When I look back on the year 2017, I’m overwhelmed with a mix of emotions.
In a nutshell, 2017 was absolutely nuts. In good ways and bad.
For me and my family, this year has been filled with change, gains, losses, ups, downs, lots of happiness, and our fair share of sadness.
Throughout the year, I’ve had many epiphanies, learned new things, and was reminded of lessons and things I knew, but needed a reminder to start doing them again.
Here are the 10 best lessons I learned, or was reminded of, during 2017:
1. There’s nothing better in life than an amazing person to spend it with
My wife is not only my rock; she’s the glue that holds our family and house together. Jessica is my biggest fan and has supported me through every business venture, home purchase and sale, masters’ program, hobby, and any other crazy idea I’ve come up with.
I’ve also learned to appreciate that she isn’t afraid to be direct and call me out from time to time either. While it makes for some interesting, and sometimes uncomfortable, interactions between us, the openness and honesty we have with one another is what I value most.
We know what’s important to each other, and we strive to make that possible for each other as much as possible.
Having the right spouse should serve as the perfect complement to you. My wife sure does for me.
2. Raising kids is the most rewarding — and challenging — aspect of life
Kids are exhausting, no doubt, and as the late business philosopher Jim Rohn used to say, “There is no greater leadership challenge than parenting.”
There’s also no greater reward as a human than to see your children learn, grow, mature, and mold into productive human beings capable of fulfilling responsibilities and accomplishing great feats, all on their own. Their mom and I are their biggest fans, and their biggest challengers. We love them more than anything and hope they grow up to be, do, and have far more than we do.
Most of all, we hope they are always as happy, optimistic, and energetic as they are today. They light up any room they walk into. I hope they never lose that quality.
3. Never take good health for granted
From the get-go, this year was marred by health challenges by several around me. My dad, who had been ill for the better part of 2016, passed away on January 3rd of this year. Nothing makes you question the way you’re living, and gives you a bigger dose of reality, than losing a parent.
Aside from my own experience, I also watched several of my own friends lose family members, battle their own health problems, and work through difficult health situations. Most of these people were what we’d classify as “healthy” too.
If you’re healthy, be grateful and do everything you can to stay healthy. Good health is not something we can always control. However, we do have control over the decisions we make, and to maintain hope that we can tip the odds in our favor.
4. We are largely shaped by our upbringing
I’ve always believed we are most largely shaped by nurture over nature, and that our upbringing shapes us more than most other factors. As I watch my own kids growing and maturing, I believe this even more.
There are certainly countless examples of people who have overcome all odds and created immense success for themselves, despite growing up in less-than-ideal circumstances. Oprah Winfrey is the example I first think of. While their stories are remarkable and inspiring, I believe they are the exception, not the rule.
Having a difficult upbringing does not necessarily keep people from accomplishing great feats, but a solid, stable, supportive upbringing definitely helps.
I’m extremely grateful for the upbringing I had. My sister and I never had everything we wanted, but we had everything we needed, and maybe slightly more. We watched first-hand how to work hard, provide for your family, and focus on the things that matter in life. We were taught to be proud and confident, but also humble. We were allowed to have fun but also held accountable to our responsibilities.
Most of all, our parents supported us in any endeavor or interest we ever had, and any opportunity we had to advance ourselves, they found a way to make it happen for us. Their love and support gave us a great start in life. I can only hope to do the same for my children.
5. There’s no place like home
Having a nice home sets the tone for many aspects of life, especially after living in a construction zone for the better part of a year.
Having a home you enjoy, are proud of, have worked hard for, and enjoy spending time in is just another motivator for me to work hard and do everything I can to produce more.
We finished out the remodel of our house this year and, as we really dug into it, discovered there was a lot more that hadn’t been done than had. After spending countless hours designing the perfect look, my wife spent even more hours shopping around for the best deal on every single product and vendor.
She led the entire project, and it turned out perfectly. It has been a great house for us so far, and it will be an even better place to host holiday dinners and gatherings for several years.
6. Wherever you are — be there and be present
The late business philosopher Jim Rohn used to say, “Wherever you are, be there.” Despite writing this advice several decades ago, the guidance is even more applicable today.
We have turned into a society of, as my mother-in-law says, “Vidiots.” Fitting, there’s now a television show by that name, which I have not seen.
