves as a reflection of all the good things that happened. It’s also a reminder of how far I’ve come and how far I still have to go.