2019: My year of focus

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, I always dedicate the new year to a word. Last year’s word was confidence, and it was a life changing year that included clarity, a job change, expanding my comfort zone, and the birth of a novel after a devastating drought of inspiration.

If you’d like to read the details of my past 4 word journeys, including the game changing details from my year of confidence, here they are:

Part 1: The words that led me to my year of confidence

Part 2: A look back at 2018, my year of confidence

I’ve been considering my word for 2019, praying and meditating for the past few days on the one that will further my journey. My word for 2019 is FOCUS, and I’m so excited to take my life path to a whole new level.

But it goes further than that. The truth is, my word for the year is actually FIVE words: Pray ~ Plan ~ Focus ~ Execute ~ Persist. These words take the past 4 word journeys of intention, perseverance, faith, and confidence, and bring them all together to my 2019 year of focus—the year I stop getting in my own way. Over the past several years, I mistakenly believed my own worth was tied to how many plates I could keep spinning at the same time. It turns out I can keep a lot of them spinning, but I lost myself at the same time. Suddenly, the process became more important than the outcome. My dreams died a slow death as tasks became my bloodstream. I realized I was letting my family down, I was losing my dreams, and I had lost myself.

I don’t care what it is, anything that steals your zest for life needs to be stopped. I had lost my zest for life.

And then, I regained it.

Here we are, just about to enter 2019, and I have the promise of an almost finished novel in my grasp, one that gives me the same excited feelings I had when I prepared to publish my very first novel. That’s huge!

I have end goals in mind on this journey of focus. I expect this year will see strides made in my writing and publishing career, and in my overall health. But my attention is on the journey itself. What can I do now that will get me closer to my desired result? Which small goals can I make that will bring me further down this road? Instead of focusing on the big things I want, my focus is better served by looking at the steps just in front of me and continuously moving forward. And if I slip up, my focus needs to not be on the mistake, but on brushing myself off and moving forward once again.

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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…

The words that led me to my year of confidence

Every new year, I dedicate that year to a specific word that will shape the next 365 days and hopefully take me further in my improvement journey. I always pray and meditate on this word, waiting on God to reveal the things in my life that need my attention and the theme that will guide me throughout the next year. At the end of each year, I’m amazed at how perfect that word really was, and how much it’s transformed my life.

Here’s a recap of the words I’ve chosen since I started recording them here:

2015: Intention

2016: Perseverance

2017: Faith

And then there was my 2018 word of the year: Confidence

To say this year has been transformational is an understatement. The goal of 2018 was to not only be confident in who I am, but WHOSE I am. It was to build myself up, because at the end of 2017, I was a complete shell of who I was supposed to be.

However, it’s hard to talk about my 2018 word without recapping the past year’s words. So let’s take a look back.

In 2015, my word intention was meant to ensure every action I made was intentional. What ended up happening was a mini crisis of the soul, leading me to a soul retreat in August of that year, which then led me to writing Reclaim Your Creative Soul—a book I published the following year that not only described ways to make creativity a priority in your life, but also explained the ways we block our own creativity and how to break through those blocks. Not only that, but the month before I wrote Reclaim Your Creative Soul, I live-wrote my Peter Pan prequel book, Loving the Wind, releasing chapters after writing each one. This was one of my favorite books I ever wrote, as it practically wrote itself. I ended 2015 with one published book (Come Here, Cupcake), two more books written (Loving the Wind and Creative Soul), and a feeling that my year of intention was a success.

In 2016, my word of the year was perseverance. I was riding high off of my 2015 accomplishments and was ready to continue the momentum. I mapped out each month of the year with lofty goals, and then tacked it to my wall so I could stay the course. What was supposed to be motivational ended up being incredibly stressful. By that summer, the list was gone, and I chose to go at a slower rate. Ha. My slower rate meant that I added college to my already packed life, and I ended the year with two more books written back to back—the 2nd and 3rd books of my Hope series. At the time, I reached a breaking point at my job where I knew I’d have another nervous breakdown (related to my 2015 crisis of the soul) if I didn’t find a new place to work. I’d always felt like I was stuck where I was, lucky to even have a job, because I didn’t have a college degree. I figured I had a handle on my life structure—I mean, I laid it all out in Creative Soul. I was an expert on this! And so, adding college courses was a piece of cake. I could totally succeed as a student while also juggling family life, a full time job, volunteer work, and writing books.

Right.

I ended 2016 with two more published books (the ones I wrote in 2015), two more books written (Hope at the Crossroads and Hope for the Broken Girl), an A in the two classes I took, and the worst flu of my life, possibly brought on by sheer exhaustion. Yeah, I persevered, but I ran myself ragged doing it.

In 2017, my word of the year was faith. While 2016 had been a success, I also realized I was trying to do everything on my own. I was also reeling from the 2016 election and was just feeling completely dejected over the direction our country was taking. And so I started the year with a 7 day fast. I was already super sick and my appetite wasn’t there. Still, surviving on just juiced vegetables was an incredible experience. Once I got past the hunger, I felt surreal. My body buzzed with a different kind of energy, and my mind was clearer than it had ever been. I spent those 7 days in deep prayer and meditation, and ended it with excited anticipation over the faith journey I was embarking on. It went fairly well until the last quarter of the year, when Santa Rosa was struck by the devastating Tubbs fire, and I watched my hometown burn. I still worked at the newspaper (remember that job I’d been trying to leave?), and I poured myself into my work. For two weeks, my job made sense. College classes were cancelled during this time, and I dedicated all of my energy into my job, working overtime and focusing on all fire-related aspects. I was all in, along with my colleagues. And when those two weeks, I crashed. The reality of the devastation was all around those of us who lived there. Everyone knew someone who lost their home. A whole portion of our town was missing. Dozens of people had died, and their stories were devastating. The adrenaline that had fueled me was gone, and I was left with a sense of survivor’s guilt and an overwhelming feeling that I hadn’t done nearly anything to help those who had lost so much. I still had my home. So many people didn’t.

To make things worse, I’d been planning on launching the 2nd and 3rd books in my Hope series around this same time. I held off a few weeks, releasing Hope for the Broken Girl at the end of October, but didn’t celebrate its release one bit. It was largely ignored because I just couldn’t bring myself to market it when my whole town was in charred ruins. I chose to wait until 2017 to publish the 3rd book, and I felt miserable that a book I’d been so excited about in 2016 was released in such a pathetic manner. Honestly, I should have waited much longer to publish.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I chose to write another book right after the fires. I thought it would be therapeutic to write after so much letdown. I was wrong. I’d chosen to write the sequel to Come Here, Cupcake, an adorable book that was different from every genre I’d ever written, and one I had been struggling with for years in coming up with a decent sequel. This was NOT the book to write at this time. The end result was a horrible rough draft and an intensified feeling of failure. I was coming apart at the seams. With this added pressure I’d placed on myself, along with college courses, a job I hated, and a tanking author career, I finally reached my breaking point.

Which brings me to my 2018 word of the year, CONFIDENCE.

To be continued….