A look back at 2018, my year of confidence

breaking free

If you haven’t already, go back and read my last post on the words that led me to my 2018 word of the year. Those words were:

2015: Intention

2016: Perseverance

2017: Faith

At the end of 2017, I was reeling from three months that included a massive fire that devastated my hometown, a failed book release, a writing project that took my failure to a whole new level, plus the realization that I couldn’t handle the busy life I had created for myself. I was still in school, working full time at a job that was eating me alive, volunteering as a mentor at my church, and completely failing my family since I had nothing left to give.

I was broken. I questioned everything about my life. I felt like a massive failure, adding up all the years I’d dedicated to writing books and the lack of success that had come from it. I forgot about all the accomplishments I’d experienced in past years because 2017 was just so bad.

My word for 2018 became confidence, because my confidence was utterly shaken. I needed a year to get a grip and realize my worth. It wasn’t just about confidence in who I was, it was also confidence in WHOSE I was. Despite every flaw I owned as my identity, I needed to remember that I was God’s daughter, completely loved and cherished. My mistakes, my flaws, my carefully laid out plans, my intelligence or lack thereof, my job, my successes, my failures, my extra 20+ pounds, my bank account, my ideas for how I wanted my life to be, and my disappointments in how I hadn’t yet reached that bar….none of these things defined me. What defines me is that I am God’s creation and He delights in every single thing I do. He knows what I’m capable of, and is excited to see me accomplish it.

But before I could accomplish anything, before I could understand my worth, before I could get even close to feeling confident in who I am and whose I am…I needed a break.

I knew this deep down, but I didn’t know how to make this happen. So God made it happen for me. At the beginning of the year, my mother-in-law required full-time care in her home. She was returning from a care facility following surgery after a bad fall, and was confined to a wheelchair. Much of her available funds were used up, and we were running out of options.

It’s you, I heard God tell me. You’re the one who is supposed to do this.

20 years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom to my firstborn, and was getting ready to start working again. After a brief stint at as a hotel worker, I decided to take courses to become a certified nursing assistant. Over the next few years, I was able to juggle motherhood while also working at a convalescent hospital, and working as an in-home aide to the elderly.

Two decades later, God was telling me to take those skills and apply them to caring for my convalescing mother-in-law. Here’s the thing—I had a rocky relationship with my MIL. A few years ago, we got into a blowup over something, and it ended poorly. The situation was never resolved, and both of us swept it under the carpet. However, I’m deeply affected by conflict. Every single time we visited after that, I’d end the evening in a full-blown panic attack that felt something like excruciating, doubled over stomach pain, triggered by anything that started to look like an argument. And I was supposed to care for her full time, 24/7?

“I’ll do it,” I told my husband.

The result was more than I could have imagined. Yes, there were some rocky moments in the time I cared for her. We had a few arguments. There were some frustrations. But more than that, we developed a better understanding of each other. I became fond of her, and protective of her well-being.

But there’s a deeper reason why God instructed me to take this on—I needed a break.

Caring for my MIL is a funny way to take a break, but that’s exactly what happened. After two weeks of trying to juggle my job and being a full time caretaker, plus hyperventilating about the college classes I’d signed up for that were just about to start, I took family leave from work. I got 6 glorious weeks away from the newspaper so that I could focus on my MIL’s care. I was also able to devote more energy to my classes, which included creative writing and literature, two classes that transformed my writing endeavors.

And I started scaling back and learning to say no. I let go of a few obligations that were sapping my energy. I slowed down. I gave myself permission to stop writing books, and wrote only for me instead. I learned how to do one thing at a time. I’m not going to pretend it was all wine and roses—I was still caretaking, and I struggled with never having a moment just to myself. But life became simpler, my brain less foggy, and the weight began to lift from my shoulders. I started recognizing myself in the mirror, no longer seeing the unrested, emotional girl weighed down by that day’s top headlines.

As the layers of my trodden newspaper self began to peel away, my confidence began to increase. Remember my word for the year? Confidence. I was still in the infancy of this word when I began looking for other work, hoping to score something before my family leave was up. I had sought out work before, but I never actually believed I’d get hired anywhere else, even with a pay cut, because I didn’t have a college degree. This time was different. I knew I’d reached the point where I could no longer go back to the newspaper, even if it meant I had to take a pay cut….even if it meant I didn’t have another job. In my time away, I realized I was dying a slow death in my job, that this wasn’t the place for me. I’d been lucky to have this job, it opened a lot of doors for me and taught me so many things. But I was not meant to do this job. It belonged to someone who was passionate about this line of work, not me. I applied to a few interesting jobs, including a real estate marketing job that involved every single thing I loved about my current job, and left out all the stuff I hated. I applied, and wrote a killer cover letter that shared every single reason why I belonged with their company.

