20 Things I Learned in 2014

I was inspired by Emily Freeman’s post of this same title. Here goes:

1. I can do many things, but not all things. For example, I kicked major butt on my dissertation, but that also meant that I sat quite a bit, and thus gained some weight. Initially I beat myself up about this, but then the cause and effect nature of life occurred to me, and I let it go.

2. Saying no may be the kindest thing I do, for myself and for others. This year I became acutely aware of how much I over-schedule myself (and sometimes my family) because I never want to miss out on an opportunity or neglect a relationship. But, when I’m taxed by being too busy, I am no good to anyone and sometimes even double-book myself only to have to cancel on someone anyway, causing me even more stress and guilt. Better to wait a tick before answering and possibly say no than to be unreliable and/or have a nervous breakdown.

3. I love Motown. While hanging out with my fabulously cool parents, we were listening to one of their favorite radio stations that was playing nothing but Motown for that morning. It made me feel so wonderful to hear those powerful voices singing about love, heartbreak, and dancing in the streets, that I pulled up Pandora’s Motown station and have been listening to it daily ever since.

noTV4. TV bums me out. This past year I binged on shows like USA’s Suits and ABC’s Scandal, and while it seemed great at the time, it left me feeling blah, and then kind of bummed. Lately I haven’t been watching tv much at all, saving my screen time for things I truly enjoy, like old movies. Even then I only watch a movie every other day, or maybe an episode of The Wire with my husband in the evening. Lessening my tolerance for television has made me feel more creative, energized, and simply more happy.

Voltaire5. It is better to have a messy product than a perfect idea. Every writer has their own process, but I have learned that it is better for me to hammer out something, anything, than to just mull over potential ideas or strategies for too long. I wrote five chapters of my dissertation in about six months by reading the text, creating an annotated bibliography of critical sources, and drafting and revising a chapter each month. That first draft wasn’t great, but as Hemingway said in his oh-so-Hemingway style, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I’m proud that I was able to churn out my longest work yet in a timely manner, and I’m sure it’s still far from “perfect,” but “perfect” isn’t my goal; the completed book is.

6. I love being 30. Although some of the anxieties and self-consciousness that permeated my 20s still creep in, when I really let myself be in the present moment of my life, I absolutely love it. I love teaching, being a mom, having a house. Sure it was easier to get the gym and go to a movie on a Wednesday night during my 20s, but my 30s are proving to be much more fulfilling.

7. I have to decide if I want more money or more fulfillment. Finishing up my PhD brings me to an important crossroads in my life: do I continue to teaching at the university, despite its financial uncertainties, or do I look for a private sector job where I may do less meaningful work but have greater certainty and regular hours? I’m still uncertain of which road I will end up on, but I am choosing to have faith that God will steer me where I should go, which leads me to my next lesson:

BeNotAfraidLyrics8. I can only control so much, which ain’t much. One of the greatest stressors in my life is a fear of failure. I worry that if I don’t get the best job possible in the least amount of time possible, I will be a tremendous failure, no matter what the job market looks like or, more importantly, what God might want from me. My desire for control and achievement, though so destructive, is strong, and I feel God always trying to pry my fingers free from my own throat. Luckily He isn’t giving up, and through the people and experiences of the past year, I am slowly but surely letting go.

9. I need a schedule. I am the kind of person who needs to get up at the same time every day and go through the same routine with only minimal variations. Flexibility is a gift, and it is simply not one of mine. Or, perhaps I can be flexible with other things as long as there are certain other “knowns.” By having a routine I am able to free up my mind for more important endeavors, like writing, instead of less important thoughts, like, “When am I going to the gym? I should really get to the gym. Crap, I forgot to my vitamin. When should I clean the house?” For me, routine = mental freedom.

10. I can kindly but firmly assert my own needs. My husband and I compliment each other well. When I’m upset at about something, he is good about looking at the other side of the issue so that I can gain perspective. He’s also incredibly supportive. But, he enjoys a schedule that is very different from mine. I’m more of a 6 AM-10PM person (well, 9:30PM often finds me reading until I fall asleep) and he’s a midnight-20 minutes before work kind of guy. We’re simply built differently, so wanting him to get up earlier is just as selfish as him wanting me to stay up late. By kindly asserting our own preferences, we accept each other and avoid needless frustration.

11. I want a hobby. I’m not sure yet if I’ll go back to playing piano daily or going to Zumba, but this past year I too often lost sight of FUN. From teaching to writing to parenting to cleaning to everything else that makes up daily life, I rarely just did something for the fun of it, whether it was playing Candy Crush or actually printing out all the pictures I take and making a scrapbook. So, in 2015, I’m having some fun.

