What I Learned..., Year in Review

15 Things I Learned in 2015

(showing off my new ‘do–I sure have missed having a little red in my hair!)

Here we are, on the cusp of the new year, and I’ve been debating for days on what kind of “year in review” post I wanted to do. I thought for awhile of doing a traditional month-by-month approach, but that didn’t lend itself to what I really wanted to get across, which is that this year, more than anything, has been a year of growth and learning hard lessons and transforming myself, one day at a time.

So I decided to post some of the lessons life has taught me over the past 12 months, with several links to posts that best illustrate those points of growth.

Here’s hoping I can continue to grow in the new year to come!

1. Sometimes you need to hit the “Refresh” button to totally shake yourself out of a bad habit.

A lot of people (myself included) often try to “ease into” better habits by making small changes one at a time. Sometimes this works.

However, I have learned that for many habits, I am much better off having an extreme “reset” in order to get myself back on track. Sometimes, that reset button can be for as little as 24 hours or sometimes it can be for a whole month, but sometimes we need to be jolted out of our ruts, not eased.

Two cases to illustrate this:

– In January, Matt and I did a “spending freeze” to cut down on unnecessary spending, and we didn’t spend any money on anything other than the bare necessities for 31 days. Because of this challenge, we not only saved a bunch of money that month, but we had successfully reset our financial habits to help us get to where we really wanted to be, which was saving enough money to pay off the hospital bills we’d be incurring when Raven was born and eventually saving up for a house.

– When I learned I needed my gallbladder taken out, I was forbidden to eat fatty foods, which caused a drastic reset button in our eating habits. After the surgery, I continued to basically stay away from red meat and greasy food because I’d been “reset” from our low-fat eating the weeks leading up to it.

2. Life is better when we don’t expect other people to have the same standards or expectations that we do.

I decided early in my pregnancy that I wanted a natural childbirth, and while I found several people to become my mentors and coaches (my sisters and mom, first and foremost), I discovered that many people didn’t share my expectations and often tried to push doubt and fear into my mind around the whole idea of a natural childbirth.

Later, after I’d experienced the natural childbirth I’d prepared to do, I found myself pushing my own views on other expecting mothers, which made me realize that I might be making them feel just as uncomfortable and unsure as how other people had been making me feel. Similar struggles came up when I tried to share my views on other things, like being a working mom or choosing to listen to my doctor’s advice on treating my AI disease with medication rather than strictly holistic methods, like many people had encouraged me to do.

Basically, everyone speaks from experience, which is a powerful teacher (and which is why we often are so adamant in our views). However, I have decided that unless someone asks me for more information, I am not going to try and attempt to force my expectations and experiences on others. Period.

3. Anything over the recommended 25-35 pounds of pregnancy weight is a beast to get off. It’s surely easier to just watch your diet when pregnant rather than pay for it endlessly after.

Dang it, my mom was right again (you’d think I would just learn to listen to her on everything already). The fact is, because weight loss and exercise had been so easy before my pregnancy, I mistakenly thought they’d be easy after. Perhaps if I’d had a different postpartum experience (one that didn’t involve gallbladder surgeries less than a month after giving birth and autoimmune diseases), this *might* have been true.

But I still kind of doubt it.

The fact is, pregnancy and labor and delivery change your body in ways you can’t expect, and if you ate a lot of sweets during your pregnancy, you’re not all of a sudden going to want to change your eating habits once the baby is out (although you might feel more pressure to do so).

I have VOWED that the second time around, I will watch my diet much more strictly and not use the excuse that I’m eating for two as I reach for yet another cookie I don’t need…

4. Motherhood is everything and nothing like what I thought it would be.

You’d think I would have learned before that everyone else’s experience is not my experience, but becoming a new mother taught that lesson to me once again. Before becoming a parent, I had vastly underestimated the joys and delight and sheer increase in love I would feel as a parent, and I grossly exaggerated in my mind the sacrifices, work, and drudgery aspects of it.

The fact is, yes, you do need to clean up poopy diapers, deal with many nights of oft-interrupted sleep, and give up easy date nights and free-to-do-whatever-you-want socializing. But the fact also is, for me at least, that it doesn’t FEEL like it’s this huge sacrifice or that it’s this new life of drudgery that involves endless laundry loads and disagreements over whose turn it is to take out the Diaper Genie–it instead feels like a privilege and a wonder and the first few steps of a wild adventure, one that will be life-changing and memorable and high and low and everything in between.

In other words, IT’S ALL WORTH IT. It really is.

5. Patience is a lesson I apparently need to learn and re-learn and re-learn again.

I thought I’d learned patience, for once and for all, as a missionary in El Salvador. Then I thought I’d really learned it when my husband didn’t get into PT school the first year he applied and we had to wait another year to see where our life plan would take us.

Now, I’m finally beginning to realize that life will hold endless opportunities for me to work on my patience, to teach me that my life is in the Lord’s time and not my own, and that patience can take many forms (like patience with strangers, patience with myself, patience as a parent, patience with my students, etc. etc. etc.).

