My Word For 2016: Mindfulness

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What’s your word for 2016? It’s becoming an annual tradition to ask myself this question at the start of each year. Last year’s word was vulnerability.  And the year before were change and resiliency.

BE MORE MINDFUL

Looking back, I feel like 2015 was finally the year that I gave myself permission to start living life on my own terms instead of blindly following the scripts that everyone else wrote for me.

In turn, it’s been a whirlwind of a year that included a job change, lots of travel (both business and personal) and even co-managing a conference for 250 people in Bangkok this past October. Hands down, the most fun and challenging project I’ve worked on to date.

More importantly, I became more self aware in the process, journaled more consistently and really evaluated at a high level what my strengths are, what my weaknesses are, what fuels my passion and much deeper principles behind what gives me meaning and purpose.

Side note: I highly recommend watching this short video from Gary Vaynerchuk on developing self awareness

This wasn’t an easy process for me. (Still isn’t). I still feel like I’m swimming blind in the deep end of the pool most days buried in second guessing myself, overthinking things, fears and self doubt. That’s what prompted me to make my word/theme for 2016 to be mindfulness and being more emotionally self aware.

According to Dictionary.com, mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. 

Admittedly, this doesn’t come naturally or easily for me. From a very young age, I was taught and behaved pretty much in the polar opposite of being self aware. I learned how to get good grades, be the teacher’s pet, be a people pleaser, help others and do everything that was expected of me. I was likable, agreeable, obedient, did what I was told for the most part and rarely questioned authority. As one could imagine, that works well in keeping you out of the principal’s office. And, my friends’ parents all loved and trusted me as a kid. That came in handy when I was trying to earn more money as a babysitter as a teen. I pretty much lived that way for the better part of 26 years.

I could relate so deeply to this quote from Brene Brown’s new book, Rising Strong, “From a young age, I learned how to earn love, gold stars, and praise by being the helper. It was the role I played in my family, with my friends, and even with a few of my early boyfriends. After a while, helping became less about gold stars and more about my identity. Helping was the most value I brought to a relationship. If I couldn’t help or, God forbid, if I had to ask for help, what value did I bring?”

I derived all of my perceived self value off pleasing everyone around me. Plus, I always thought that everyone else knows what’s best for me and if I just try my best and work my hardest, everything will be fine and work itself out.

It’s okay to laugh at my extreme naivety.

Needless to say, it came out the extreme expense at losing pulse on who I really am.

I realize the only person who has your 100% best interests in mind all the time is YOU. It’s not your family, friends, coworkers, your favorite bartender, the crazy psychic at the county fair, etc. You are the only one who can determine what gives you purpose, meaning and happiness. By relinquishing that power and just trying to please everyone around me, I was setting myself up for struggles and to be disappointed over and over and over again.

Back in late 2014, I started to think more about what were my core, general principles. The things that were true to my DNA and that if I stayed true to I wouldn’t lose sight of who I am. I came up with these four general principles.

-Be a better community builder each and every day.
-Actively strengthen my core relationships.
-Chase new experiences and actively seek out adventures.
-Cultivate an environment around me that inspires me to stay curious and be a lifelong student.

At the time, I realized many of my current actions weren’t aligned with my desired goals. This past year was when I really started to integrate my four core values into my day to day. For instance, I view travel as one of the best ways to grow, chase new experiences, stay curious about the world around me and jump out of my comfort zone.

But being stuck in a cubicle everyday from 9:30-6:30 (startup hours) with some occasional work at night was severely limiting my creativity, my ability to manage my time and energy and my desire to live life more outside of my comfort zone. I never wanted a job where I was stuck in a cubicle day in and day out. It was one of the driving reasons why I was a journalism major in college. I knew everyday as a reporter would be different, and I’d be out in the field a lot. Yet, when I pivoted to digital marketing and ultimately community management shortly after graduating (something I really love), I found myself trading my desire to escape the monotony of a cubicle for fun startup cultures and a more lucrative pay check. Both are admittedly nice perks. Even when the startup I worked for at the time changed to an open vacation policy about a year into working there. And I had a boss that let me work remotely up to a few days a month. I knew I couldn’t exactly take two weeks to travel and work from say California (let alone Europe or Southeast Asia) whenever I wanted to. That wouldn’t exactly be received well.

I’d been curious about the whole digital nomad / work from anywhere movement for a few years. I started to realize if I wanted to escape the cubicle grind and have more flexible on when and where I worked, I would need to quit my startup job at some point. I just wasn’t sure how to contact the dots and puzzle pieces. It turns out I didn’t have to look too far.