Long story long (you can read the full story here), I got the job! I worked at the newspaper for only two or so more months before I left. I’d been there a total of 11 years. In that time, we were owned by three corporations (including the New York Times), I met my husband there, I got my own column, we won the Pulitzer Prize (for our coverage of the fires), and I met a lot of wonderful people, some of which I know I’ll remain in touch with.

I know this is going long, and I apologize. Thank you for sticking with me this far. It’s just that this year has been one of transformation, all because I decided to focus on growing my confidence and letting go of a lot of things that were weighing me down. As I mentioned before, writing was one of those heavy things, which is crazy. But as I mentioned earlier and in my last post, my last few writing projects had failed. I was reeling from my horrible attempt at writing a book right after the Santa Rosa fire tragedy. I had released a book at the end of 2017 and another at the beginning of 2018 (the final installments of the Hope series), all to a lukewarm audience because my heart just wasn’t in it. All that work felt like it was for nothing, and I stopped seeing writing as something I loved to do, and started seeing it as something that was letting me down. It wasn’t making me any money. No one was reading my work. It was all a huge waste of time. Giving myself permission to stop writing felt like a huge weight off my shoulder. I also stopped blaming myself for these failures, offering grace to myself, instead. Somewhere I’d taken a wrong turn, believing MORE was the best option until my plate was so full, even tiny droplets were tipping the scale. The fire sent me over the edge, but if it hadn’t been that, it would have been something else. I’d lost my margins, to the point that writing—my one escape—no longer filled my soul. The idea that I might never write another book was both terrifying and relieving. I actually accepted that this was the end.

And then…

I woke up from a dream, a man’s face in my mind. I knew his fate. It was followed by a story that began flowing through me. The muse was back! I raced out of bed to my computer where I typed out the layout to my next book as fast as it was coming to me. I stayed there for hours, getting every detail down. Before I knew it, I had the plan for my next book, the characters, the setting…everything! This was a week into my summer vacation. I had planned on spending the summer reading everything I could get my hands on (thanks to my awesome literature class), and this novel was completely unexpected. Well, I did both. I read as much as I could, soaking up words from authors I loved, learning how they did it through each story. I read across genres, from classic literature to sensual romance to spiritual inspiration to contemporary fiction…and everything in between. And I wrote. The story snowballed as I wrote it, the characters becoming three-dimensional as they surprised me, told me their backstories, revealed their weaknesses, and took me on twists and turns in an adventure I’m not exactly writing, but transmitting. The story is flowing through me in ways I can’t describe. I’m just the scribe.

This brings me to today. The story isn’t done yet. I had to put it down while I finished my fall finals. Those ended last week, this week is Christmas, and after the holiday, I’m back to the story. My goal is to finish the rough draft by the middle of January, and have the rough draft done a few months after that. Once again, I’m excited about writing, and that’s the best feeling in the world.

To cap it all off, here are some of the accomplishments of this past year of confidence:

– I mended my relationship with my MIL

– I quit my newspaper job and found a new job (that I love!) in marketing

– I relearned how to slow down

– I started writing my next novel

– I read 53 books (and counting! The year isn’t over yet!)

– I became more sure of who I am, WHOSE I am, and what I actually want out of life

This last one is a work in progress, and probably always will be. Confidence will always be a work in progress. Any word I’ve worked on over the years is a work in progress.

I am a work in progress.

However, each word has taught me a little more about myself, and has paved the way for each new year’s adventure. Which leads me to my NEXT adventure—2019, and how I tied all of these words together for this next leg of my journey…

To be continued…

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Stepping out of the shame storm to embrace confidence

be bold

At the start of 2018, I dedicated this year to confidence. I aimed to build on my confidence and become more surefooted in my endeavors, my path, and make solid steps toward my future. A few days after making this vow, I agreed to be my mother-in-law’s caretaker for a week. That week turned into several months. Then the end date became unknown. My life changed dramatically, flipping from a busy life I could manage to one where I had very little control or structure. The biggest change was that my time and energy were now required for my mother-in-law, and I had very little reserved for myself.

The past few weeks have been particularly bad. I questioned everything I’ve believed in. I mean EVERYTHING. I scaled back on a lot of things. Then, I thought about what else I could scale back on. Quit the gym? Quit school? Quit writing? If there was something I could quit, it came up for consideration.

In short, I lost my confidence. I stopped believing I could write, sure that I was just fooling myself and everyone else. I stopped believing that going to school was worth it…that I was worth an education. I stopped having confidence in my abilities, my faith, my progress, my dreams, my present, my future.

Now? I think this is one huge test. It’s a hurdle I need to get over if I’m really determined to work on my confidence.