This year, the patience I had to learn was with accepting things that were ultimately out of my control. My autoimmune disease diagnosis was such a shock in many ways, and I definitely never dreamed I’d be having to live with a chronic condition for the rest of my life. While I have learned that I can do my best to take care of my body (like being careful what I put into it and taking it easy when my body is close to burnout), I have learned that some things are out of my hands, including when (or if) this disease will ever *fully* go into remission (or when it will come back and flare up again, if it does completely go into remission). The fact is, I learned that I need to keep living life with the trust and the patience that someday, it will all work out. It might not be in this life or in my timing, but it will all work out.

And I’m sure it’s a lesson I’ll be learning year in and year out because that’s how patience is.

6. Accountability doesn’t guarantee success, but it sure seems to help.

I may naturally have more motivation than many people to set goals and start new habits and work on resolutions, but that natural motivation is still helped along when I couple it with accountability.

Back in February, I borrowed a pedometer to track my steps, intent on staying as active as I still could during my pregnancy (since I’d unfortunately stopped running in the first trimester, thereby losing the ability to do so later in the pregnancy). In September, my mom got me a Fitbit for my birthday, which has greatly helped me in my unspoken resolution to not sit for such long periods of time and to fit in more bursts of activity and walking and movement during the day.

I may not hit 10,000 steps every day like I’d like to (still working on that!), but I definitely am always on the lookout for ways to be more active, which is a big first step.

7. Sometimes the answer is spending MORE money, not less.

Considering that my mom is basically the Queen of Bargains and Sales, it is natural that I love a good deal (like the fact that I’ve gotten several hundred dollars’ worth of free clothing this year because I put our hospital bill on my credit card and then paid it off right after).

Being frugal and thrifty is a good skill, one I’m grateful I have.

However, I learned a powerful lesson this year–sometimes spending more saves me more money in the long run, not spending less. Case in point: we finally bit the bullet and bought ourselves a new mattress this year. And we didn’t go for the cheapest one, either—knowing that this would be worth an investment (considering that we spend a third of our lives sleeping), we researched our options and got a nice (but NOT cheap) new Serta mattress.

It has changed our lives.

8. You get done what you make a priority. You don’t get done stuff that you’ll “get around to.”

I once saw an infographic that someone had made where they’d mapped out their allotments of time on a pie chart, comparing side-by-side all the free time they had before having kids and the tiny amount of free time they had after. And if I remember correctly, the writer pointed out that while she had a vast amount of free time before having babies, she still didn’t get as much done as she did once she’d had them. The secret, the article said, was in her priorities.

When you feel like you have all the time in the world to do something, it’s so hard to make yourself seize THIS particular slot of free time to do that one thing you’ve been intending to do forever. But when you make something a priority and realize that this is the only free time you’ll get for the next foreseeable day or week or month to work on it, you just jump right on it and get it done.

That is how I managed to work on my novel almost every day during the busiest part of my work year, and that is how I manage to read 40-50 pages on most days, despite working full-time and having a rambunctious 8-month-old to look after. The fact is, if you prioritize it, you’ll find time, If you don’t, you won’t. Motherhood has definitely helped me to see where my priorities lay, and it’s also helped me to waste a lot less time.

9. Sometimes, your life plan doesn’t work out, even when you’ve tried your best.

I didn’t talk about it too much on here, but we (and by we, I mean Matt) put a lot of effort into applying for PT school for a second year–we applied to 15 different schools (dropping a couple grand in the process), had Matt retake classes to improve his GPA (which delayed his graduation), and got his application reviewed by different people so we could get input and pointers from experts who knew a lot more than we did.

And he still didn’t get in this year.

We talked about maybe trying again for a third year, but it just didn’t feel right–we’d put forth our best effort and prayed like mad, but we just didn’t get what we wanted, which meant accepting that maybe there was a better path for us elsewhere.

Surprisingly, I was much more crushed after the first year of applying than I was after this second year. I think it’s because, although it’s a hard lesson, we needed to learn that even though we desired a good thing, we don’t always get those good things, even if we’re praying for them and doing our part to get them and trying to be the best people we can be. Sometimes we’ve just got to fail and accept that the answer is “no,” and that’s okay.

10. Sometimes, your life plan TOTALLY doesn’t work out, and it makes you laugh at the old you who thought you’d have it all figured out by this point.

Matt and I had our 10-year reunion this summer, and when I was 19 and had just graduated high school, I thought I’d have it “all figured out” by the time I came back. Now, I wasn’t naive enough to think that I literally would know everything about anything, but I did think that we’d be living the typical “husband has a great 9-to-5 job with full benefits, wife stays at home with the kid(s), house-buying would be on the horizon, the idea of “settling in” just around the corner” life.

“No” to all statements. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever had LESS of an idea of what’s going to happen with us. Before, we measured time by semesters until graduation and just figured things would fall into place as we’d planned. When they didn’t, we made plans for the interim. Now that that interim is an empty road with no destination in sight, we’ve just learned to embrace it.

