An Uncomfortable Year

December 21, 2023

“You can’t really love someone else unless you really love yourself first.”

“Feeling good about ourselves is essential in being able to love others”

Pearls of wisdom from Pittsburgh’s finest, Mister Rogers. Typically, I think of this self-love concept in the context of community revitalization and development. Too many towns fall into the trap of seeking external validation as if some sort of outside approval from tourists or national chains will fix what’s gone wrong. As if civic self-esteem and pride can be bestowed upon a community from afar.

This notion belies everything we know about how humans operate, yet the misconception not only persists, but it’s the dominant way of thinking about how we go about improving our communities. I suppose it’s because the reality of improving conditions is either deemed too boring or too hard. The truth is that the path to happiness and health, both personally and on a civic level is straightforward. When we put in the hard work it takes to improve and do that consistently over time, we experience a sense of accomplishment and pride. This is when we can see the results- and visible results are pretty damn exciting!

But if you feel like you have found a shortcut to real improvement, be my guest, go right ahead, please let me know how the quick fix works out for you and your community. Who knows, maybe a Shake Weight™ or a parking garage is the solution to all your problems.

The point I am getting at with this is that Mister Rogers understood that we can’t take care of others until we take care of ourselves. We must put in the time and effort to make ourselves better. We should be as kind to ourselves as we are to those around us and true contentedness can’t come externally, we have to earn it personally. Being happy takes work, feeling satisfied requires a big commitment.

So with my cardigan-clad neighborly idol in mind, I decided to put my words into action this year. I committed to pushing myself and doing the hard work it takes to feel a sense of accomplishment. I embraced the notion that self-satisfaction can only be earned. I was also feeling a bit hypocritical for not being involved in my own community to the degree I was preaching to others. I decided 2023 was a year to get uncomfortable.

I set out to accomplish several things this year and while I did not achieve every item, I am damn proud of what I did. I completely ignored the points about saving more money, getting enough sleep and cutting back on bourbon, but why focus there?  Nor did not get any work outside of the U.S., yes, this comment is directed at you Canadian readers. You know I love poutine.

But on to the positives-

  • This fall I published my first book. And while Your City is Sick has been in the works for a couple of years, I was determined to get the damn thing done in 2023. It was a huge pain in the ass to complete the editing and finalize all of the details, but with a substantial amount of help from my friend and colleague, Ben Muldrow, I was able to release the book in September. You should consider it as a Christmas gift to yourself and all of your friends as it’s the perfect stocking stuffer!
  • I was elected to public office. This time last year I was contemplating a run for my municipal commission and finally decided, with considerable trepidation that it was the right thing to do. I dreaded knocking on doors during the campaign, but it was what I signed up for and I forced myself to hit the streets. With help from some amazing people, I was able to win the primary in May and the general election in November. It was a tough decision, but I am glad that I made it. I feel confident that this civic commitment will improve me as a person, citizen, and consultant.

  • In my final blog post from last year, I came clean about some public speaking anxiety. I received a ton of kind and supportive comments, including some very helpful suggestions. I faced those fears head-on in 2023 with 22 public speaking engagements in 17 states.

  • Yesterday, I attended my 100th class at the boxing gym. The gym owner even gave me some sweet wrist wraps to mark the occasion. Getting in better shape is a goal every year and so I was extremely proud of myself for making it to 100 classes this year, which was tough with my travel schedule and a handful of kids. It was a grind, and so many mornings I debated skipping to get a little extra sleep, but the commitment paid off and now I am better prepared to fight cars.

Writing this post is the final uncomfortable thing I have to do this year. Like knocking on doors, or going to the gym, writing about myself is not something I enjoy, in fact, I very much want to avoid it, but as Eleanor Roosevelt said “Things that make us uncomfortable help us build courage to do the work we do.” I have been uncomfortable a great deal this year, which tells me, 2023 has been a success.

So with that out of the way, I am going to spend the rest of the year enjoying the comforts of friends and family and all the trimmings and trappings of the holidays and my birthday. As always, thanks for your support and I hope each of you had all the comforts and discomforts you wanted this year. Happy Holidays!


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