The Big Ones: Major Lessons Learned in 2017

I’m not sure where I’ll be by the end of 2018. John will get his graduate degree in May, and while we are dying to stay in Nashville, it all depends on his job offers for now. With that uncertainty (which, to me, is actually kind of fun and thrilling) in mind at the close of this year, I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on where 2017 has taken me.

We’ve been in Nashville since July of 2016, and even though I’m freelancing and nannying, I’ve never felt happier or more stable in my career. Even so, there has been a bunch going on. After turning 26 in November, I’m now officially past the mid-20s mark of 25; John and I have taken some huge relationship steps; I’ve traveled more than ever before; and HGTV has become one of my staple channels. I feel like I’m growing up and finally adopting this whole adult state of mind. (HGTV is obviously the biggest indicator.)

Life is in a really sweet spot right now. I know it absolutely won’t stay in this place, but for now, I’ll plan on savoring it. Here are some of my biggest takeaways from this year (and not all of them are pretty).

Things that I really, really want usually take time, persistence, or self-control. But usually, it’s all three.¬†Yeah, yeah, I should have already learned this by now. I did, but I felt like this was the year that I’ve really began to apply it regularly, especially since I’ve had so much more freedom and flexibility in my schedule. You’d think that would make getting things done easier, but really, it’s just highlighted my lack of time management skill. But, alas, I have gotten better! Small shifts help…

It’s giving up an extra hour-and-a-half of sleep some mornings to get to the gym because I’m working toward a goal of becoming stronger, and I know I won’t have the energy or drive to fit in a solid workout at the end of the day. It’s pre-making and packing lunches so I don’t Postmates a quesadilla and chips from down the street (although, some days, that’s just necessary). It’s forcing myself to brainstorm story and blog post ideas because I love to write and share stories, but I realize my consistency could use some work. It’s purposefully sharing compliments and kind words with strangers and people I love alike, since words of encouragement aren’t my strong suit but I know how powerful they can be.

I’m pretty horrible at handling conflict. Obviously no one is GOOD at conflict (unless you’re a lawyer or therapist, in which case that’s sort of your job to handle conflict well, or at least strategically). But I’ve always thought I’m more low-key and removed when it comes to conflict. It turns out…and this is embarrassing to admit…I can be a bit of a conflict instigator and very much so a passive aggressor. Ugh. I’m not saying I crave drama (unless it’s in a Bravo show, that is) in my life, but when there are bumps in the road, I’ve learned I’m not first to apologize or fix it. But I also don’t like things to fester.

So, instead of having a mature conversation with my conflict comrade right away, I dig in and direct subtle jabs their way (or go radio silent, another winning gem of a conflict tactic) until they’re forced to instigate a little chitchat with a not-so-fun version of me. I’m just going to chalk up this horrendous habit as something to recognize and work on shifting as we enter a new year.

Ideas that I create about my life will sometimes end up being so hilariously and completely wrong. I was once marriage’s biggest hater and naysayer. My parents had a gnarly divorce, so to save myself from what could be a similar fate, I decided marriage was not for me. A life partner would be cool, but I also figured I was pretty self-sufficient and independent enough to do this whole life thing on my own. And maybe, if I look extra deep inside my heart, I was also a little bit terrified that I’d never find anyone who would love me (and who I’d reciprocate those feelings for!) for an entire lifetime.

Low and behold, three-plus years into my relationship with John, I’ve learned I can be independent in a relationship, and also complement someone who is my equal, all at the same time. I haven’t made a true announcement on my blog yet, but we’re getting married next year! (CRAZY, right? Engagement story blog post, including all the mushy details, to come sometime in the near-ish future.) Five years ago, I would’ve laughed if God came down to tell me this would all happen. But I am so, so happy it has, and truly, I can’t wait to see what other things He proves me wrong about.

Worship is a necessity for my happiness. Whether it’s sitting in church, listening to God’s encouragement and words; laughing and coming together in prayer with my small group; or driving in my car, singing along (badly) to Hillsong United, there isn’t much that makes me full to the brim of pure bliss than soaking in God’s love. My small group was talking about love languages one night — mine is acts of service — and someone mentioned that, a lot of times, your love language can be applied to your relationship with God. I thought that was such a wonderful thought, and I realized it’s actually true for me.

Anytime one of my favorite songs comes on in the midst of a bad day, or a particularly stunning sunset makes its way through the clouds, or even if I happen to hit a bunch of green lights when I’m running late, I take those as little acts of kindness from God. They could simply be coincidence, but I don’t really think there’s such thing with Him. We’ll have to ask one day, but in the meantime, I always try to send up a little “Hey, thanks” to Him in those moments. Praise, mindfulness, and worship have shifted my life so much this year.

What were your biggest takeaways from 2017? How have you shifted and grown? I’d love to hear your stories from this year!

Build A Fire

Managing personal, daily responsibilities alongside creative priorities feels, to me, a lot like trying to boil water without a stove. There are ways to do it, but it takes a lot more work and resourcefulness than you’d prefer. You have to build a fire.

I go through periods of sitting in the dark often. No fire, no stove, and certainly no boiled water. But the most frustrating part is that we all have our valid reasons for these misaligned responsibilities and priorities that can lead to darkness. My reasons, for example (since I’m painfully aware of my own and have made it a sort of habit to call out my own imperfections in this space), have to do with lack of time and with other, “more important” tasks than, say, oh I don’t know, writing a chapter of a book or drafting a blog post.

Limited time and limitless tasks might not be far off base from your reasons, either. I’m pretty sure we all wrestle with time management (or just a deficit of enough time) and needing to get the *really* important things done before we get the things we’d like to do done.

For me, the stuff that comes before my personal writing projects makes up a pretty long list: clean the kitchen, walk the dog, declutter the desk, vacuum, work on freelance assignments, make breakfast, make lunch, make dinner, clean up after any given meal, work out, answer emails. I spend a good portion of the week with the little boy I nanny for. I spend a good portion of my nights reading…or watching Bravo. (Okay, mostly watching Bravo.)

Most of those tasks are simply things I need to get done to function normally and make a living, but where do the creative priorities fit in? (And they are still priorities…even if they don’t always make it on the day’s list of must-dos.) For me, I’m learning over and over again that nothing happens in an instant. Writing a book takes time. Curating content online takes resiliency and consistency.

I’m also continuing to learn my strengths: I’m a big morning lover, and that’s when my creativity and productivity are their absolute highest. So, on the days when I have a full schedule, I know I won’t get any writing in if I save it until 9 at night. (Let’s be honest, it probably won’t happen after 3 in the afternoon.) Even on days when my routine is a little slower and more flexible, a sit-down in front of my computer or with a notebook first thing can kick things off in a way more positive way than scrolling through Instagram in bed for a half hour.

Plus, at 7 a.m., I usually don’t have a sky-high to-do list full of all my responsibilities yet, and many of those can wait until later in the day anyway, when my left-brained creative madness has chilled out a little.

It really takes a degree of self-awareness and some diligence, but the necessary duties of life don’t need to constantly outweigh the fulfillment and forward motion of a side project or two. Take it from me — I’ve been learning and resisting and relearning this lesson too many times to count. Do the thing makes your soul feel less crazy — clean the kitchen, go for a run. But also make sure you do the thing that makes your soul feel set ablaze.