I’m a firm believer that things generally happen to stumble in front of you at the “right moment in time.” That’s exactly what happened for me and ultimately lead to a job change in the middle of this year.

Feeling a bit burned out in early April after spending the better part of the entire Easter weekend dealing with a community crisis caused by major server outage, I went inward the following week and started catching up on some podcasts, blogs and oh yeah sleep. One of those podcasts being TropicalMBA (a podcast I’d been listening to off and on for the better part of a few years) They dedicated an entire show to looking for a community manager for the DC- their online community. I remember reading through the job description and listening to the episode and thinking, “Man I do like 90% of this already at my current gig.” I dug further and was surprised to learn they had a sizable presence in Austin. Maybe I should apply? So I spent a few hours on the application, emailed it over and expected to never hear back. As one can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised when I got an email asking to set up a phone interview about a week later. Insert a few more interviews later and I got the job.

Even though this was something I wanted for quite a bit of time, transitioning from cubicle to remote worker still came with its fair share of learning and adjustments. I wrote about many of them here. It’s also been rewarding and fulfilling on so many levels.

Working remotely has given me back some of the freedom that I desperately craved, the ability to better manage my time and energy for when I do my best work and also allowed me to work while I travel instead of having to use all my precious vacation days. While I have spent the majority of time in Austin (it’s my home base after all), I’ve also visited and worked across three continents and more than a half dozen cities since June.

I feel super grateful to have the opportunity to live this lifestyle while I’m still in my 20s. I don’t plan on slowing down this coming year. Some new countries that are high on my list to go to are Spain, Austria, Hungary, Denmark, Croatia, Japan and Singapore. My goal is to go to at least three new countries in 2015.

I feel like I have a made a lot of progress in being more self-aware about what I want and don’t want in my career. I realize ultimately what drives me is being able to work day in and day out on solving fun and challenging problems, connecting awesome people to one another and having the freedom to work in places that inspire me. The things that do NOT drive me are office politics, having a cushy job in the corner office and money. With the last point, I should clarify money has never been my driving factor, as long as I can make enough to live comfortably (Hint, it’s really not that much).

I’m also slowly learning that every single person is imperfect, including myself. It’s okay to be mediocre at some things. In fact, it’s necessary to suck at some stuff because that leaves room for greatness in other areas.

Yet, I still felt like I held back a bit this past year, especially when it comes to dating and deepening existing friendships.This is an area that I really want to focus on in 2016.

You see I’ve always been pretty good at forming friends with people in similar situations or stages of life to me (i.e. being in the same college class, working at the same company, being members in the same community, etc). Yet, the minute the common bond that initially united us goes away (i.e. one or both of us change jobs for example or one friend gets married and has a baby), our friendship tends to weaken and in some cases fizzle completely away.

While this is far from a new situation or challenge for me, it hit me in a different way when I started my new job back in the late spring. I slowly realized that my biggest challenge and hurdle to overcome and be successful wasn’t necessarily the actual work (although it is both fun and challenging), but in not letting myself get burned out and sink into becoming an isolated workaholic. Something that would admittedly be very easy for me to do if I am not careful.

As someone who is self-proclaimed Type A introvert, my natural instincts are to work hard, and if there is no friend poking my shoulder at the desk next to me telling me to join them for happy hour, I’m perfectly content to hang out at home, make myself dinner, maybe do a little more work, chat with a few friends online, Skype or over the phone or maybe decompress for a bit with Netflix. I realize that if I go towards my natural instincts too much after putting in a day at work now, it’s a one way ticket to becoming isolated and getting burned out. That’s something I actively want to work on this year.

In addition whereas in my career, I tend to think big. In my relationships, I tend to do the opposite and play too small. I’m harder to hurt when I’m small because I protect my core. And, I also don’t always do a great job articulating how much certain friends and mentors mean to me and how grateful and better off I am for our relationship.

These are two things I want to be more mindful of this year. I want to make sure I step away from the keyboard more in 2016 and make more time to socialize offline. This goes both for existing friendships, new friends I meet as well as in dating.

In sum, my theme for this year is to be more mindful and self aware in all aspects of my life. I want to continue to lean in and play more to my strengths as a community manager, care less about all the things I’m bad at (There are many), devote more effort and energy into dating and invest more of my time cultivating deeper relationships and memories with friends offline.

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About the author

Jessica Malnik

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