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What Worked in 2022: 4 Insights From A Rebuilding Year

I typically don’t do a big “year in review” routine—only because review and reflection are a big part of my work in practice. But last week, when Sean and I sat down to record a “quick” rundown of our favorite things from the year for the podcast, he preempted me with a thoughtful conversation about how the year unfolded.

We did get around to sharing our favorite things (find the list below), but there were four insights from the first part of our conversation that I wanted to call out in greater detail.


Making Different Choices

Sean (my husband and business partner) and I have both made different choices in life and work than we would have a year or two ago. We’ve each been curious about the assumptions we’ve made about what we eat, what we spend money on, and how we spend time together. This process started in 2020 when everyone’s assumptions and default choices were upended. But in 2022, “when, in theory, we were able to kind of return to the world at large, I was able to reevaluate what I wanted [normal] to be. And I can say that it’s very different than what I was doing pre-2020 in a very, very positive way,” Sean told me.

One key change for us is that we decided to eliminate the dreaded “What do you want for dinner?” conversation. I won’t get into the messy details or the underlying causes but suffice it to say that question about the most basic of human needs was the primary source of conflict in our relationship for years. At some point in 2021, we started what we referred to as “fending for ourselves” for dinner. In practice, that meant that Sean made some “hippie hash” for himself, and I threw together a salad.

In 2022, we made the change permanent. We still eat together, but he no longer worries about my autistic food preferences, and I no longer worry about preferring to eat the same thing day after day. On occasion, I’ll let him know there’s something I want to make—like chicken enchilada casserole—and we’ll eat the same thing for a night or two.

I’m not sure how “out of the norm” this routine is among married couples without children at home. But it felt subversive to us! And typically, when we have reason to tell people about this choice, they react with envy.

For such a simple way of rethinking our routine, this choice has improved our relationship, relieved a great deal of my anxiety around meals, and just improved life generally.


Accepting Limitations

For me, 2022 was the year of accepting my limitations. I’ve been learning to work within my capacity for many years now, but I got much clearer on my exact limitations and what I needed to adjust to stay within them over the last 12 months. And I recognized that my capacity now isn’t the same as my capacity was a couple of years ago. I told Sean, “I feel light years better than I felt at the end of 2021, just night and day. And I know that feeling better is not the same thing as having recovered my capacity.”

I like the way I said that. But I do think it leans toward a misunderstanding about capacity—which is that there is one’s normal capacity, and then there is one’s reduced capacity. This dichotomy recalls my conversation with Jessica DeFino earlier this year about the harmful ways we deploy the label “normal.” There is no such thing as my normal capacity. Capacity—the access one has to resources at any given time—is always in flux.

Sometimes my capacity is greater; sometimes, it’s smaller. Sometimes I have access to an abundance of time but a scarcity of mental energy. Part of my job as a human is to recognize that and adjust my behavior and expectations accordingly.

According to Mercer’s 2022 “Inside Employees’ Minds” report, 51% of workers reported feeling “exhausted” at work daily. This is a direct result of cultural capitalism’s pressure to ignore our limitations, dismiss indications that our capacity is low, and maintain impossible standards despite the risk they pose to our health. It’s also a painful side effect of ableism—which affects everyone regarding our expectations around work. But, it disproportionately impacts disabled people, chronically ill people, and people with mental health conditions, who are among the most vulnerable in the capitalist workplace.


Disrupting Old Patterns

On a similar note, when I told Sean that I had hoped to be further along in my career shift this year, he asked, “Is there anything you could have done to make it happen faster?” It’s a valid coaching question from an aspiring coach.

But what I told him is: “There’s nothing that I could have done to make things move faster at my current capacity. And trying to make things move faster has largely been what got me to the point of breaking.” Throughout the year, I worked to disrupt that pattern—because it’s a pattern I’ve lived every 4-5 years since I was about 12 years old.

In retrospect, that meant I needed to recognize for myself what has been a pillar of my work for years: it’s all connected. What I mean is that while the cause of my burnout was the type of work I was doing and not my workload or self-management, recovering from my emotional labor breakdown required dialing back my workload and managing myself differently. While I thought I would turn a chunk of my back-pocket intellectual property into small products in the second quarter, I actually needed to get as far away from commercial relationships as I could.

If I stretched my resources thin—even the ones that weren’t in scarce supply—I’d wind up back in the same old rut.


Breaking Out of Curiosity Ruts

The final insight comes from Sean. One of his strategic priorities for this year was breaking out of what he calls curiosity ruts. Algorithms typically carve out curiosity ruts—that’s what happens when a platform learns your preferences and gives you what you want to see. In the process, we forget to look for information or ideas that aren’t automagically fed to us.

Instead of simply backing away from social media or fully unplugging, Sean decided to use his other strategic priority—systems thinking—to devise ways to bring non-obvious media into his life. He explained, “What are the tools and systems that you can put into place to find information that you wouldn’t have found? The ideas, perspectives, people, etc., that you wouldn’t have found if you had just been left to your own curiosity ruts?”

He shifted his morning routine (a system) to prioritize engaging with newsletters full of unusual finds. And he started using a platform called Are.na to discover art and architecture he wouldn’t have come across in an algorithmically mediated platform: “If an AI is determining what it thinksI should see, I will never see things outside of my own interests. So I have someplace where I can go and be exposed to things that I would never, ever in a million years find on my own. I am finding the most interesting things and different angles and perspectives.”

For my part this year, I followed my curiosity down the rabbit hole. Instead of disrupting ruts, I prioritized digger deeper. This was a year of footnotes, primary sources, and theory. And I, too, have found things I wouldn’t have been exposed to had I stayed on the surface where algorithms and AI typically leave us.


So what’s on the docket for 2023?

The first thing I’m working on in 2023 is applying the framework I shared in What Works to daily work and company culture. I’m teaching a 3-part workshop in January called Work In Practice (you’re invited) and rolling it out as a keynote workshop for companies and organizations.

I’m also working on the first podcast series of 2023 called “The Economics of…” which will illuminate specific challenges small business owners and independent workers face through the lens of economics.

And Sean is ready to grow YellowHouse.Media and increase our client load by five shows next year. Two of those shows are already accounted for—but if you’re thinking about launching a show (or finding more strategic help for a show you already have), reach out! Plus, he’ll be adding some strategy consultations to his schedule.

We’re both looking forward to discovering what the new year holds.

Thank you for your support, kind emails, and attention this year—it means the world to me.


Our Favorite Things of 2022

All of the books we mentioned are available in my Bookshop shop.

Non-Fiction

  • Digital Zettelkasten by David Kadavy
  • How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell
  • Easy Beauty by Chloe Cooper Jones
  • Floating Coast by Bathsheba Demuth
  • Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber
  • The Utopia of Rules by David Graeber
  • Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber

Fiction

  • Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
  • The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
  • The Dirk Gently series by Terry Pratchett
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide series by Douglas Adams
  • The Box Man by Kobo Abe

Television

By Tara McMullin

Writer, Podcaster, Producer. Founder of What Works.

Dec 15, 2022

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