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What 2016 teaches us about 2017’s blank page

You know what I love about the start of a new year? It’s what I love about Opening Day of the baseball season or the first day of school.

It’s when you allow yourself, even just for a brief moment, to imagine a blank slate.

The glass isn’t just half full, it’s spilling over with unlimited possibility. You might even need a new glass, a much bigger one to hold all of your lofty ambitions, like one of those gargantuan vessels they sell at the Quickie Mart to fill up with Mountain Dew.

You’re going to start eating right, reading more, flossing between meals, maybe volunteering at a soup kitchen. You’re going to hit the gym every day by 6 A.M., 7 at the latest.

You’re going to finish your novel, learn how to meditate, invent an exciting app for both iPhone and Android, and take up a new instrument – something unusual, like the bassoon.

Before I do any of these or other super awesome new things in 2017, I’m going to pause for a moment to reflect back on the year that was before the New Year’s glow wears off.

Thanks, 2016. This is what you taught me:

1. Life can be random and weird

It’s not necessarily arbitrary or “rigged” but it is, in many ways, unpredictable and filled with random events that shape our experience.

It’s certainly a good idea to plan and prepare and even project what you think the future will hold.

But 2016 reminded me in lots of ways that nothing is ever 100% certain and that there is always an element of randomness at work in spite of whatever narrative we’ve constructed that says otherwise.

You can give the new business pitch of your life and feel like you have the whole room eating out of the palm of your hand, for example, and still lose. Or you could be completely off your game and somehow manage to win.

As a small business owner, I have to relearn this lesson all the time. There’s a terrific book I’d recommend reading called The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by a mathematician named Leonard Mlodinow.

There are all kinds of great insights in this book that will seriously blow your mind. And at some point, I’m going to actually finish reading it. (Hey, this could be the year!)

2. You get to write your own version of the epilogue

All stories have an ending. The final whistle blows, the lights go dark, the cowboy rides off into the sunset.

A lot of big things came to an end in 2016, and I felt many of them more deeply than I would have predicted.

The end to the Obama presidency was one, and the long, bizarre campaign to succeed him was another.

So was the Cubs World Series drought coming to an end – joyous for me, but still an ending.

I haven’t dug into the data, but it sure feels like an unusual number of celebrities died last year. While I didn’t personally know Muhammad Ali, Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen or Carrie Fisher, I liked knowing that their indomitable spirits and inventive minds were in the world.

Ali was a particular hero of mine, and his death hit me particularly hard.

At The New BLK, we lost a couple of great, long standing clients this year. That happens. Budgets were cut, things were taken in-house. It wasn’t completely out of nowhere, and the break-ups were not unpleasant. But, a break-up is still a break-up.

What occurred to me is that what we do with these endings, how we fill in the epilogue before starting the next story, is up to us.

3. When all the signs point to change, be ready to pivot

My college soccer coach had a million sayings, most of them probably unfit for print. One of the cleaner ones was, “Keep your knees bent.”

The message was don’t get caught flat-footed, literally or figuratively.

2016 was a year of change, and we certainly felt it. Being nimble is core to who we are at The New BLK, and it’s something we deliberately work at all the time.

Keeping our knees bent and our eyes open has led us to make some significant pivots in our service offering and how we look at our own brand.

By zeroing in on a tighter focus and doing less, we believe we’ll be able to accomplish more. That probably wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t gotten knocked around a bit last year.

I was going to say that 2017 can’t get any weirder. But, then again, who the hell knows?

For now, I’m going to enjoy the blank slate.

Eric Gautschi is Managing Partner/Creative Director at The New BLK. The New BLK is an ad agency, creative think tank, and content production studio based in Omaha.

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