A short list of what I learned in 2021. It’s raw, it’s real, and it’s just my truth. Not in any particular order.
1. The best work is personal
My most profound lessons weren’t Instagrammable or Tik Tok worthy. The best work — the heart wrenching, challenging, and most powerful work happened in private. That work doesn’t have an audience. It’s the wrestling with your faith, the convictions, the honest reflection — these are the things that change and make you new.
Don’t be mad when it feels like you have nothing to post about. It’s fine. You’re still growing and learning, people just don’t know about it. It’s cool.
Instagram likes are not the barometer for a fully lived life.
2. Playing small doesn’t help you build the life of your dreams
Earlier this year, I found a career coach. It was rather serendipitous. I was at a crossroads. I could stay at a job that was just fine— paid well, was extremely flexible, but felt rather limiting, boring, and quite frankly toxic, or— I could make a change. We also decided we wanted to start trying to have a family. It made sense to stay given the perks of the flexibility so I could focus on the next chapter of my life, motherhood.
A good friend of mine introduced me to her friend, an ex-executive, now career coach, and I sat in a preliminary session with her. I rattled off all the dreams swimming in my brain— family, career, personal freedom, income— I wanted everything. And I felt bad for wanting it.
After listening to my rambling, my now career coach asked me why it was so uncomfortable for me to want it all. She wisely asked me what good it was doing me to play small. It was clear— I desperately wanted to build this big, expansive life— bigger than I thought I was able and allowed to have.
That blew my mind. For most of my life, it felt impossible to dream for everything. By playing small, I was offering very little to the world around me. Not just for myself, but for the people around me, the women who look up to me, the partner who believes in me, or even my future kids who would one day ask me why I didn’t try for more.
Since then, I’ve decided I will try to find the best support system— whether it be resources, career, friends, family, or otherwise to help me live as big as possible. I’m not letting anything hold me back.
3. Home is where the heart is
In February, Charles and I moved into our first home. Building this space has been such an incredible joy for me. I’ve lived in several places in the last 10 years— dorms, dingy apartments, nicer apartments, with friends, with my partner— but nothing has felt as good as living in my house.
I understand buying a home is a privilege. I’m grateful for it. But I wish I had taken the time to make every space I’ve lived in, especially after living in my home, feel like it was mine, permanent, built for me.
When a place feels like home, it creates this incredible sense of safety. I like that feeling. I always want to feel that way in my living space.
4. Waiting can be really annoying.
I’m notoriously inpatient when it comes to, well, anything. But this year, I had to wait for our house to finish, furniture to come in, COVID to end, and let’s say I don’t love it. And that’s just the small stuff.
I recently discovered one of my saboteurs is restlessness. I hate sitting in my season. I want to move on. I want to be on to the next big thing. But these are the good ol’ days. These are the days we’ll crave. We’ll crave time, rest, and even some of the situations and laughs of these days. Learning to sit uncomfortably in your season, even if you’d do anything to be in the next one, teaches us how to practice gratitude.
Be kind to yourself as you itch for the bigger and better, “on to the next” thing. Right now is for you, too.
5. Setting boundaries is the key to peace.
As a people pleaser, boundary setting will be an ongoing work for me. But I’m learning personal peace (whether or not people see it that way), is the thing I will relish the most. It means showing up and knowing you’re choosing what you’ve prioritized as number one. I believe this looks different for everyone.
As a Christian, this may feel a little counterintuitive— especially if you’re spent your whole life believing putting others over yourself is the key to heaven.
For me, my boundary line is drawn for my inner peace (mental health) and my nuclear family. Those two things are the most sacred. By choosing these two things intentionally, I’ve found more peaceful days than not. I’m going to pick peaceful days every time.
I will always look for the ways to be heaven on earth for the people around me. Maybe it will mean dropping everything for someone, sacrificing my short term comfort for the person I love, but never at the cost of my mental health or the health of my home.
6. I think the secret to love is alignment. Or a willingness to get there.
When Charles’ father passed away this year, we had an unspoken understanding while we navigated our loss.
In our early days of dating, one of the first things we talked about was how he wanted to care for his parents when they were older. He asked me then, if I was in. I hazly agreed because I wanted life with Charles. In practice, it has been a lot more complicated than it appeared in those early days of romance.
