What I Learned in 2017

What I Learned in 2017

It’s true what they say, life really does speed up with each passing year. I could have sworn that I just pressed Publish on What I Learned in 2016, and here I am sitting down to reflect on yet another year.

It’s funny to think about what has changed in the last twelve months, and what hasn’t. Most of my life circumstances have remained the same: we haven’t purchased a house, we still have an only child with no more on the horizon, I haven’t gotten around to weaning my toddler, we’re still only talking about getting a dog—all things I thought might look different this December. But there HAVE been changes: in our family dynamic (it’s better), my approach to life (it’s less uptight), and most notably, in me.

2017 wasn’t my best year. I started out at an emotional high point but quickly and unexpectedly spiraled into a place of anxiety and depression. I was plagued by crippling self-doubt and allowed my thoughts and actions to be driven by fear. But the story has a happy ending. God used this low point to teach me some powerful lessons and to mold me into a happier and healthier person. It hasn’t been easy, and I still have a long way to go, but I’ve grown up a lot in the past year. I could write a novel about the lessons I’ve learned in this short span of time, but I’m limiting myself to just forty (which I realize is still a ridiculously large number; I will consider your indulgence in my verbosity a late Christmas gift to me!).

A brief note on the pictures: these photos, from our annual family photo session, have almost nothing to do with the items in this list. But I’m excited about how they turned out and wanted to share them; this end-of-year recap seemed like an appropriate place.

Things I Learned About Myself . . .

1. I am capable of doing hard things.

This year I made some necessary but formidable changes to some unhealthy habits. I had a few terrifying conversations. I confronted many of my personal demons. Every one of these things was difficult for me, which is why I hadn’t done them sooner; but they were worthwhile, and accomplishing them empowered me to tackle similar challenges in the future. 

2. For me, right now, weekly therapy sessions are necessary and beneficial.

I’ve always been a big advocate of personal therapy. In the past I’ve logged many hours “on the couch”, but I’d been doing life sans therapist for a few years. That changed this summer when it became clear that I needed to seek professional help. I have grown so much in a short time with my therapist; I am happier and healthier, and consequently I’m a better mom, wife, and person. Luke and I both agree that this has been the best investment we could make right now for our family.

3. I engage in a lot of black-and-white thinking.

This has been my biggest takeaway from my time with my therapist. I am starting to recognize how frequently I engage in this all-or-nothing way of looking at the world, and I’m learning how to reframe my perspectives.

4. I am more like other people and less like other people than I think.

Gretchen Rubin cites this as one of her Secrets of Adulthood, and this year I finally began to realize the truth behind the statement. I enjoy studying people—in real life, and also those I come across on podcasts, in books, or on television—and the more I learn, the more I’m able to recognize the ways we are all the same. At the same time, as I grow older and learn more about myself, I’ve grown more aware of the ways I am unique—there are aspects of me and my personality that nobody else shares or could understand. I’m learning to become more comfortable with those differences instead of resenting them. 

5. Going analog enhances my spiritual experiences.

After a few years of being completely digital with my reading and journaling, I’ve started to miss the analog life, especially during my times with God. In the past couple of months I’ve reverted to physical devotionals (like, actual BOOKS!) and journaling letters to God by hand, rather than on a computer. And it’s made my time with God so much richer. 

6. I’m not good at asking people for help. 

I took on a role at our church last spring that required me to recruit new volunteers each week. It quickly became apparent that this job was NOT a good fit for me, because I experience very high anxiety at the thought of requesting assistance. I realize that this is an area I need to work on; for now, I’m finding other ways to serve at church that don’t induce weekly panic attacks.

Lesson on Habits and Productivity . . .

7. I don’t have a time shortage, but I do have a limited supply of energy.

I tend to live in stress mode (I always have) and feel like I don’t have enough time in my day to accomplish all that I want to do. In examining my schedule I’ve noticed that I have plenty of time, I just don’t always have the motivation or energy to tend to important tasks. I’m learning how to better manage my energy, tackling the most important jobs in my peak-energy hours and letting myself off the hook when my energy stores are low.

8. “What would this look like if it were easy or fun?”

I heard this question posed on a Tim Ferriss episode and it’s made a huge difference in my approach to daunting tasks. Whenever I am facing a current struggle—whether that’s talking my toddler down from a tantrum or sitting down to write a blog post that isn’t coming easily—I ask this question. Usually the answer is readily apparent and I’m able to adjust accordingly Sometimes, I realize that there is no way to make the task more endurable but just acknowledging that truth gives me the fortitude I need to move forward.

9. Find alignment before taking action.

This comes from Jess Lively and fits in with my #5. Instead of “efforting” my way through things I’d really rather not be doing, I allow myself time to relax, play, and generally forget about writing/chores/etc. until I’m in a better mental space. When I return to the task at hand, it comes much more easily to me and I’m able to accomplish it in a fraction of the time.  