I was thinking this morning about what I want most out of life, and realized it’s really, really simple—I just want to be a better writer. This is completely within my control, too. I realized a lot of my angst was over the realization that my author career has kind of plateaued for the moment, and I grew tired of the uphill climb toward success. Thing is, I can’t really control fame or success, not completely, at least. However, I have complete power to learn more, practice what I’m learning, and keep improving on my craft. Then, I have the power to pass on what I’ve learned. To me, that would be the perfect life: to write every day and share this gift with other aspiring writers.

I also don’t need to apologize or feel shame over any of the real feelings I’m having. Last week as I was struggling, a commenter thought it amusing that I was “just now” carving out time for my creativity when I’d already written a book on making time for creativity. He wasn’t mean about it, but his words were ones already inside me—meaner ones that feed my shame over the fact that I was struggling at all after writing Reclaim Your Creative Soul. I mean, if I could write a book that shared how to get your life in order so you can be more creative, I should be living it completely, right?

WRONG.

First and foremost, I’m human. Second, so is everyone else. We all have moments when we’re down, when life throws you the unexpected, when we need a break, when we forget to take a break, when we’re feeling negative, when we mess up, when we feel like we can’t do anything right, when we question our purpose, our existence, our everything.

This week, I feel a ton better than I did last week. I see light where there used to be dark. I see hope. And I am more adamant than ever to take this one day at a time in this care-taking journey, to carve space out for me, to stop meeting change with fear, and to start seeking out possibility rather than disappointment. I plan to give this my best shot, and I plan to give myself grace if I fall down.

I plan to embrace confidence. I plan to make room for margins in my life. But most of all, I plan to be human.

This beautiful life

journal
Today’s early morning journaling.

Happy last day of 2017!

Something that’s really stayed with me the past few days is my tendency to compare my life with others’, or to be consumed by jealousy over things I wish I could do.

Here are a few examples:

– I recently saw gorgeous photos on Instagram this one woman did of these hanging succulent plants. She holds workshops, and I looked to see how much they were, and was put off by the $75 price tag. Sure, it’s the experience, but what I really wanted were those plants. My life would be more complete with those plants.

P.S. I found a much more affordable way to have those plants with this DIY tutorial.

– A friend of mine posted photos of him at this outdoor winery with these scenic views of the vineyards. It was just a simple post of his dog playing with the kids at the winery, but I was riddled with jealousy that he was experiencing that while I sat in my pajamas in my office, my laptop in my lap.

– I keep seeing photos of people going to amazing places, be it Disneyland, some tropical island, or some foreign country. When I’m slaving away at work and these photos cross my newsfeed, I am filled with both yearning and jealousy, and I hate the place I’m in.

– If someone is skinner than me, I am jealous. End of story.

– I have been perusing Zillow the past few days, looking at gorgeous homes right on the coastline, my dream spot for a house. I don’t even care where it is, if it’s looking at an ocean, I want it. Some of the homes I’ve seen have been magnificently beautiful, in all sorts of price ranges. None of them are realistic for my life right now. It makes my present house seem old and boring.

These past six months, especially, I have been overwhelmed with dissatisfaction. I’ve been so incredibly busy, I’ve had little time for anything. So when I see posts of beautiful things, adventures, and so on, my personal gremlin grows inside me, wanting everything that everyone else has, and hating everything that I have.

But these past few days, I’ve realized there’s nothing actually stopping me from experiencing beautiful things in my life. Even more, I already am.

Yesterday, I cooked all day with my daughter as we prepared our food for the week. It was three hours of total bonding time with my oldest child, which is even more special since she’s been living on her own for the past half year.

Tomorrow, I’m spending time in Armstrong Woods with Shawn, starting out 2018 with some wonderful forest bathing surrounded by majestic redwoods.

Last night, Shawn and I sat in the hot tub under a million stars, sharing uninterrupted conversation about anything and everything.

I get to go to college and learn new things.

I’ve written 10+ books, dammit! 🙂

This past 365 days, I’ve been to Hawaii TWICE, I get to visit San Francisco on a whim, I stayed for a 3-day birthday weekend in Mendocino, and I live in beautiful Sonoma County with so many things to do.

This morning, I woke up at 3:30 a.m., and I’ve spend the last several hours sipping coffee, spending time with God, listening to music, and journaling.

All of this is so special. It’s my Instagrammable life. I don’t need to be jealous of someone’s highlights reel because I have my own,

This next year has so much potential for greatness, and it all depends on my attitude. My focus is on confidence—on WHO I am, and WHOSE I am. It’s about letting go of all those labels I never wanted, but carry anyway. It’s about shedding my preconceived notions of what people think about me, especially since no one has that kind of energy to focus on ME when they have their own stuff to worry about. It’s about losing my masks and being authentic, refusing to be fake to fit someone else’s ideal or to avoid a disagreement. We don’t have to agree, but I’m not going to pretend to be someone I’m not to make other people comfortable.

