I didn’t expect to learn so much in my 37th year on the planet, but I really did. What I’ve learned this year is:
- Start small, keep going. Big changes happen through persistence.
- You don’t need to know the end destination when you start, just the direction. (In fact, an openness to how goals will be achieved can bring surprising results.)
- Figure out your internal voice; you can’t serve yourself or others well if you don’t know who you are.
- Being a positive influence is not always the easy choice, but it is always the right choice.
- Strive for authenticity and inclusion, not perfection and recognition.
I learned these through adversity and accomplishments. I’ve accomplished a lot in 2018, but this year has been one of incredible emotional transitions and huge challenges. When I reflect on my accomplishments for 2018, I must do so in an honest context of the difficulties (and joys) I’ve experienced this year.
Last year at this time, I was offered my dream job, with a generous raise, in the middle of a school year. I was beyond excited, and it should have forecast a year of hope and joy for our family.
I was also in more debt than I’d ever been in my adult life. I felt out of control–like I was drowning every day and failing my family as a provider. My relationship with Min was strained, though improving. My son spent Thanksgiving of last year telling me what a terrible mother I was because he felt disconnected from me. My own mother was in crisis (and didn’t share with me the extent of her pain until February). My sister and niece were still living in my basement (yes, that post is coming). And then, on top of all this one of my best friends was critically injured.
All of these events cast a shadow on my professional success and left my celebration of that and the holidays subdued. I worried I wasn’t going to live up to the demands and expectations of the job–hello, imposter syndrome!–while I also felt that I had precious few people in my life I could turn to for emotional support.
Everyone in my life needed me to be strong and stable, but I was feeling anything but.
I reached out to my Employer Assistance Program (EAP) and saw a great therapist for a few months. With her help, I realized that I needed to reconnect with my values and ruthlessly prioritize self-care that has the most impact (since I didn’t really have much time to devote to it). From that exploration, I started exercising 3-4 times per week regularly, increasing my reading for pleasure, writing regularly (this blog), and giving in ways that mattered to me.
Most of my achievements this year are a direct result of this radical commitment to my own mental health. Thankfully, the project has been working. I’m ending this year with some significant progress in my life and goals and much better connected with my own values than I was feeling around this time last year.
Here are a few highlights from 2018:
- Paid off over $11,000 of debt! We have fundamentally changed our habits regarding spending and managing money to be guided by our values. We have a small emergency fund, have opened college funds for both kids (to reduce taxes this year and in anticipation of applying for Maryland 529 saver’s grants next year), and are planning ahead with our finances rather than always being two steps behind. We still have a long way to go, but we are gathering momentum in the right direction.
- Read 84 books and counting… You can check out my “year in books” where I recorded my ratings and such. Goodreads is my favorite social media platform, and if you’d like to be my friend, please do so. That said, I’m thinking about setting a goal for quality over quantity reading for next year. I’d like to still read over 75 books each year, but I might be setting a rule where if I’m not going to rate it a 4 or 5 star, I’m allowed to quit the book (notable exceptions for any novels I am reading aloud with my children or any books I’m expected to read for work). I don’t like quitting books, because even so-so books inspire my thinking and writing and it feels “incomplete.”
- Slowed down, simplified, practiced patience. I began meditation and mindfulness as a central part of my life. I’m not perfect at this, but I’ve been digging deeper into the notion that restricting my options actually helps me feel more free to live as I choose. I’m planning to continue this journey.
- Settled into our “forever” family home. At one point in my life, I aspired to be a nomad and live abroad regularly, but several life events this year have led us to the decision that Frederick is where we want to raise our family, and that we love our house and neighborhood. This year, we replaced the roof of our townhouse, completing our list of “must do” home repair/renovation from when we moved in 2013 (we have some “want to do” items, but they will have to wait until we can pay for them in cash, with no debt). It was a foreclosure, so the list was quite lengthy and expensive. I will admit we were not really as ready financially for homeownership as we should have been when we bought, but we lucked into a great value and have been slowly DIY-ing and bargain-hunting our way to a beautiful, luxurious family home we plan to live in until our children graduate from high school and we are ready to downsize.
- Wrote 83 (and counting) blog entries! I also wrote a lot outside of the blog. I wrote journals, reflections, poetry, creative fiction, and nonfiction. Since my father passed in 2014, I’ve struggled to write–something that has always been so vital to my sense of identity and self. This writing has been healing and powerful.
There’s more, but they are harder to put into measurable outcomes: I have also developed a deeper closeness with my husband and children, though that’s hard to measure. I have a respectable fitness routine that regularly incorporates strength training, and I feel more fit than I have since before I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2009 (also, my resting heart rate seems to have lowered by about 7-10 bpm). I eat more healthfully, environmentally, and mindfully. I feel more grateful and connected to my life, even when I feel alone or stressed.
I hope to post some goals for 2019 soon, but I felt I needed to reflect on this year before I outlined my aspirations for the new year.