On 2013: The Year of “One Thing”

There’s a scene in movie “City Slickers” when Curly tells Billy Crystal’s character that the secret to life is “one thing.” What’s the one thing? Well, it’s different for everyone. But if we can find our “one thing,” the world falls into place. Of course, it’s not so easy.

For the last couple of years, I’ve written posts about my theme for the upcoming year. It’s always come easily to me. I knew exactly what I wanted from the next 365 days. I was so sure of these themes, in fact, that I often wrote the posts in December or even November. I’ve written about the year of letting go, or the year of the experience. 2013 is different. This year feels bigger. And it is. Because, after nearly 45 years, I’ve found my own “one thing.”

I recently read a book called The Happiness Advantage. Despite the “self-help” sounding title, it’s really a business book. I’ve read quite a few business books over the years and this is the first one that I’ve ever quoted. I was so moved by this book that I bought copies for some of my closest friends. I’m convinced that if we all practice what this book preaches that the world could change. And, although I think that Being Happy would be an ideal theme for 2013, it’s not my One Thing.

Sometime late last year I realized that, for me, it’s all about people. In other words, if I surround myself with people I love and who love me, the rest takes care of itself. If I work with people I like, the rest takes care of itself. Don’t worry about the people who make you work to fit in. Spend your effort finding those who make you feel as though you belong. Don’t spend time trying to track down business based on the “cool factor” of the project or even the size of the retainer, focus on projects where the client will make you feel energized, at your creative best and grateful. That’s it. That’s my One Thing – People: First. The fact is, when you feel loved and supported, you’re at your best. And, when you’re at your best…anything is possible.

It sounds obvious. It sounds really easy. But it’s not. What it requires is a really hard look at the people around you. It requires you to let go of people who aren’t interested in your best interests. These are the people that drain you, some of whom you may consider to be friends. At the very least, it requires you to focus on the people who do lift you up, which leaves less time for the others. And, when you give less time to people who tear you down…they react by trying to tear you even further. Oftentimes, these people know how to push your buttons. You need to find a way to move the buttons out of harms way.

Professionally, it may require you to walk away from money. Talk about no easy task! In pure economics (and maybe the only thing I remember from economics in college), the opportunity cost of working with people you don’t like is way too high. You may be making a decent fee from a client, but if it comes with anxiety, heartache, depression, lost sleep and pain caused by stress – it’s not worth it. Let go of that client, focus on the projects that allow you work with people you like…and just watch what happens.

It’s taken me nearly 45 years of life and nearly 25 years in the workforce to understand that I should have been looking at People: First. I’m incredibly grateful for the “cool projects” that I’ve had the opportunity to work on, but some of this work came at an incredibly personal price. The feelings of inadequacy, the judgment, the anxiety and stress were crushing. But now I’m surrounded by the best people I know, personally and professionally.

I suppose I should make the point that People: First doesn’t mean that I’m looking for other people to make me happy. It may read that way, but it’s the opposite. I’m finding my own way and then sustaining it successfully with the right people around me. I’m finally doing it forwards. Not backwards.

The Happiness Advantage talks about that backwards way we often look at things. You know the story that usually goes something like, If I could just get X, then I’ll be happy. I’m really good at getting X. I’m really good at making things happen for myself. But, I wasn’t very good at being happy. I’ve hidden it well over the years, but more often than not, being happy has eluded me. And, while the book talks about a variety of reasons for this, I found it was all about the people. If I focused on People: First…The rest would take care of itself.

So, I’ve lived this mantra for the first few weeks of the year. It’s been my religion. And, it’s paying off in spades. I’m having deeper conversations with friends. I’ve started new projects. I’m doing work I love. Really love. Some of this work is the exact same stuff I’ve done for years, but there’s a difference. I’m doing it with people I like. It’s the secret sauce.

Beyond deeper relationships and more satisfying work experiences, People: First is making me a better person. It’s making me want to do more for other people. It’s making me want to inspire others and makes me want to be worthy of entry into their People: First posse.

I’ve taken on a special project the last several days – the details of which I’ll leave out, as they aren’t really important. But, this project (for lack of a better word) has been an ongoing act of kindness. I’m not sure I would have even considered it a month ago. Now it seems like a no brainer.

As written about in The Happiness Advantage, good feelings are contagious. When you’re around happy – you can feel happier. You can catch it if you want to. The opposite is true, however. Being around unhappy is like standing in a cloud of second hand smoke. Even if you aren’t smoking, the damage is done. Again, I know this isn’t easy. When we are in those clouds, those funks (many of which I’ve written about), the last thing we often want is to surround ourselves with happy people. The last thing we want to read is another Facebook post about how perfect someone’s life is. But, the really happy people aren’t doing that. The truth is, we know who those people are. Make the effort to spend time with them.

I don’t know what the best One Thing is for everyone. But, I do know that People: First is mine. And I know that it’s the theme that will drive me through this year and beyond. I’m a few days late, but I wish you all a very, very Happy New Year.

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