This is the year of owning the specialness of this life, in finding joy in every day, loving myself, and experiencing satisfaction. I don’t need more. I don’t need a bigger house, a million dollars, a lucrative book career, or a French bulldog puppy (though I won’t turn any of this away…especially the puppy).  I have everything I need. I get to sit in my very own office sanctuary sipping coffee and cream, listening to my favorite Spotify playlist, warmed by my blanket and heater, and read or write to my heart’s content. I am rich beyond belief. This moment is so special. I am filled with gratitude.

This is a beautiful life.

Happy New Year!

P.S. Here are my last several word themes of the year:

2018: Confidence
2017: Faith
2016: Perseverence
2015: Intention

P.P.S. I listened to a podcast episode recently on Super Soul Sunday with Shawn Achor on How to Find Happiness (see below). Everything he said was life-changing, but he ended the episode with this one tip that I’ve started to incorporate into the start of my day. For the next 21 days, start your day by writing down 3 things you’re grateful for (and you can’t use the same thing twice) and 1 meaningful moment from the day before. Then, write a thank you note or email to someone you appreciate in your life. By the end of those 21 days, you will realize how blessed you really are, and all the wonderful people in your community of friends and family.

2018: My year of confidence

I should be writing in my novel right now. I have about 3,600 words to go before I reach the magical NaNoWriMo number of 50,000 (though there’s probably about 15,000 more words left of the story). But instead, I want to write here for a moment so I can share some things with you, and so I can document some things for me.

The New Year is coming up, and for many of us, that means making New Year’s Resolutions that will make our lives better. Of course, these rules are usually forgotten by February. At least, that’s the case for me.

2018

For the past few years, I’ve done away with resolutions. Instead, I dedicate my year to a word, and I let that be my focus. In 2016, my word was PERSEVERANCE. That year, I published two books, and I wrote two more. My freelance career took off, providing a nice second income that carried my book writing expense. I also started college. I let go of doubts and forged ahead, and it was the most productive year I’ve ever had. I sold more books than ever. I proved to myself that I could do anything I set my mind to, I just had to keep putting one put in front of the other.

But by the end of that year, I was just as exhausted as I was inspired. I knew I needed a new word, and I decided on the word community. But when I prayed on this, God told me this was not my word. He kept pushing me to trust him, and I kept pushing back. He finally revealed that my word was FAITH, and that I was to pray into this with a week-long fast.

Wait, what? No food for 7 days? Are you kidding me?

I eventually agreed, and planned to start Jan. 1. God had different plans, and made me sick as a dog in the last days of December. That’s when I heard His whisper. Do it now.

So I did. I lived on juiced fruits and vegetables for almost a week, then just vegetables during the last few days. It was an amazing experience. During that time, everything became so much clearer, and I realized that my word really was FAITH.

This past year was life-changing. I leaned back and let God lead. I stopped trying all these wacky things to sell my books, and instead talked with God a lot more. I relaxed.

Admittedly, my sales plummeted this year. This is a frustrating side effect, to be sure, but I knew this going in. I’m in this for the long haul, not in it to get rich quick. This past year has been about listening to God and leaning on Him, about coming back to center, about recognizing what’s important. I’ve also realized that my faith journey isn’t ending just because the year is. Rather, it’s an introduction.

Now that I’m nearing the New Year, a new word has surfaced. I’d asked God, once again, if my word was community, as I’d thought the year before. He quickly shot that one down, telling me instead that my word was CONFIDENCE. But this word has a separate meaning. It’s not exactly about appearing sure of myself to others. It’s more about knowing who I am, and WHOSE I am. Who am I trying to impress when I deny my feelings and remain meek? Whose opinion do I care about when I hide in the shadows or refuse to speak up? What is it that I’m trying to say in my stories, but holding back on for fear of offending others?

Confidence is saying what I mean and standing behind it. It’s about not censoring myself. It’s about writing books where the characters are messy, use foul language, and make mistake after mistake. It’s about being vulnerable. It’s about writing a blog post about faith and God, and publishing it here, on a blog that I sell books on, instead of putting it in my Faith Blog so non-believers won’t be offended. It’s knowing that some of you are going to turn away from this blog in disgust because your feelings about God don’t match mine, or because I’m not your version of a perfect Christian, and posting this anyway.

It’s about telling the truth, and that’s what I want to do this year. Tell the truth. Tell my truth, that being an author is both the best and worst decision I’ve ever made with my life. Tell my characters’ truths, that they do terrible things and suffer the consequences, and are completely human in every way.

I’m an author who loves Jesus, and says fuck, and allows my characters to be gritty and imperfect. I’m an author who has intense faith and debilitating doubts, sometimes in the same breath. I’m an author who doesn’t fit in with non-believers because of my faith, and I’m an author who doesn’t fit in with believers because I write sex scenes, cuss words, and drug use.

I’m me. And 2018 is my year to stop apologizing for it.

Expect a lot of truth from me in this New Year.