178: Things I Learned This Year


“There’s people that don’t learn from their mistakes, people that do learn from their mistakes, and people who learn from other peoples’ mistakes — I want to be the third one.”
Nick Onken

Hello, all, and welcome back to ONKEN RADIO (previously NION Radio) where we explore the body, mind, and soul of the creative entrepreneur. My main goal is to help you take your creativity, business, and life to the next level. I love bringing inspiring guests on the podcast for some perspective on these subjects we tackle, but today I’ve got a great solo episode for you guys. 

Time moves so fast when you’re constantly enhancing your life and living creatively. When was the last time you looked back on your year as it closed and took into account all the important things you learned and changes you made? I know, life gets busy and it can be difficult to slow down and just think about everything you learned throughout the year, but it really puts things in perspective when you reflect. 

In today’s episode, that’s exactly what I’m doing — I’m going to take you on a journey through my own self-reflection and share some of the most important things I’ve learned about myself along the way. 

I’ll be honest with you guys, this year hasn’t been easy. There are a lot of ups and downs, but you know what? Such is the life of a creative entrepreneur and I wouldn’t trade the life I have for anything. My hope is that by sharing all these things I learned, you can benefit and learn from them as well and level up your creativity and life. 

I’m so excited to share what I’ve got in store for you guys today, so without any further delay, let’s jump right into the 21 of the most important lessons I’ve learned after reflecting on my life.


If you’ve been here before, you might have guessed what my first topic was going to cover. I can’t argue that I try my best to live a creative life and inspire others to do the same whenever I can. 

I want to start off this list by acknowledging that there are three types of people in this world — those that don’t learn from their mistakes, those that do learn from their mistakes, and those that learn from others’ mistakes. While I try to be the third person, too often do I find myself as the second person — and that’s okay! We are never going to have all the answers in life. 

So how do you get the answers? Well, you learn from the mistakes you make, and you keep going. 

I just want you all to know that you have a choice. You have the ability to choose which person you want to be. You are not destined to keep repeating the same mistakes throughout your life without learning from them. You can choose to observe the world around you and learn from the mistakes that others make. 

Never Stop Creating Yourself

You get to design your own life, and it’s a process that never truly ends. When you think of creators, you think of painters, designers, and artists. In reality, we are all creators. We’re the creators of our own lives and of ourselves. 

I like to think of this as a life mantra, the idea that we get to create the life we want, right down to every detail. You create the person you want to be — in relationships, in your job, in every aspect of your life. In much the same way that I’ve utilized photography as a tool to get where I’m at today, you have the ability to create the person you want to be in this world. 

Creativity is a Choice

Everything in life comes down to a choice. We have the choice to be who we want to be and become the best version of ourselves. When life gets you down and forces you into a hole of sadness or depression, you have the choice to either stay there or keep moving forward. 

You are not going to be miraculously lifted from a dark place in life, you have to actively and consciously choose to take steps to get yourself out, connect with people, and live creatively. 

Creative Capital is Currency

Something I’ve learned is that the art I create is currency. I’ve had to do a lot of bartering this past year to get experiences and to work with people that I love, and something that I learned throughout that process is that a lot of these experiences and opportunities came from utilizing the talents I have as currency. Never underestimate your unique abilities as something you can use to gain experience or knowledge. 

Create Your Space So That It Creates You

While I’m here talking to you, doing this podcast, I’m in my own space — one that I’ve created to reflect who I am as an individual. When you do this, you allow yourself to be inspired by the creative space which you have created. This also includes creating your surroundings for the rest of your life — your friends, your relationships, and all that stuff.

Creativity is Healing

Personally, to me, this means using photography to heal myself from the fear of judgment. Whatever it may look like for you, creativity can be such a powerful and healing element in your life. No matter what you’re trying to heal or improve in your life, by creating you are being proactive, and you’re creating with intention. 


This is a great segue into another huge thing I’ve learned — how important healing is. There are so many things in life that we can use to heal ourselves, and so many aspects of ourselves that we may not even be aware needs healing. 

You Are Not Your Human

When it comes down to it, guys, you are not your human. This may sound a little “out there”, but bear with me. You are a spiritual being — you are a soul in a human body, having this experience that is life in a meat suit, or ego. 

Sure, it’s our job to take care of the meat suit that is our body, but there is so much more to it than that. The ego is something that needs to be fed and to feel good about itself. There is a book I read called A New Earth by Eckhart Tole that does an excellent job explaining this concept — much better than I can. 

Your Healing is in Your Shadows

Your shadow is the dark side of your psyche. It’s the things that you don’t want to show to the world, your triggers, and the things that make you angry. 

Shadow healing is likely not a step you should take on your own. Therapy is an excellent tool you can utilize to not only discover what lies in the shadows of your psyche but to work through them in a healthy way. I talked a lot about this in episode 162 where I did Ayahuasca down at Rythmia, which was an incredible experience for me, so check that out if you want to learn more.

Psychedelics Are Healing

I spent most of my life with the mentality that drugs are bad and you shouldn’t do them. That was until I read How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. I highly recommend reading this one because it really changed my perspective on the distinction between drugs like cocaine and heroin, and plant medicine that has such incredible healing potential like LSD and psilocybin. 

Self-Care is Important

Everyone talks about self-care, but what is it really? It is such a huge, important thing to remember in life, and it goes further than just being kind to yourself (but that’s important, too). 

