2019 – A Year in Review

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Nearly every time I sit down to write a blog post, I think I know exactly what it’s going to be about. I title the document, map out the path from start to finish in my head, and begin typing. It never fails, though, that at some point—usually within the first paragraph or two—my carefully thought out plan veers off in an unexpected direction.

This post, for instance, was going to strictly be a year-in-review, bullet point list of statistics and accomplishments that would serve as evidence that I used my time well. That the progress is possible mantra I’ve been touting for half the year is, in fact, true.

That was my plan, and I had that list compiled and ready to go: the number of books read, blog posts written, Facebook videos shared. Tallies of word counts and completed manuscript drafts and researched literary agencies. But even though many of these things are indeed both proof of progress and achievements worth celebrating, I realized as I looked back at my goals for 2019 that they weren’t focused on these figures but instead, on three words: courage, connection, and consistency.

Aided by my life and business coach at the end of 2018, I had discovered a bible verse that both spoke to me and included my three focus words and which then became my theme for 2019: “For God has not given me a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power [courage], love [connection], and self-discipline [consistency].” – 2 Timothy 1:7 (I added the bracketed words.)

Reflecting on the year with this theme in mind—reading journal entries and flipping through my planner—I don’t seem to have grown or progressed at all. Many of the things I struggled with at the beginning of the year—fear, doubt, timidity, inconsistency—are still things with which I continue to struggle. And yet they look different somehow. Like the slow evolution of a changing landscape, they have shifted, and my perception has shifted along with them.

As I continued to read and reflect further, I began to wonder if my notion of what progress should look like was also in need of some adjustment. A part of me thought (and hoped) that by homing in on these specific challenges, I could erase them from existence. That there would come a day or a moment, complete with an exclamatory “A-HA!” when I would be wholly released from their clutches. But as it turns out, that’s not how it works.

Despite my determination, 2019 didn’t see me reaching this zenith of progress, this imagined place of tangible growth. But what I have learned throughout the year is this: these struggles, these seemingly unrelenting internal hang-ups and obstacles—born out of experiences and circumstances and failures (and even successes)—are as much a part of us as our DNA and extracting them would mean losing a vital piece of who we are.

I’ve learned that while total eradication would be nice, it’s not plausible. What is possible, though, is learning to thrive despite, or sometimes because of our difficulties. It’s determining to overcome their power over us and remembering that although we may not have had a choice in many of the situations that created some our biggest hindrances, we DO get to choose what we do with them. If nothing else, it is in the knowledge and acceptance of this fact that I have grown. Maybe that’s not necessarily progress as I had envisioned it, but it is definitely perspective.

In what area(s) of your life have you gained perspective in 2019?

The ABCs of a Purposeful WIP Final Thoughts

This picture of my office white board represents over half a year of work. Many of those countless hours were spent brainstorming and writing and editing for what started out as a tiny seedling of an idea back in May and grew into an entire series complete with thirty-one blog posts (including this one) and thirty Facebook videos.

But The ABCs of a Purposeful WIP series wasn’t only about words and videos. It was about offering encouragement to anyone who struggles with reaching goals. It was about proving to myself (and therefore, to you) that progress and self-growth are indeed possible. Because as much as I was tempted to fall in to my old habit of starting something new with fresh motivation and energy only to wind up quitting, I didn’t. I stayed with it. And as a reward, I did accomplish goals, I did move out of the stale comfort zone that I had allowed myself to sink into, and I did learn and grow more than I had in years.

I learned that I am capable of more than I thought, but discovering those capabilities requires enough courage and confidence to test the borders of the mundane and the mechanical. Growth doesn’t come from feeding new goals with stagnant routines. It is born out of determination and the decision to try something different.

During the months and months that I struggled to make progress on my novel manuscript, I would repeatedly write word count goals on my calendar only to watch them slip away unattained. It wasn’t until I dared to share my journey on an author Facebook page and a blog and weekly video updates (thereby making myself accountable to others) that I started to see real progress. By reaching outside of my predetermined limits, I finally found the fortitude to move forward.