Throw on top of all that uncertainty a birthing experience that did not go as planned (with a major complication to boot), a surprise surgery less than a month after, and an autoimmune disease diagnosis, and I’ve basically just learned to not set too much by my life plans.

But that’s okay–I like surprises.

Much of the time, anyway.

11. My worth as a human being is not tied to my appearance, including to my weight or how attractive (or not) I’m feeling.

Although I would have always told you before that I knew this lesson, I really had to put it to the test this year when I was dealing with a lot of postpartum body issues and unwanted side effects from the medications I was taking. I guess I had taken it for granted before that I felt attractive and relatively fit most of the time, so when I no longer had a body or a general appearance that fit how I’d always viewed myself, it was hard for me to accept, especially when there wasn’t much I could do about some of it (like the “moon face” symptom that comes along with taking a steroid or the permanent widening of my hips that came with childbirth).

It took me months to come to peace with my altered appearance, but as I started to pay attention, I realized that when it came to what (and who) was most important, my worth was not affected by how I looked–my husband still loves me the same (and even more, since we’ve embarked on parenthood together), my students still learn from my teaching, my family still laughs at my dry humor, my friends still appreciate my chattering and insight…in short, the only one thinking that I was less because of my less-than-ideal appearance and body was myself.

12. However, I DO feel better about myself when I take care of myself, including my appearance.

I know this seems to contradict what I just said, but I don’t think so–the fact is, we often send messages to others and to ourselves by how we treat ourselves and our appearance. If we become lazy with our appearance, it often helps to contribute to laziness in other parts of our lives. If we let our exercise and healthy eating habits slide, we often let other good habits slide.

It has never been so hard for me to force myself to get ready every day and to eat right and to exercise, but I can state for a fact that I never ever regret it when I do and that it ALWAYS benefits the rest of my day.

13. My health is directly affected by what I eat (otherwise known as: “I really, truly, officially do not have the metabolism or resiliency of a 17-year-old anymore, so I can’t keep eating like I do.”)

Over the past four and a half years (ever since getting married), I have slowly but surely been working on improving my general diet. It started from a simple desire to lose the weight I’d gained on my mission but then morphed into a desire to take care of my body from the inside out the best that I could.

As I’ve been dealing with my AI disease this year, I have a feeling that I’ve only tapped the surface with how important diet is when it comes to maintaining my health despite my condition. This elimination diet I’ve been on for nearly 3 weeks now has drastically altered how I’ve felt and visibly improved my symptoms.

Although it’s not fun to restrict what I eat, I am grateful that I am learning young to deal with my sugar addiction and my tendency to just eat whatever I want and think it will be okay. Although I’m definitely hoping that I won’t have to permanently cut out the things I most love to indulge in (like cheese and chocolate), I’ve also realized that I can’t treat those things as the major food groups I was treating them like before. My health can’t afford it, and my youth can no longer compensate for it.

14. I now understand what people mean when they say that you need to “work on” your marriage.

I’ve been blessed with a spouse who I get along with as easily and naturally as I do with anyone I’ve ever met, a fact which has meant that on the marriage front, I’ve had few real challenges or issues to work through.

However, even the best relationships require nurturing and being intentional and quality time, all things that can sometimes be hard to come by when you’re both adjusting to your new roles as mom and dad. I know we need to be better about going on dates and being more intentional with the time that’s just with us two, but I at least finally understand what people meant when they said that you have to continue to work on your marriage after having kids—it’s not that your love has grown dimmer (in fact, just the opposite) or that your desire to continue to build your friendship has lessened, but it’s that you no longer have all the time and energy and focus to just pour into each other and into your relationship, which means that you HAVE to be more intentional about it, instead of it happening more organically as before.

15. You can’t please everyone. No, you really can’t. 

I’ve never considered myself to be a people-pleaser, but to a degree, I’ve discovered that I am. A lot of it stems from my innate tendency to preserve peace and equilibrium at all costs (and to run from confrontation like it’s the plague). Often, I think these are qualities that are worthy of keeping around, but this year, I have learned that sometimes I have to take the hard stand, even if it means disappointing people I love or possibly offending people I’m close to.

Boundaries are a tricky thing with any relationship and it’s hard as all get out for me to sometimes come out and say what I really think, but I’m learning that in the end, in order to preserve what’s most important to me, I will have to learn to take a stand, which inevitably means that someone will end up frustrated or upset or offended or angry. I’m sure it comes as a surprise to no one that on subjects such as politics, religion, parenting, education, etc. that people are not always going to like what you believe or what you practice. And that’s okay.

But along with taking a stand, I’ve also realized this—I might not please everyone with my decisions, but I CAN disagree without being disagreeable.

All in all, 2015 has held a LOT of surprises for me and quite a few lessons that (let’s be honest) have been hard to learn.

But I’m feeling a lot of hope and gratitude and faith going into this new year–I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one!

Linking up with Stay Gold Autumn and Emily P. Freeman

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