12. I am surrounded by wonderful people. I am so blessed by the people around me. I am part of an amazingly kind and generous church family, I work with some insightful, dedicated scholars who are also great parents and supportive friends, and loving family members and friends who are like family. I have been able to maintain some of the greatest friends a gal could ask for while also meeting and developing new relationships this year, and my life has been enriched because of each and every one of them.

13. Only Bill keeps me from having a kennel rather than home. Between Facebook and Instagram, I am in dog-lover overload. I absolutely adore our two dogs and any time I see a picture of a dog who needs a good home I immediately want to adopt her. We don’t have the room or money for more dogs, which Bill asserts, thus keeping me from becoming one of those people who is one day found with 20+ animals in their home.

StatlerandWaldorf(2)14. I am too judgmental. I have been more aware of my judgmental nature this year than any other. It’s been an odd experience to watch myself be nasty about other people’s decisions, and I’m over it. It’s just not who I want to be. In her hilarious book, Mindy Kaling talks about how her The Office co-star Steve Carrell would walk up to a group of actors who were making fun of someone, and he would walk away because that’s just not something he wanted to be a part of. That’s stuck with me because I’d rather be like that, and in 2015, I will be.

15. I will continue to rearrange furniture on a monthly basis. This habit has been remarked on by many of my nearest and dearest, and for a while I questioned if there wasn’t some deep, dark reason why I am so often rearranging the furniture in my house. I concluded that there isn’t some Freudian explanation, and really it’s just a fun way to exercise some creativity and give the house a cheap face-lift. It’s my right and I’m a-gonna-do-it.

16. I like self-help books and I will read them. I went through a deep-shame phase about my love of self-help books this year. I noticed that I almost always buy them on my Kindle so that no one else sees what I’m reading, like self-improvement is some kind of vice that must be hidden from even those who know me best. Well, I say nuts to that. I like to be inspired, encouraged, and challenged, and these books do that for me.

17. My daughter is always watching. It is overwhelming how much I love my little girl, and what is almost as overwhelming is her love for me and her desire to do the things that I do. When I put on makeup, she wants to put on makeup. When I eat something, she wants to eat it. And, most importantly, she links us in our likes and dislikes, saying things like, “We like the color purple. We don’t like football.” She also connects with our shared gender, claiming that “Girls like purses” or “Boys can’t wear dresses.” While I recognize that she is trying to understand navigate her world, I see how important it is for me to set a good example. Do I want her to worry when she looks in the mirror? Do I want her to judge other people or accept them? It has been humbling to see myself through her eyes, and in 2015 I will continue to try to set a good example.

18. I can do more than I think I can. I get overwhelmed easily and find myself saying “I just can’t” when in fact I not only can but should. A great example of this is an article I wrote this semester about a text that had nothing to do with my dissertation. Between teaching two different classes at the university and writing my dissertation in one year, I didn’t think I could pull off writing a seemingly random article, even if it was great for my CV and an important professional experience. Still, I was able to write the article and complete all of my other work in addition to eating and sleeping fairly regularly, thus leading me to conclude that I really can do more than I think can, and, moreover…

Basic RGB19. It is vitally important to look at the present moment rather than the big picture. I know, I know, this is the opposite of what we usually say. But this year I noticed that I too often list off all the major projects I have going on rather than simply looking at what I need to get done on a given day or even in a given week. When I found myself dwelling on a seemingly insurmountable number of pages to be written and assignments to be graded, I feel hopeless. But, when I made reasonable daily goals, I not only felt better, but I often got my work done with time to spare. By asking myself “What do I need to get done today?” rather than looking at my larger goals, I allowed myself to succeed on a regular basis and vastly improved my work life.

Sunrise20. I shouldn’t be embarrassed about my faith. I am not particularly evangelical, and I grow shy when I talk about God or Jesus; in fact, I find myself whispering both of those words, as if I were “bleeping” myself. I could attribute this to any number of reasons, but I recognize that it’s neither genuine nor right for me to silence my faith in favor of making others or myself more comfortable. I go to church, I pray (not often as I should, certainly), and I read religious texts, but I rarely feel comfortable posting about these things on Facebook or talking about them with non-church family members. There is more about this that I should explore next year, but the root lesson for this year is that my faith is a good thing, and I shouldn’t be ashamed of it.

Writing these 20 lessons has been a great way to reflect on the past year. It also helped me cultivate a sense of gratitude for the past and present, and inspiration and motivation for the future. Highly recommend.

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