Unfortunately, change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience and perseverance and practice. It takes humility to accept that although small steps are best, they equal slow progress. When I recorded the first Facebook video in the series, I knew it wouldn’t be great. I’ve never been fond of public speaking (nor any good at it) and although there was no live audience, I still got nervous and anxious and worried about what I would say.

But I pushed through thinking it would get easier after a few weeks. Not so much. It took me about twenty-six weeks to see minor improvement, and even then, my level of discomfort only went from complete to mild. Small steps, slow progress. The key is to keep going, to look back one day and see that all those small steps actually added up to one giant leap.

The point I’m trying to make, my dear friends, is the same today as it was thirty weeks ago: progress is possible but we must be purposeful in order to make it happen. We must take the time to know ourselves. To understand our mindsets and motivations. To clearly define our big dreams and goals and callings. To identify the obstacles that tend to hold us back, as well as the supporters that will help us up when we fall.

It’s important to know these things and how they impact you, so that if your life has been taken over by others, you can learn to Build Balanced Boundaries. Or if it’s simply a matter of complacency, you can get out of that comfort zone by Daring to Do Different. Or if you’re like me, you can find a way to Quit Quitting on yourself.

Whatever it is that keeps you from accomplishing the things you want to do or growing into the person you want to be or living the life you want to live, I encourage you to be intentional in identifying it (What is it?), diligent in dissecting it (What is it made of? Where did it come from?), and mindful in manipulating it (What can you learn from it? How can you grow from it?). That is the recipe for self-knowledge. That is the path toward personal development. That is the definition of a purposeful work-in-progress.

Christmas Movie Nostalgia

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

This is a season steeped in tradition for our family (as it is, I’m sure, for many of yours). From the foods we eat, to the treats we bake, to the ornaments and decorations that grace our tree and home. There’s music and gatherings, gift exchanges and Christmas light tours, and of course, all the movies.

One of my favorite things to do is set aside a chunk of a December Saturday to stage a Christmas movie marathon. A stay-in-pajamas, wrap-up-in-blankets, veg-on-the-couch-with-popcorn-and-warm-drinks kind of day. Unfortunately, for varying reasons over the last many years, finding an available stretch of free time for such things has been difficult, so our marathon movie tradition has morphed into more of a piecemeal sprint—taking in those we enjoy most whenever our schedule allows.

Although movies, in general, are powerful in their inherent ability to transport us into different times and worlds and experiences, for me it is Christmas movies, with their nostalgia-inducing effectiveness, that can magically return me to certain points in my life.

Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original cartoon classic) reminds me of Christmases past, when I would look for the listing in the TV Guide so I wouldn’t miss its limited run. And then the year I received the VHS tape as a gift, which meant I could witness the Grinch’s miraculous Christmas transformation any time of year.

A Christmas Story takes me back to a video store in the mall (the name of which escapes me at the moment) where I bought the movie for a friend because it was her favorite. At the time, I hadn’t even known of the existence of Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun shenanigans.

Home Alone evokes an inner wistfulness that I can neither name nor pinpoint, but I imagine the reason lies Somewhere in My Memory as the John Williams’ arrangement of this song, played throughout the movie, only deepens those feelings.

Other movies that, for reasons similar to those above, tug at my sentimental heart as much as they entertain, and are therefore also on my must-see list, include:

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • Elf
  • The Year Without a Santa Claus
  • Deck the Halls
  • Debbie Macomber’s Mrs. Miracle

What are the movies and/or TV show episodes that top your annual holiday watch list?

A Purposeful WIP Zips with Zest

Over the last twenty nine weeks I’ve written about the importance of Acknowledging Accountability, Facing our Fears, and Owning our Opportunities. I’ve eXamined eXcuses and Disabled Distractions and Unpacked Uncertainty. But today’s topic may hold the most significance. Not only does it tie everything together, but without it, everything else that we may encounter on our goal-seeking journeys—the obstacles, the criticisms, the doubts—is just all the more difficult to overcome.

So, in this final installment in The ABCs of a Purposeful WIP series, I am encouraging you as a fellow purposeful work-in-progress to Zip with Zest. What do I mean by that? Well, have you ever seen someone who has a real zest for life—someone who lives with gusto and exudes joyfulness—and wished you could be more like that? Me too. The good news is, we can. It’s true that some people may just be more naturally sunny than others, but as it turns out, nature is only partially responsible for our demeanor.