No one can put down their phone. Walk through downtown or go into a restaurant in any city, and you can count the number of people with their faces in their phones. They’ve even had to create driving laws because it’s such an issue.
Technology is great, and certainly the functionality of smartphones and electronic devices has improved our lives. You can’t argue that. But it’s also created a movement where people don’t talk to one another interpersonally like in years past, and often times people aren’t aware of what’s happening right in front of them.
I’d never advocate not embracing, utilizing, and enjoying the technology we have today. But don’t let it capture your attention more than the people sitting right in front of you. Wherever you are, be there with them. Because they want you with them and fully present.
7. You can learn something from everyone you meet — if you’re willing to
As you reach higher levels of success, it’s easy to think it’s because you have more business answers than those around you. In today’s world, I’d argue it’s because you know how to ask better questions.
The days of the boss having all the answers and calling all the shots is over. Steve Jobs was once quoted as saying, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
After watching my wife lead contractors and sub-contractors through a full-house remodel this year, I can say I’ve learned more about construction, design, and building this year than I have since I watched my dad build our house over twenty-five years ago.
Don’t ever forget the famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” Remember that everyone you meet knows more than you about something. Give them the respect and opportunity to show you.
8. Be straight-up and direct with people, even if it’s not what they want to hear
Having worked in corporate America for the better part of two decades, I’ve seen this all across the spectrum. It’s easy to tell people what they want to hear. It’s more comfortable to avoid a potential conflict.
It’s also the surest way to lose respect from people you need it from.
Richard Branson recently published an article on his blog titled, “The Difference Between a Strong Leader and a Weak Leader.” In the article, he says “failing to confront a problem while it’s at the smouldering stage more often than not leads to it becoming a fully fledged fire that is much harder to extinguish and can do a lot of long-term damage.”
In business, and in personal life, we all have to break news to people that we know will not be well received. Sometimes there’s no way to put a Band Aid on certain messages. When faced with those scenarios, be empathetic to the person you’re communicating with, but be direct and straight-up.
They will remember, and they will appreciate it, even if it doesn’t seem that way in the initial moment.
9. Sometimes you have to hit “reset”
There are times when sometimes, it’s just best to move on and start over. Maybe the situation, or your relationship with the people involved, has become too complicated and impossible to repair completely.
Things can also become stagnant, and a change will give you invigoration and additional motivation. That’s the situation I found myself in toward the end of 2016.
Around this time last year, I was presented with a leadership opportunity within a different division of our parent company. After a thorough interview process, I decided I really liked the people, product, culture, and vision within that division. So, in December of last year, I made a decision to start the year 2017 with a new job.
Personally and professionally, it was the jump start me and my family needed.
For those who know me well, this point may sound odd, because I’m always the one who says to not give up and to persist through challenging situations. I will always maintain that position, because I do think it’s human nature to see a shiny ball and walk away from a good situation that could have been great before it has a chance to blossom.
I also think you can provide grass all the water and sunlight it could ever need, and it still won’t get green. That’s when it’s time to hit the “reset” button.
10. Life is short, so enjoy every minute with those you love
Nothing reminds you how short life is, and also how precious it is, more than watching your parent die. In the days when my dad was gravely ill and it was becoming more apparent the end of our time here was closing in on us, I found myself replaying my entire life in my mind.
I was reminded of all the great times we had together, and of all the lessons I learned from my dad along the way (most of which I didn’t get at the time).
As tough as that experience was, it also reminded how short life is, and how important it is to enjoy the time we have here, especially with those we love. I only had 35 years with my dad, and I hope my kids have a lot longer time with me, but we don’t know what the future holds for any of us.
So spend time with the people that matter to you, doing the things that matter to you most.
As we exit 2017, I know one thing for certain: There’s nowhere else I’d rather be, and there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.
My family and I are where we need to be, and we are happy. We are grateful and fulfilled with what we have and also where we’re going. It may sound simplistic, and it should be.
Life is only as complicated as we make it for ourselves.
What lessons are you thankful to have learned this year? Please don’t hesitate to share in the comments below.
Bret Barrie was a Hall-of-Fame and Presidents’ Club-winning sales rep and is a top-producing sales leader in the medical device industry. He is also the author of The Selling Edge: How to Reach the Top in any Sales Industry. A baseball enthusiast and fitness junkie, he is happily married with three children and lives in the greater Sacramento area. For more information, visit bretbarrie.com.