Self-care is taking the time to sit down and process your thoughts and emotions. It is allowing yourself to meditate and feel, to learn and grow, and to relax and get that much-needed massage. This goes back to making an active choice because you have to choose to take care of yourself and give your body and mind the things it needs. It’s all about being joyful and doing the things you love. 

Reinvention is Part of the Human Process

Human beings must evolve over the course of time. I know I’ve had to reinvent myself many times throughout my career. The photography industry is not what it used to be, and it takes a proactive attitude to change as the world around you does. 

As a creative, you have to constantly evolve and consciously create your own career. Every day you have to wake up and create yourself — the version of yourself you want to be — and that includes every aspect of your life.

Relationships Are Your Greatest Mirror

This couldn’t be more true. I’ve been in my fair share of relationships, some good and some bad, but you know what? I’ve learned something from all of them. 

Sometimes relationships pressure cook things out of you that you need to work on, and sometimes they teach you what you value in partnership with another person. It may not be the easiest to see right after a breakup, but there is always something valuable you can learn about yourself from a relationship. 

Letting Go

It can be immensely difficult to see things from a different perspective when you’re in emotional pain after a breakup or when you discover things about yourself you know you need to work on. That’s precisely why it’s so important to learn how to let things go. 

This Too Shall Pass

Getting yourself out of darkness takes such a huge amount of work. I can speak from experience when I say that because I went through a pretty bad breakup not long ago and it set into motion this sort of existential crisis for me. You know, “what is the meaning of life?” and things like that. I’ve probably read more books over the past few years than I have in my entire life. 

One of the biggest things that helped me through my darkest times was repeating this simple mantra: this too shall pass. You’re going to get through this, you’re going to come out on the other side. Maybe we don’t all have total control over the things that happen to us, but we always have control over our perspective. 

Untethering is the Key to Life

Attachment is what creates resistance, and if there’s one thing I hate having in my life it’s resistance. Hanging on to things creates resistance, and resistance creates stress. Stress ages you and makes you sick over time, so I think I’ve subconsciously been untethering myself throughout my life because I hate to feel stressed and uneasy. If you are able to resolve an issue with someone, don’t waste time by holding on to grudges because that will only hurt your body in the end. If something simply can’t be resolved, you have to learn to let it go. 


About a year ago I read a book that completely changed my life called Becoming Supernatural by Dr. Joe Dispenza. To boil it down, he talks about how energy becomes matter and matter is what manifests in this world. 

And you can actually manipulate this energy through meditation and by being in the present moment. You can use this energy to your advantage by shifting your thoughts. When you have negative thoughts it causes chemical reactions which then cause your body to actually release chemicals into your body. So by dwelling on negative emotions and thoughts, you’re making yourself sick because your body is releasing toxic chemicals. 

Our Bodies Are Energy

Everything we make, whether it’s photography or painting or anything else, is all energy flow. It’s all about connecting to the deeper world around us — creating moments with the ones we love and care about from the inside out. A big part of this process is learning how to process your emotions, which is something I’m still learning how to do and is something that is much easier said than done. 

Intention really is everything. When you combine positive intention with things like gratitude you can accomplish so many big things in life, and you start manifesting the things you want in life because you’re vibrating at a frequency that attracts the things you want. I know you’ve heard it before, but it’s so true. 

There you have it, guys — the most important things I learned this past year. Life is all about remaining mindful and doing things with positive intention. No matter what you’re going through, you always have to power to change your perspective and see the world through a new lens. 

Identity Alchemy Will Teach You Even More Lessons

Alchemy is defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.

With that being said, I define Identity Alchemy as the process of deconstructing who you don’t want to be in order to realize who you want to become. 

Through it, you’ll be able to identify your shadows or the things you don’t want to be true about you and shed them slowly. I believe that the deconstruction process of life and your inner world is such a huge piece of understanding who you are so that you can curate who you want to become. In general, I noticed for myself that the more inner work that I do — the deeper shadow work that I do to understand myself — the better life becomes towards the path of wholeness.

I really hope you learned something from this episode. Each year presents new challenges to overcome but through overcoming those challenges we learn valuable lessons about ourselves and the world around us. 

Don’t forget to check out my website where you can find a quick ten-question quiz designed and get some of my best free content to help you out on your creative journey.

Thank you so much for joining me today! If you enjoyed this episode please screenshot it and post it to Instagram and tag me, @nickonken. And if you’ve got time, leave me a review on Apple Podcasts! I’d love to hear your feedback.

Nick Onken

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“You are a spiritual being having a human experience in, like, a meat suit.”
Nick Onken

Some things we learn in this podcast:

  • How Nick got himself out of a depression [5:30]
  • Should psychedelics be considered drugs [8:10]
  • Ways psychedelics can be used to rewire the brain [9:00]
  • What is the shadow of your psyche [12:00]
  • How ayahuasca can be therapeutic [13:00]
  • Nick’s experience growing up in a religious family [13:50]
  • How to untether from your thoughts. [17:00]
  • How to create life balance [17:45]
  • What self-care is [24:00]
  • Nick’s goals for the new year [34:35]

Links Mentioned:

A FREE email series to create a personal visual brand authentic to who you are.

  • Accelerate your personal brand growth through the Identity Alchemy Method
  • Discover the authentic stories you want to share with your audience
  • Build your personal brand vision and crystallize it with a photoshoot
  • Learn how to ideate and create storytelling visual assets to enhance and up-level your personal brand
  • .. PLUS! You’ll get access my brand building book recs and favorite resources

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