16 Painful Lessons I Learned in 2015 While Trying to Be An Adult

Jonathan Jackson
Photo: Andrew Kung

Like many people, I had a chuckle at the Miss Universe and Steve Harvey debacle. Outside of the vitriolic anti-black rhetoric and racism that quickly arose and the enormous amount of tea that was spilled on Black Twitter, It seemed a pretty open and shut moment of 2015. But something kept lingering. For me, the conversation wasn’t about Harvey, so much as it was public failure and how we engage with it.

It’s common for bloggers or freelancers  to share income reports. They keep people accountable and provide a wealth of information for their audiences to see the real numbers behind working for yourself. 

It’s not common for people to share struggle reports and explain the losses they took over a calendar year and what  those shifts should look like. The internet is just like high school; so I made one instead.

For every struggle I’ve also listed an adjustment — a change in behavior, attitude or thought pattern that I’m working to implementing next year. This is my life, not a listicle. 

1. I didn’t share my work.

I know I created things of value in 2015. A lot of them. But my own fear shielded me from actually sharing a majority of it, so I left it to chance and the general sentiment that someone, somewhere will find this. Let me just do the work. In an attempt to not add to the noise, I devalued myself, at the expense of potentially helping people. Every single time I’ve published something that scared me, I faded into the shadows. Ironically, those pieces were the ones that resonated the most, but I was too in my own feelings to recognize it. I prefer moves over announcements, but I didn’t understand the power of my voice until very recently. 

The Adjustment: If I write it, I’m going to share it and be unabashed about what I make and the value it has.

2. I opted for “perfect” instead of done.

As a writer, I love creating. As an editor, I’m kind to everyone’s drafts except my own. My drafts folder probably looks like Dr. Dre’s Detox hard drive (obviously less prolific). I have things I never launched because they weren’t ‘good enough,’ whatever that means.

The Adjustment: I’m working to give my own creative process the same care and nurturing I do with other people’s. 

3. I made excuses for mediocrity.

There were times  I cut corners this year.  I was tired, but I didn’t admit it and rest. Instead, I gave up effort  when I couldn’t afford too. That “somewhere” was developing myself and taking new opportunities. I opted for tomorrow when today was really what should have taken precedence.

The Adjustment: Remove the ability for excuses to breathe, especially in things I need to get done.

4. I wasn’t ruthless with my calendar. 

A lot of people want to spend time with you. Only a handful will invest in you. I learned this difference in real time, as I kept letting people abuse my Google Calendar with reckless abandon.

The Adjustment: Mid-way through the year, I started proactively blocking my calendar. I set up times to think, plan and execute. This will continue aggressively in 2016. Time is a resource that can’t be replenished, so it has to be protected.

5. I was more focused on mastering tools instead of building habits.

I consume a lot of content. I want to learn everything I can about the things I want to be excellent at.

The Adjustment: I don’t need to do everything, and the things I shouldn’t spend time on, I’ll be working on automating. That leaves me space to focus time and energy on the goals that will drive more progress.

6. I studied success but not the systems that inform it.  

It’s quickly becoming the new sexy to deconstruct success. With billion dollar valuations, new millionaires emerging from almost nowhere, understanding the how, what, and where can be invaluable. And there are countless articles about just that. I love those stories. But the success is the outcome, not the input. It’s the systems, processes and access that have a hand in dictating the front page stories.

The Adjustment: I’m starting to research and look into patterns that people have, and not just their accolades. The latter is sexy, but the former is what creates longevity, regardless of industry.

7. I didn’t clearly and decisively write out what success looked like for me.

I have all kinds of things I want to do. Businesses. Ventures. Books I need to write. Classes I want to teach. Things my family used to own that I want to purchase back. But for people with big visions, it can often be paralyzing. We get lost in the caverns of our minds not because we procrastinate, but because with dreams that big, it’s hard to know where to get started.

The Adjustment: Nothing I want to do is going to come easily or quickly. I’m writing down exactly what I want to do, when I want to do it, and then visually reinforcing what that will look like. If I have time to engage with my Twitter feed, I should make just as much time to engage with my goals.

8. I let people into my life who were never interested in me, just how comfortable my potential made them feel.

Lessons of the heart are often the toughest to learn, but the easiest to remember. I’m a giver by nature, but the struggle has been learning how to discern who is actually interested in me as a person versus anything else. I tend to love people who don’t even like me, or worse, just want what I have. When I started to do things they wanted to do, they got upset with me. My ambition offended them when it wasn’t in line with what they thought I should be doing for them.

The Adjustment:  I’m starting 2016 with fewer numbers in my phone, a lot more boundaries, and only one requirement: don’t tell me you love me. Don’t say we’re friends. Show me what that looks like.

 9. I said yes to things that were not priorities. 

This is due in part to my desire to actually help people, but there is another part of me I don’t like to admit. I enjoy being liked. I care about it much less than I used to, but I still worry about it enough to do certain things that I shouldn’t. When I do that, I reprioritize the real things I should be doing because of it. It took time away from my family, friends and the plethora of ‘little sisters’ I have.

The Adjustment: “No.” is a complete and beautiful sentence. I’ll be using it frequently in 2016. I want to manage my life, not my calendar. 

