This week, one year ago, 15 design leaders took a chance on me and on each other to continue their personal and professional development. Since then, over 100 more designers have taken that same chance. Every day presents an opportunity for reflection, but this week, what I've learned from my students over the last year really matters. Here's what they've taught me.

Recognize the good in others. Often, in our work lives, we dwell on what's going wrong, who's doing wrong, and how it's all crap. By spending a little bit of time each day speaking about what lifts us up, by checking in on others, we recognize what's going well. Through recognition in others, we are better able to embrace and feel the positives around us.

Feel your authentic self. When I first started this little venture, I knew I need to be genuine. The past year has been one of deep reflection at times; to get back in touch with my strengths, weaknesses, wants, and desires. Most importantly, I've had to seek feedback from others. Regardless of whether it was flattering or not, I needed to remove the layer of self that I had built to survive inside large organizations. My students have taught me to be brave when my values or qualities align or break with convention.

Share your unfinished work. I was so hesitant to share anything I was working on because I had high expectations of myself. I've spent most of my days working on my business strategy, curriculum, research, writing, facilitating, interviewing, and operations. I haven't been able to give nearly as much time on design as I had hoped. Not one person who has applied or taken part in one of my courses has mentioned the lack of design polish in my site or my materials. It reminds me that the point isn't finishing, it's sharing.

A little tension helps. By placing a limited number of guardrails around format, time, and structure, I knew there would be different interpretations of what was expected. Many students would feel a bit of discomfort with these guardrails early on. I did this intentionally. Adding a little tension forces us to make decisions even when we don't have as much information as we'd like. The results have been refreshing. As the students progress throughout a cohort, they become more confident in making decisions while dealing with ambiguity. When we make decisions, we're able to reflect and move on to the next decision.

Reflect often and deliberately. The more I teach, the more I learn about myself. The more I learn about myself, the better I live up to my aspirations of being a decent human. Reflection provides us an opportunity to address our insecurities, our pain, and our anxieties, often opening our awareness of how we're affecting others.

Connection is key to empowerment. As a teacher, most of the progress I see students have is when I'm able to put my own experiences or lessons aside and pay attention to how someone else feels about their own experiences. Sure, I must know tools, processes, practices, etc., but truly connecting with others often matters more. When a connection is made, empowerment follows.

You can create a better version of yourself. While I've always functioned reasonably well throughout my career, it's been a long time where I felt I was myself. The most profound lesson I've learned over the last year has been finding my own voice again and becoming comfortable in it. By helping others find their own voice, I realized I was doing the same for myself.

Community before content. One of my top priorities has been to create a community where peers felt supported. The more I intentionally put into the community I was building, the better the content became, and the more members of the community felt supported.

How you talk about yourself deeply affects your perspective. Throughout the year, I've seen a link between my own thoughts and the quality of my life. Early on, I was vocal about my doubts and insecurities, which was negatively affecting my own mental health. As students became peers, I've been provided with the opportunity to view my work through others' eyes. This has had such a profound impact on me.

Let go of certainty. We all make plans. They look great on a whiteboard, a spreadsheet, or in that fancy new digital startup tool. All plans go awry in some way. Our ability to adjust, know that things will go wrong, and stay committed is what makes the best things. Letting go of the plans I've made and pivoting in-the-moment has resulted in the most fruitful conversations and interactions I've had in a long time.

Do the right thing. It's been an intense year. When I had planned to scale my business, I knew I had to put things on pause. While I was personally feeling pressure to keep pushing my work forward, the world was on fire. There were simply more significant, more important things to get involved in than work. The decisions to slow down ensured I focused on what truly mattered; compassion, appreciation, justice, equity, and real relationships.

I'm so fortunate to have these humans in my life. So many have quickly moved from learner to peer. They've practically forced me to take time each day to reengage with who I am, and that has provided me the space to find my voice again. I feel energized, creative, and empowered.

I am forever grateful for this gift they've given me.

Special thanks to Sarah Mills, Brandy Porter, Greg Storey, Joshua Bullock, Ellis Givens, Andy Morales, Danijela Filip, Lucas Coelho, Susan Price, Matthew Stephens, Salomé Mortazavi, Nguyet Vuong, Maz Andrews, Peter Uzzi, Owen Hodda, Chris Wilkinson, Stu Smith, Jaida Regan, Keith Aric Hall, Vickie Culbertson, and the rest of the SWD alumni. You're amazing.

What I’ve learned from teaching design leaders

Every day presents an opportunity for reflection, but this week, what I've learned from my students over the last year really matters. Here's what they've taught me.