Since the end of September, I’ve been writing daily in The Positive Journal and in the prompt for the first day’s entry, the author, Nancy F. Clark, states that only 60% of our happiness is determined by our genetics and circumstances. Which means we are in charge of the other 40%. So although heredity and environment do have a hand in our disposition, we also wield some power.

Trust me when I tell you that my natural 60% inclines toward negativity, so I know how difficult it is to put on a smiley face when you’re just not feeling it. But I also know that when it comes to accomplishing goals, when it comes to growing toward our best selves and living our best most purposeful lives, a positive attitude can lighten the load, making the journey easier, more meaningful, and just plain more fun.

So whether you start today or you set your sights on improving your outlook in 2020, I encourage you to at least spend some time pondering the shifts you can make in your daily life to move in the direction of zest. These shifts don’t have to be huge because even the tiniest adjustments can create a ripple effect of change. That might mean waking up thirty minutes early to work out or establishing a journaling routine or spending more time with that certain friend who always leaves you feeling energized (as opposed to the one who leaves you feeling drained) or volunteering or going to church or trading twenty minutes of screen time for an uplifting podcast.

Think about the things that give you the most joy. Think about the people who add richness to your life. Think about the habits and hobbies that bolster your energy. Each and every day is filled with a plethora choices and chances to improve that 40%, but we must be mindful, we must be diligent, we must be purposeful to make it happen.

The Gift of Presence

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Years ago, in the locker room at the YMCA as I was putting on my makeup for the day, a young woman approached me and asked if I had a brush she could use.

“A brush?” I snarled. (Side note: As I have done a lot of research on writing in the last few years, I am well aware that although it is possible to snarl when speaking, most editors prefer the “I said/she said/he said” dialogue tags, leaving it up to the following description or action to define the emotion. But I guarantee that on that day, in that locker room, those two words did indeed fly out of my mouth in a manner as snarly as The Grinch’s.)

If I had any doubt whether my cranky response sounded as outwardly harsh as it did inwardly, it was completely diminished by that unsuspecting young woman’s reaction. Her eyes registered shock, uncertainty, and maybe even a little fear. That expression didn’t leave her face even after I handed my brush to her, nor was it gone several minutes later when she came back to return the brush to me (and probably wishing the no-need-for-a-brush messy bun was a thing back then).

If you’re wondering why I responded so peevishly to such a simple request, the answer is also simple: that is the resulting effect of existing more in your own head than in the real world. I wrote last Thursday about the importance of yarding our yesterdays in the name of progress (i.e. keeping the past in the past and living in the present). But our presence is also important because a lack of it—even in a seemingly insignificant thirty-second exchange—is enough to sour what might have otherwise been an opportunity for genuine connection.

Not that I expected this woman and I to become besties had I been more mindful in that moment, but hey, stranger things have happened (like a crazy lady snarling at you for politely asking to borrow her brush). What I do know is this: to this day, I cannot remember where my mind was that morning—whether I was lost in a wasteland of random chatter or caught up in an invented story about myself or others or even rehashing something from earlier in the week that I wished I’d handled differently. But never, no matter how hard I try, can I successfully erase that woman’s horrified expression from my memory.

Perhaps it’s meant to remain forever, a reminder to wake up, to keep the internal chatter from turning into external reactions that are neither rational nor deserved. Maybe it’s a good reminder to us all this time of year. When the holly jolly season turns us into hustling bustling maniacs. When shopping lines run long and fuses run short. When it’s easy to forget that the cashier and the customer service rep and even our loved ones are right there in front of us, not wrapped up in our relentless inner to-do lists or long-held shoulda/coulda/wouldas or whatever else we allow to interfere with our attention in the present moment.

Wherever we go and whomever we encounter, it is up to us to get out of our own head and be there. Because each point of contact—whether a minute or an hour—carries with it a chance and a choice. We can be present or preoccupied. We can bring joy or junk. We can offer blessings or bah humbugs. The decision is ours.

So what kind of presence do you want to give this year?