The 5 Biggest Lessons I Learned in 2016


A year many of us will look back on with pain, anger, and disgust. Don't worry, we're rolling over in two days... However unfortunate this year has been for so many, 2016 has been, for me, one of the great years of my life. Accompanied with it has been one of the greatest periods of learning I have ever undergone, rivaled only by my entry in to the world as a photographer some 6-odd years ago. 

I've learned so many beautiful things this year in family and work - from learning how to steward my investment in a relationship from dating to engagement to marriage; to patience and kindness in small moments as much as large; to facing my problem with controlling my aggression; to learning how e-mail lists and taxes worked; to learning content creation and digital education and marketing; to starting a commercial photography agency and stopping my self-definition as a fine-art photographer. 

As abundant the things are that I have learned this year, there is 5 things that have outshone all of it: 

In 2016, I learned that the thing that will get you the furthest in any area of your life is to care.

From this, everything else flows. 

It doesn't matter how difficult your friend is or hard hard your client is or that the problem you're trying to solve is massively hard. If you care about anything enough, you'll get past it, solve it, move forward. Be very conscious of what you care for, and for the things that you find difficult or painful to accomplish or approach, bring yourself back to the reason that you're doing it in the first place. 

If you care about anything to any degree more than most people, you will be different than the rest of them. I always tell students to care more about the details of their photos than the color grading. Care more about the relationship with your friend than he cares about it. Give 51%. That extra 1% of care is going to push you 1,000,000 times further than giving only 25% because you think you that you matter "more" and can let other people do the work. I used to think like that, and it was a huge trap.

Give more, care more, and you'll go further, faster. 

In 2016, I learned that smart work will never replace hard work. 

And staying up from 3 am until 11 pm will actually help you accomplish what you need to in your business. 

There's this huge lie that is told to us when we're building our creative businesses, our photography businesses, that "smart work is better than hard work." After a year of learning the exact opposite, I can tell you that it is absolutely untrue. Smart work is simply a compliment to hard work, but it will NEVER outlast hard work itself. 

I've solved more problems by doing 10% smart work in asking the right questions at the right time, with the other 90% being hard work - sometimes sleeping 2, 3 hours a night just to solve issues on a deadline. I've accomplished so much by just working harder this year than I ever have, and this year, I made a 33% higher income than last year because of working hard. 

Putting "smart work" ahead of hard work makes you lazy. Your success is equal to your input, directly. So work hard, because no amount of thinking will ever get you as far. 

In 2016, I learned that most fights are petty and aren't worth the time. 

Seriously. Come back to me when you've fought over the type of tuna you're buying wth your wife on a trip to the grocery store. 

I'm not kidding, either. Kiara and I had a full-on fight once in the aisle of the grocery store over the type of tuna we were going to buy. She wanted the $2.99 tuna, I wanted the 69 cent tuna because I used to be massively cheap. There's more lessons here - like buying quality goods not outsourced, or listening to your wife's health suggestions, but I digress - most fights just aren't worth the time they take up in your day. 

When you're fighting with someone - anyone, not just your partner, think about what you're actually fighting about and whether or not it actually matters. You might think it's the most important thing in the world, but if I could give any advice - take 15 minutes apart from the person you're fighting with, and you'll feel a million times better. I got that advice from my uncle-in-law, and it's been one of the best things I've ever done. 

99% of fights are not worth your time. Keep fighting if you will, but I'm moving on. 

In 2016, I learned that the only limitation you have is the limitation you put on yourself. 

Kiara and I went over to dinner with my grandma and uncle a couple months ago. My uncle is this incredible dude who went through a ton of crap in his life, and when he came out of the other side from all of the crazy things he went through - divorce, alcoholism, debt - he said that the number one thing he learned was that things started to change when he changed the way he thought about himself.  

A huge part of our culture is built on telling us we're not good enough and that we need to do better, that we can't achieve our dreams without buying X or Y or Z, that we're just not good enough. I have spent so much of my life with this type of low self-esteem because of that mentality fed to us by media growing up in the U.S. Because of this, I've spent a massive amount of energy this year changing the beliefs I hold about myself. 

I am a good artist. 

I am influential. 

I can build a business. 

I don't have to be stressed or angry all the time. 

I do believe in myself. 

Think about all the lies you tell yourself and see how many of them hold you back. Then change the crap out of them. 

In 2016, I learned that I can trust God. 

If you're not religious or don't believe in God, that's fine. I never want to try and convert someone because I grew up with people around me always trying to convert me and always trying to convert other people. 2016 was an absolutely crazy year for me, down to every little detail - including the day I got married. 

To be completely honest, for as excited as I was to get married, I was also incredibly scared. I was afraid, mostly selfishly, of my career derailing, my ability to be free to travel subsiding, and a number of other stupid thoughts that were obviously outweighed (and proven completely wrong even before getting married) by my incredible wife. 

But on the day of our wedding, something insane happened. Wedding morning jitters alight, my wife texted me and asked me if I could pick up a bagel and some tea and bring it over to where she was staying in town. Naturally, I obliged. I had to take the remaining payment for our our vendors - $1550 in cash - with me across town because we would be paying our vendors once I picked Kiara up and started our day. 

I put the money in my Moleskine, got some coffee and tea at the cafe, and headed over to Kiara. Halfway there, I noticed that the notebook wasn't where I set it on the passenger seat where I thought I put it after getting coffee. "Ah, it's just fallen on the floor," I told myself. I pulled over to search for it to no avail. I checked the back, sides, and top of the car. Nothing. Nada. The journal and the money were both gone. 

Instead of freaking out, I said a simple prayer - "God, I'm not even worried. If the money is gone, it's gone, and you will get me through it. You'll provide another way of managing this issue." I turned around and re-roved my path to the coffee shop, searching the road along the way. Nothing. I asked the barista's at the cafe if I left it on the counter. Nope. Gone. 

I pulled out of the parking lot, still searching the road. On the pavement just outside of the coffee shop, along the main road, there sat the journal, shredded to pieces by cars, and the money, completely in-tact and sealed in the enveloped I left it in, untouched. God spoke to me in that moment and said "Trust Me. Both with these things and with your marriage." 

These are my 2016 lessons. This is the post I will come back to throughout the year as I go through 2017 and try to make even better choices in the new year.

- David

What is the biggest lesson you learned in 2016? Let me know in a comment below and you could win a FREE e-Book from me!

I'm on a mission to show that the light will always pierce through the darkness.