Life will show you what you prioritize. In our most difficult season yet, we’ve had to trust each other. I’ve really had to trust him. We had to agree to show up, even if we weren’t talking about it out loud, at every moment.
I’ve said time and time again in this season that if it wasn’t for this original alignment of values, of how we wanted to show up together— I think our marriage could have very easily been rocked.
I think the truth can be said for many other things— having kids, experiencing a job change, navigating a complex family dynamic.
Alignment is everything. If you don’t value the same things, if you haven’t talked about what you value, you will always find yourself in the same uncomfortable rut.
7. Time is not guaranteed.
Live your best life, now. Don’t keep putting things off. This year, I saw how a matter of minutes can change the whole trajectory of someone’s life.
Your whole earth can be taken from right under you.
Prioritize. Do the things you say you’re waiting to do. Tell people you love them. Get your affairs in order, especially if you have other people at stake.
This year, we were hit with some doozies. Tragedies, discomfort, and everything in between. I found myself multiple times at airports, when that morning when I woke up, I never imagined getting on a plane that day.
It’s really easy to get bitter when life throws you curveballs. But curveballs happen. They happen to everyone. Make space for them. Accept they may rock you off balance. It’s okay.
8. Your nuclear “family” matters (whatever that looks like)
This year, I’ve learned everyone else is prioritizing themselves, so you should be too.
My nuclear family is Charles and Pickles (for now). After 2021, I will be prioritizing their needs over all of yours. I’m sorry, I may love you, but I love them more. I need to choose them more, even if it’s not in my nature to do so.
Loving Charles may be obvious to you. But this year, I have learned how deeply in love I am with this dog of mine, Pickles. She is my family. She is one of my priorities. Her needs matter to me, how people treat her affects me, and I will do as much as I can to make sure she’s comfortable.
Look, I don’t have a rap for being an animal person. I don’t care if people think I’m stupid. She is a piece of my heart. Just like Charles’ is.
9. Not everyone will value what you value. You won’t value what other people value. It’s cool.
Life has taught me that even the people closest to you may not care about what you care about. To me, my relationships, my ongoing growth journey, and living a life of integrity and honor— are number 1.
That means if someone else is valuing something else, I am going to prioritize what I value in how I show up in a situation. That might mean taking the shorter end of the stick because I care more about my values than I do about the situation.
This may be confusing. But remember this, you should show up in every place in the world with your values at your side. Your values should drive you. They should help you find your north star, wherever you are.
10. Routines can be extremely grounding.
They tell you this about dogs and babies. Routines create order and structure for our little friends. I also have learned they help me find footing when I feel out of whack.
My routine looks like this— a morning physical activity, breakfast (either a smoothie or a bowl of yogurt), quiet time with Jesus, and a later start to my workday. When all else fails, these things can help me get back on track when I feel out of sync.
11. Movement is underrated.
I’ve always been relatively active. I’ve been maintaining a workout practice for many years, but I never really learned to appreciate it till 2021.
The truth is, most of my life, I’ve been trying to be a certain size or weight that I’ve never been able to be. This year, I focused on endurance, strength, and just feeling more energized. In doing so, I’ve felt slightly more comfortable in my skin and more alive.
Move your body. If you’re scared to do it, start with something simple like 15 minutes of walking. Then move to something else. Find something you enjoy. Stretch. I think our bodies will thank us later.
12. Mindful eating actually works.
This may be TMI, but I don’t have the most regular digestive track. I often feel sick after even a day or two of unhealthy eating or binging. I love to eat, don’t get me wrong. My favorite things are fried or sweet, or both. I love fried chicken sandwiches.
The best thing I’ve done this year is be mindful about balance. I’m the annoying person making a healthy dish for a holiday party. I try to prioritize plant based options as much as I can— especially on a day of indulgence. It’s helped my tummy tremendously.
13. Rest is critical, even if you don’t think you need it.
Literally. Do the things that revive you and do them often. Don’t slip on this. We are all constantly running on fumes and if it means you need to spend 3 days laying on the couch to recharge, just do it.