10. Being productive can be more refreshing than taking a nap.

I used to be a big napper, but since becoming a mom I’ve had a hard time napping. Instead of resting while Charleston naps, I’m productive with my time. A mental weight is lifted from my shoulders when I’ve been able to work through my to-do list, and I find that I feel much better rested when he wakes up than if I’d spent the time sleeping. 

11. Planning ahead is always a fantastic idea.

Because I’m a perfectionist I often procrastinate. This year I stayed ahead on tasks like ordering Christmas cards and packing for vacation, and having a bit of a time buffer proved immensely satisfying. 

12. Take the time to do it right the first time

After three decades of rushing through things, I (think I am) finally learning how to slow down and take my time.  

Through Being a Mom This Year I Learned . . .

13. I am not a perfect mom and I’m not a horrible mom. 

I’ve spent the last three years trying to be a perfect mom. And I’ve failed miserably, leaving me feeling like I must be the worst mom on the planet. I’m finally accepting that I am not a perfect mom or even a great mom, but I’m not a terrible mom either. I’m just a mom who is trying her best and who really, REALLY loves her kid. And for now, that’s enough. 

14. Lots of boundaries, fewer hard lines.

We have learned the hard way about the importance of rules and schedules. But I’m also learning that being a stickler about them can backfire; a little flexibility is always a good idea. 

15. Clear communication with my toddler is key.

Communication about rules. Communication about what happens when we break those rules. Communication about our daily schedule and expectations. All the talking can be exhausting, but it’s almost always worthwhile.

16. You never feel like you have arrived as a parent.

I keep waiting for that feeling that I’ve finally figured this parenting thing out. Some days I get a glimpse of it—those days where everything goes smoothly, Charleston and I are having fun and completely understanding each other, I’m totally on top of my mom game. Of course, that rarely lasts for more than an hour or so and I’m back to Square One, feeling clueless and in search of wisdom. I’m starting to realize that those feelings will probably never go away; as soon as I figure one thing out, there will be a new quandary to solve, a new stage to try to understand. That said….

17. It does get easier.

Sure, motherhood is still a never-ending lesson in understanding my child and adjusting to the continual shifts, but in general I’ve found that parenting an older toddler has been easier and less overwhelming than the baby or early toddler years. 

18. Having the right tools ups the easiness factor of mom life.

A few tools that eased my job this year included a backpack purse (not cute, but definitely more functional); a puddle jumper life jacket (no more poolside anxiety); and a set of toddler-friendly dishes (I’m still not sure why I resisted these for so long).

19. Every new stage is my favorite.

Watching Charleston grow up has brought me more joy than I could ever have imagined. Part of me always feels a little sad when he crosses a new milestone or enters a new phase, because my baby is growing up, but with each new stage I find myself proclaiming, “oh, THIS is my favorite.” And I’m wondering if every stage just keeps getting better! (Parents of older kiddos, if this isn’t true, please don’t disillusion me!)

20. Determining my parenting values makes my job much more straightforward.

Identifying the five core values I want to instill in Charleston (curiosity, faith, health, integrity, love, and wisdom) has given me a great roadmap for many of the parenting decisions I’ve made in the last few months. I’m now clear about what I want to emphasize, and which areas I’m okay with letting go. Increased clarity, decreased mom guilt.

21. Having a formula for Charleston’s meals frees up a lot of brain space.

As long as each meal contains the right components (protein, carbohydrate, fat source, dairy, and fruit/vegetable) I don’t have to worry about portion sizes or even whether or not he eats all of his food. I’ve done my part (feeding the right foods) and it’s up to him to choose whether or not to eat it.  

22. Experiencing death alongside my child is really hard.

We lost our Sunnybird this past May, and as hard as it was to say goodbye to my pet, it was that much harder to explain the loss to Charleston and witness his grief. 

Things I Learned About My Relationships . . . 

23. Vulnerability and authenticity are a good foundation for meaningful relationships.

This a recurring theme for me, on the blog and also in my real life. This year I learned a lot about what vulnerability looks like and as I opened up, so did those around me. It’s been scary and also amazing. 

24. There is power in hearing others’ stories and sharing our own

Luke and I had the chance to participate in two different community groups through our church this year. In both groups we were given the opportunity to share our full life stories and to hear the stories of our fellow group members. I found the experience of sharing my life to be cathartic and oddly empowering, and hearing from others helped me to have more empathy for people who are different from me. 

25. Good friends are a true gift.

I’m learning that friendships require a little care and attention, but investing in friendships with women who know the real me (see #23) and still love me has been an incredible blessing. 

26. I can acknowledge the good in others without discrediting myself.

In the past, when I noticed a positive attribute in a friend or even my husband, it would make me feel worse about myself. It’s taken me thirty-three years, but I’m finally learning how to appreciate others’ strengths without immediately feeling bad myself.

