21 Useful Lessons Learned in 2021

Last year’s life lessons translated into leadership lessons


For me, 2021 was a transformative year. I left the world of education in June and joined the Strategic Leaders Academy on July 1 as a consultant and professional speaker. It made perfect senseI have been speaking about my experience in Iraq since 2004, and I have held leadership positions in almost every facet of my life since high school. I was ready, willing, and able for this next chapter in my life.

I am abundantly happier and less stressed now that I have more control over my life. Has it always been easy? No, not at all. I had to move from the public system to private, I had to learn to “speak business,” sell and market myself, network like there’s no tomorrow, and say goodbye to the many wonderful people I worked with as a principal. It was, however, the best decision I ever madethat, or I’m making the best out of my decisionwink wink.

I learned so much last year, especially in the past six months. Here are 21 of those lessons and how they translate into leadership:

1. The life of a principal is so tiresome that it was difficult to look for another job.

  • Make sure your employees and leaders have enough time to enjoy life and do things that can rejuvenate them. Also, how can we help the overworked school systems?

2. People are inherently good, but put them into a group with toxic people and that sludge will infiltrate even the best of people.

  • Hire the right people. Don’t compromise. If you need a body, hire on a temporary contract to see if it’s a good fit for you and them or don’t hire at all.

3. Values are not to be compromised. I was very close to doing so. I felt differently about how to deal with people than my superior. We never communicated about our fundamental values around this topic which could have alleviated a lot of stress from everyone involved.

  • Be explicit about your values and expectations so that you hire people who’ve bought-in to your core values. Don’t assume your employees have the same values as you. Have a conversation with them and make sure their values align with your Team’s common purpose, vision, and mission.

4. Autonomy, creativity, and innovation are inextricably linked.

  • The more autonomy your employees have, the more innovation and creativity will occur. This will also boost belonging and buy-in—a win/win.

5. Everyone has advice. All the time. No matter who you are or if you asked for it. Audit this advice. It has the power to overwhelm and shut down.

  • See my article on feedback for more information. Hire a trusted advisor to help you weed out the feedback that matters.

6. People act in mysterious ways.

  • You are the only person you can control. Sometimes it’s hard to “let it go,” but you will be much happier when you can move on from a difficult situation.

7. Control of my time sounds better in my head than in my guilty conscience. By that, I mean that even though I have complete control, it’s hard not to work all the time. Something always needs to be done.

  • Make sure your Team is taking their much-needed and much-deserved time off. If you lead by example, they will follow. If you show up to work before sunrise and leave after sunset, they will feel like they have to do the same and may become resentful.

8. There are so many amazing and wonderful people out there.

  • Get to know your Team on a personal level. It will make difficult conversations much easier with a solid foundation intact.

9.  Social Media is a time suck. I already knew this one, but I had never worked with LinkedIn before. I’ve found it especially challenging to make sure I’m doing what is best for my business while maintaining boundaries.

  • Keep track of how much time you spend on social media. Increase your productivity at work to increase your time off at home.

10. Talk at the speed of trust. As a type-A personality, I need to make sure that I’m not moving too fast for my clients.

  • Sometimes too much information can be damaging. Know who you’re talking to and how to talk to them.

11. It’s easy to get stuck in hypnotic habits.

  • So often we think we’re busting our humps at work, but in reality, we’re spending all of our time in emails and meetings without working on our business.

12. “Commission breath” is a real thing

  • Make sure you build trust before you start using the salesperson swagger.

13. Avoid “putting your great ladder along the wrong wall.”

  • Make sure your vision aligns with your outcomes. Otherwise, burnout is inevitable.

14. The longer you spend working within your strengths, the happier you’ll be and the more productive and innovative you will become.

  • For many, working on our weaknesses is a badge of honor, but it might not be a point of joy or passion. Delegate as much as possible and do what brings you joy to boost productivity at work.

15. My brain shuts down between 2 and 3 pm every day. This is my low point and when I need to take a break, go for a walk, or get a snack to re-energize.

  • Pay attention to your natural rhythms and align your work to those rhythms. For example, I am most productive in the morning. This is when I sit in the quiet and create. I try to have my meetings with others in the afternoons because they re-energize me and get me away from my screens.

16. It costs 50%-200% of someone’s salary to rehire for their position.

  • Putting people first is a must in today’s great recession. If you want to learn more about how this trend will continue, read this ebook—Demographic Drought

17. You have a choice. So many people have told me that they wish they could do what I did by quitting their 9-5 job.

  • Here’s the secret: YOU CAN! It’s a choice. We all have them. It’s about making the most out of the decisions you choose to make.

18. Living without fear is liberating. I am an all-in type of person. I love new experiences and I love to meet new people. From backpacking to Europe, to purchasing my first house as a single person, to marrying my husband in 4.5 months of meeting himmy lack of fear has provided me with abundant joy and amazing opportunities.

  • My lack of fear is based on realistic optimism and grit. I am one of the most fiscally conservative humans you’ll meet. Please tread lightly and logically with this one. But by all means, don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back.

19. Authenticity is key. I’m a people pleaser but the more I’m myself, the happier I am.

  • Choose you! You’re the only one we’ve got.

20. Rely on your network. When I’m stuck, down in the dumps, or need a thought partner, I have amazing individuals to reach out to. Thank you to Chris Kolenda and Jeff Marquez for being my top two go-tos!

  • Don’t try to lone-wolf it. Who do you go to when you need help? Remember, I’m here if you need me!

21.  Family Firstmy “why.” These four cuties are what make me the happiest. I love watching the kids learn and grow and become their own little humans. As long as I prioritize my family, I feel successful and they know they’re loved.

  • What’s your “why” and how can you prioritize that?

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