I could seriously write a book with all the lessons I learned in 2014. It wouldn’t necessarily be a GOOD book, or useful to anyone else yet, but 2014 was nothing if not filled with lessons. Some people might call those lessons “mistakes,” but I don’t look at it that way. I can’t. If I did, I’d be curled in a ball in my closet right now, consumed with guilt and fear over all the money I wasted and things I screwed up this year. But I honestly don’t see any of 2014’s mistakes as screw-ups, because I learned SO MUCH.
For my entire life until about 18 months ago, a huge part of my identity was about always knowing the answer. I took pride in the fact that I was capable and I knew what I was doing, and if I didn’t, I was really good at faking it. I was that annoying know-it-all kid, the bullshit-artist teenager, and then eventually I had a career, and I did it long enough that I generally did know how to do everything that was asked of me. Which was very important, somehow, in my perception of my own value and self-worth.
And then I started a business. With no business background. I mean, I hadn’t done math in like 24 years.
As a small business owner, the reality is you’re going to make a ton of mistakes (a.k.a., learn lessons) because there is SO MUCH STUFF TO KNOW. From manufacturing meltdowns to workers comp law to handling employee crises to striking dock workers, something new comes up almost every day. There is no way I — or anyone — could possibly know how to handle all those things the right way, the first time. All you can do is learn from your experiences and make the best choices you can with the information you have at the time.
And so, the biggest thing I learned in 2014 is that it’s OK to not know the answer. In fact, it’s great, because it means you have the opportunity to actually learn something. Once I was able to let go of the fear of looking like a dummy (which was likely the result of a seed planted in me by some childhood event that has zero bearing on who I am as an adult human), it became so much easier to learn — to ask for help, to be a beginner, to listen.
Last week, inspired by my friends at the ad agency Camp+King, I asked everyone in our studio to name the one most important business lesson they learned in 2014.
I just spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to align everyone’s quotes next to their photos, but I couldn’t make it work. So, imagine their faces.
Charlie, VP of sales: “Remain cautiously optimistic. To expand on that: make no promises.”
Betsy, sales coordinator: “Nothing ever goes the way you think it will go. Ever.”
Katherine, retail manager: “It never gets any easier, but if you have enough dogs in the race, a boatload of stained dishtowels won’t sink you.”
Sara, marketing manager: “Murphy’s Law is indeed a real thing. Also a real thing: Reddit.”
Pretty much, guys. Pretty much.