27. My marriage is precious and requires attention; I should not take it for granted.

This year I witnessed a family member’s marriage fall apart. The experience was a sobering reminder that relationships are fragile, and it made me realize how much I had been phoning it in with my own marriage. Luke and I were able to renew our commitment to each other, no matter what, and I have been motivated to make him my first relationship priority—and to actually demonstrate his importance in my life with both my words and my actions.

Faith Lessons . . .

28. Loving others isn’t always easy or straightforward.

When I claimed love as my word for 2017, and challenged myself to engage in monthly acts of love, I thought it would be fairly simple. This was not the case. I learned that what is accepted as loving varies according to person and circumstance, and what I might deem loving might not be received that way. I also learned that in order to love others, I need to be taking care of myself; it is hard to share love when I myself am depleted. 

29. God wants to get my attention.

God used some highly unconventional means this year to make it abundantly clear that He loves me. While I have always known this, I’ve had a hard time believing it; it’s been awesome to see how God is using others to communicate His affection for me.

30. God’s Word is powerful, and spending time in it is essential.

In my younger years, my faith seemed so straightforward, but events in our world these past few years have really shaken me up and caused me to question what I know to be true. Immersing myself in Scripture brings me back to these truths, and I need to do it every day to keep from straying too far.

31. In all seasons, at all times, lean into God. Talk with Him and trust Him.

Because this was such a hard year for me, I spent more than my usual amount of time in prayer. This book reinforced the importance of prayer and helped reshape the ways that I pray. I have found so much comfort in knowing that even when life is challenging, He is there for me. He understands my pain and He will carry me through it. 

Miscellaneous Life Lessons I Learned This Year . . .

32. It’s worth it to invest a little time and money in creating outfits I like and feel good in.

I’ve always had a hard time spending money on clothes, and felt guilty about even caring how I dressed. This book helped reframe my approach to fashion. I’m still no fashionista, but I’ve noticed that putting in a little effort does wonders for my confidence. I still don’t love shopping, so Nordstrom—with its free shipping and returns—has become my go-to source.

33. If it’s really important, it will get done. 

And if it didn’t get done, it probably wasn’t that important to begin with. 

34. It’s okay to let go of good things to make time for more important things.

This year I had to cut down my blogging output in order to spend more time with my family. Luke and I gave up watching television so that we could have dinner with Charleston. These are just a couple of examples of good things I’ve had to relinquish. The adjustment hasn’t been easy, but it’s definitely been worth it. 

35. None of us really knows what we are doing.

I’ve spent most of my life thinking that everyone else knew all the secrets to life and I’d somehow missed the memo. It’s starting to dawn on me that some people might be really good at faking it but really, we’re all pretty clueless. 

36. Cooking low-carb isn’t hard, but it is more expensive. 

This summer, when Luke told me he wanted to change the way he ate (basically a perpetual Whole 30, with the addition of legumes and some cheese), I was daunted by the idea of overhauling my cooking style. Nevertheless, I accepted the challenge and have had a lot of fun experimenting with new recipes and ways of preparing food. The only downside has been the increase in our grocery budget. 

37. Bringing meals to friends is awesome.

Many of my friends had babies this year, and I discovered that planning and preparing a special meal for their families was a great way to bless them, and surprisingly life-giving for me. I even taught myself how to coordinate a meal train; this was a fun and easy way for me to serve, and was deeply appreciated. 

38. It’s okay to buy myself flowers.

I started “splurging” on $4 bouquets for myself on my weekly grocery runs. Somehow it had never occurred to me that I didn’t need to rely on Luke to give me flowers, that I could buy them myself. I would definitely consider this money well spent. 

39. Double speed for podcasts, but no faster than 1.25 speed for audiobooks. 

After lots of experimentation, I’ve settled on this formula. It’s fast enough that I can get through all my shows and books, but not so fast that I’m missing important takeaways. 

40. Change is inevitable and will probably always be hard for me.

I said in my intro that life for our family changed little this year. However, there were a number of small changes (favorite restaurants closing, alterations to our church schedule, etc.) and I’m embarrassed by how difficult these adjustments were for me. I’m learning to anticipate changes, to give myself grace as I struggle to accept them, and to recognize that even if they’re hard, it will all be okay.

In compiling this list, I couldn’t help but notice that there was some overlap from last year. I’m tempted to view this as a failure on my part—shouldn’t last year’s lessons have been fully ingrained, thereby freeing me up to learn new things in a new year? But the learning process isn’t always linear. Time moves forward, and sometimes we have to circle back to old lessons in order to relearn them for a new season. I’m thankful for all that I learned this year, and am eager to see how these lessons play into the things God teaches me in 2018!