10. I was unkind to myself.

The issue with never not working is in the implementation, not the practice. “Working” applies to all sides of yourself, including the preservation of your body, mind, spirit and psyche. This affected every relationship I had. People were getting the worst of me because I wasn’t paying attention to what I needed.

The Adjustment: I’ll be making time for Jonathan to be Jonathan, unapologetically. I’m staying low and building with myself. 

11. I never asked for help.

2015 has been wild. I’ve been spending time in rooms and places I never knew existed with people I used to read about and never expected to meet. Sometimes we try to be so self-made that we forget that our decisions actually construct who we are. Not asking for help doesn’t make your story any more authentic. It will definitely make it increasingly more difficult, especially when you are faced with things you’re unfamiliar with.  I have mentors I never tapped into because I didn’t want them to think less of me. I conflated  help with a handout,  and in doing so, never got what I needed. Which is the same problematic thinking that allows us to blame black mothers for systemic issues that kill their sons.

The Adjustment: I’ll ask for help when I need it, because that’s what the greats do. 

12. I succumbed to ‘information overwhelm.’

I right-clicked on anything that seemed like it could be helpful to bolstering my ideas or giving me a new perspective. I am always hungry for new information. That’s a good thing. The problem is that I didn’t take enough time focused on action, as I did on collecting resources. Libraries are only useful to the people who utilize what’s inside them. Otherwise, it’s a large building with sheets of paper glued together and organized on shelves.

The Adjustment: Less information collecting, and more action on  things I think are important. I don’t need to know bits and pieces about everything all the time.  I’m also working on an email course to help other people who struggle like I do.

13. I doubted my own vision so much I paralyzed my own ability to create. 

This isn’t so much a website as it is an easel. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I write. If they are very close to me, they will tell you I tell stories unconsciously. I always have. But the ones I need to tell double as the scariest. 

The Adjustment: Significance will always trump success, but not if I don’t have an idea of what both should look like. I shocked myself with some of the things I did this year when I got clear and focused on what actually matters to me.

14. My net worth affected my feeling of self-worth.

I have people that actually depend on me, both fiscally and emotionally. With that comes a particularly strong pressure, because in some respects, things are absolutely about the money. There were times when student loans and bills had me wanting to crawl under my bed and not come out. I’m my own safety net, and there are often holes I’m trying to plug by myself. The truth is no one in my family really owns anything. We get to be the first generation to do that, which is exciting but incredibly daunting at the same time. There is a special type of pressure for those of us who are saving for our future and also funding the retirement of our parents. I embrace that pressure, but it almost cost me my sanity.  

The Adjustment: If I never made another dollar from anything ever again, I’d still be enough. I’ve always been enough. I have to work on how I engage with money from every aspect and put it in its place, so it doesn’t knock me off my pivot.

15. I expected people to see my vision like I do, and act accordingly. 

It’s mine for a reason, so this was an oversight, mixed with some faith that I had to believe people were who they said they were. If you tell me “I got you,” I’ll believe it, because the price of not honoring that is a steep one. I never violate those types of understandings, but not everyone sees things the way I do. That’s fine. What isn’t fine is people perpetrating how hard they hustle, but not having any interest in doing the work .

The Adjustment: I’m starting to look intently on how people act and treat their words like guardrails: If they are swerving when they pull up, then ask me to ride with them, I’d rather take the train (or call an Uber).

16. I toned down my personality to fit in.

My code-switching crossed into dangerous territory this year. That is good and bad, as it traditionally allows me to persist past certain things I don’t have the energy to engage with. It’s also terrible, because I self-audit myself to be less assertive, because there are often invisible costs to being myself that most people aren’t aware of. I was quiet when I should have spoken, and I let my concern over how I’d be perceived win.

The Adjustment:  I’m going where I am appreciated, not tolerated. The world doesn’t need me to be half of who I am. It needs me to be exactly who I was made to be. That’s the bravest thing I can do right now. I’m, more often than not, a human 100 emoji, and I’m proud of it. 

What’s Next

None of my adjustments are radical shifts, because the rhetoric of massive change doesn’t matter if I don’t commit to adjusting daily practices first. What matters is the incremental shifts in daily habits and practices that lead to massive gains. We’ve done that with Blavity over the past year, and we will continue to.  Leaders go first. They serve without expectation of reciprocity, and they make sacrifices because they understand that success has always been worth it.  

The most dangerous part of my growth hasn’t been the pressure, the pain, or the confusion. It’s been the risk of forgetting the simple truths. In a world where everything is editable, highlight reels instantly become more interesting than authenticity. But the reality is much less glamorous. No one really knows what they’re doing. The ones that make it just persisted when other people stopped.

Your favorite founder has more insecurities than you know about. The dopest writer you know has more doubts than they care to admit. They just realized that they are worthy of their first draft and knew their story was just starting.

Mine is too.  

I’m coming for everything I told myself in 2015 I couldn’t do. In 2016, you can have the artificial. I only want the real.


Maybe I’m the only one who had to learn some tough lessons in 2015. If I’m not, feel free to hit @Blavity with the hashtag #myadjustment, and let me know how you’re going to get better.

Beef patty connoisseur. Creative architect. Writer for myself and others. Blavity Co-Founder.