The Top Five Things I Learned This Year

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The Top Five Things I Learned This Year

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It's been a long year. In some ways that feels funny to say because parts of the year have just flown by. (Can it really be six months since I started my new job?) Overall, though, this has been one of those years where it seems like I've had to work -- I mean WORK -- for every little advance.

That's not a bad thing, necessarily. My life is substantially better now than it was 12 months ago. There was just a lot of hard slogging in between.

Here are five key things that I learned -- more accurately, re-learned -- along the way:

1. Relationships are more important than anything else.

The Top Five Things I Learned This YearI'm proud to say that my parents raised me to live this way. Making money, having career success, being fit -- they're all good. But those things pale in comparison to the relationships we have with the people we care about.

This year I was reminded me of that more than ever. As my kids get older, it's vital for me to keep building on the connections we share. In a few years, they'll be driving and then going off to college, and of course they'll be subjected to the usual temptations along the way. With a history of warm relations in place -- and especially open communication -- my wife and I have a good shot to help them on their way to adulthood without too much trauma, but without that . . . yikes.

Speaking of my wife, this year I was reminded all over again how important it is to invest more of yourself into your closest relationships. It's been 17 years since she and I fell in love, and I'm paying closer attention than ever to her needs and to how the two of us communicate. It's the soundest investment I can make.

Good friendships can produce material advantages, too -- even though you wouldn't pursue them for that reason. I got a great new job this year in no small part because of friendships with two people who are now my colleagues. Sure, I had the qualifications for the job -- it wasn't nepotism -- but lots of people might have been qualified. What made the difference was the personal connection.

2. For the most part, I'm in charge of what happens to me.

If a drunk driver hits you, no, that's not your fault. If you're afflicted with multiple sclerosis, no, you didn't do anything to deserve it.

But once you set aside extreme cases, the overwhelming majority of what happens to you arises from what you do or from what you allow to happen in your life. This is true for your fitness, your finances, your relationships, your career, and the feelings of happiness you do or don't have.

Even if it weren't true (and I'd love to debate you in the comments if you think it's not), what's the point in acting like a victim? Take charge!

3. It makes sense to take stock DAILY on what matters most to you.

This doesn't mean the most urgent item at the top of your to-do list. It means what you want most out of life -- deeply, not superficially.

If you can stand it, sit down first thing every morning -- I'm talking 365 days a year -- and go over the short list of what means the most to you. This list should be short enough that it fits on half a sheet of letter paper. What you want most in life will probably fit under a handful of big headings like "Raise happy children," "Achieve financial independence," and "Practice good health." Review how yesterday went in each of those areas, then think ahead for what you hope to accomplish in each of them today.

I say "if you can stand it" about this exercise, then do it, because it forces you to take responsibility for what happens to you (see Point 2 above), even if you're not going to like how it shines a spotlight on some of your bad habits. It's worth it.

4. Do anything you can to keep from getting stuck.

The previous two points lead up to this, and I'll be talking more next week about how to kick off 2011 if you're well and truly stuck.

The big idea here is that movement beats stagnation, always. Get up and do something that makes you feel better, especially if it helps you feel accomplished. Call a friend. Listen to some great music. Make love. Bake bread. Walk the dog. Take out the trash. File your taxes early. Anything.

Don't give way to the inertia and isolation that would keep you on the couch, in debt, and out of shape. Move.

5. Fitness will keep you sane.

It's good to have some certainties in life, and fitness is a great source of them. When I walk down to the park and back, that's something I know I can control. In the gym, I know that I'll be pressing more weight next month than this month, so long as I'm smart about my training and stick with it. It's much simpler than many parts of life -- and that simplicity is a refuge.

As you wrestle with whatever else life throws you, remember to be kind to your body. Eat well. Go to bed early sometimes. Get a little more exercise than you strictly need. The blood coursing through your veins and the oxygen entering your lungs will do you a world of good beyond the cardiovascular benefits.

So, those were my big lessons for 2010. What about you?


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 Tim WalkerTim Walker

Tim is a writer, marketer, and social media pro in Austin. He joined CareOne's blogging team as a contributing writer for the Life Balance blog in 2009. As a blogger who has personally overcome debt challenges, he draws from his own experience to provide tips on living a balanced life and keeping fit. You can read more of his thoughts (on fitness and everything else) at his personal blog, What I've Learned So Far. Compensated CareOne Blogger

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  • Hi happy new year.


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  • " I'm in charge of what happens to me" - I need a huge banner somewhere in my house that reminds me of this daily.

  • Very well put.  I agree with you.  When someone does get stuck in the victim mind set they give control over to someone else.  It also makes it easier to blame others for the things that we can change within ourselves.

  • In the bigger picture, though, there are just a lot of things I want to do -- and hitting 39 is a sharp reminder that I'm not a kid anymore.

  • It seems like just yesterday we were making our New Year's Resolutions...time flies! So, where are you? With your budget, that is.

  • There's so much plastic around us (credit cards people, not the alternative to paper at the grocery store) making it that much more difficult to refrain from making big ticket purchases. I've been able to stay in the war and fight the financial battle

  • It always creeps up on me, the end of the year. It seems like August through December fly by in about six weeks flat. Meanwhile, have I learned what I should from 2011? Have you? And what can we do to make sure that 2012 moves us closer to our ideals

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