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I turn 33 today, tenderhearts.
A lot has happened since last September, and I’m using the occasion of another solar return as a prompt for reflecting and setting intentions. This practice is similar to that which I’ve done during my quarterly reflection or when checking in on my word of the year, but something powerful like shifting from the vessel of one year to the next calls for different types of questions and answers.
Habits researcher Gretchen Rubin says that the days are long, but the years are short, and my experience with 32 both fulfilled her mantra and changed it: sometimes my days felt like they ended too quickly, and sometimes the seasons seemed to drag on and on, particularly when I was waiting for a shift to occur or a difficulty to lift. 32 was a year of practice and patience: I experimented, I listened, I thought about what worked and didn’t work, and I made many changes to my lifestyle, habits, and perspective around work and creativity.
I’ll share my reflections with you below, and then reformulate the process into prompt questions you can answer on the occasion of your own milestone shifts.
What brought me joy? Why and how?
To consider what brought my joy, I reflected on my favorite things from last year:
Blog Post: 1.43: To Hold in the Hand: A Guide to Maintaining. I loved making a limited edition physical print of this habit formation guide, and I loved hearing back from the people who used it. The printed versions are all gone, but you can access the digital version when you sign up for my mailing list at the bottom of any blog post.
Book: Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing. Every now and then I feel sad about my decision to leave academia after my PhD, and I wonder if all of my educational labor will have been worth it. Reading Odell’s book reminded me that I can use my academic training to write meaninful texts for popular audiences. Her takes on connectivity, work, and technology via the lens of art, community, and nature blew me away.
Podcast episode: OnBeing “The Tender Power of Jean Vanier.” OnBeing is my favorite podcast, and this episode in particular had my crying reflective, beautiful tears multiple times. So many powerful soundbytes about what it means to be human, to love, to seek connection.
Favorite Instagram account: Morgan Harper Nichols. Nichols’s artwork and words helped me keep my head up when I was in the depths of pain and illness flareups, and her particular blend of nature and spirituality really resonated with me.
Favorite item purchased: IT’S OK banner by Ashley Brown Durand. This is one of my favorite possessions. Seeing it reminds me to put everything in perspective, to breathe, and to have faith that things will work out.
Favorite playlist: Butter on Spotify. This playlist is a metaphor for me making a delicious dinner on a summer night with the windows open, candles lit, and the fanciest glass of seltzer. It’s the kind of playlist that I catch myself dancing to, whether I’m at the grocery store, driving, or doing my hair. I like dancing because it helps me feel embodied and helps me to love the body I’m in.
What were my “wins” of 32?
Before I list them, I want to define what “wins” even means to me. A win for me looks like some combination of achieving my goals and intentions and feeling proud of myself for doing so. I experience a win when I care for myself, prioritize my values, and develop my professional and personal skill sets.
Some of my big wins of 32 were:
- being awarded a teaching release dissertation fellowship, which I’ll use next semester
- finishing my Advanced Graduate Certificate in Feminist Studies
- shifting my perspective around work: not working in the evenings
- big breakthroughs in therapy regarding my self worth and boundary setting
- publishing my first non-academic article, “Abundance: What Is It? And How to Uncover It In Your Life” (Issue 1 of The Homeworker Magazine)
- moving in with my Sweetie after two and a half years of long distance dating
- making an income working with coaching clients
- having my research featured on the Making Gay History podcast episode website for Lisa Ben
What were my struggles of 32?
I know it would be easy to say “what were my wins and losses,” but I feel resistant to saying that my difficult experiences were losses, per se. Instead, I consider them struggles, challenges, disappointments, or obstacles. Sometimes things turn over, or shift, or complete a cycle, and sometimes we learn important lessons when that happens; it doesn’t mean that we lose.
My biggest struggle in 32 was my by far my health.
After incredible disappointment with conventional doctors, I found a phenomenal team of healers and instructors (reiki, yoga, massage, craniosacral therapy), and I experienced huge shifts in terms of my chronic pain. I truly feel less pain today than I did a year ago, and definitely less than two years ago. However, I developed extreme fatigue and new pains, which led me to receive diagnoses of Lyme disease and Epstein Barr Virus.
It felt incredible to finally have a doctor validate that my symptoms truly were tied to a disease and a virus. I started treatment in June, and I’ve experienced multiple Herxeimer reactions since then—I go through cycles of feeling great and then experiencing intense fatigue, brain fog, physical pain, and issues with my short term memory. Even though I’m seeing some progress, I still sometimes feel angry, lonely, and experience negative self-talk around my health.
I’ve dealt with these difficulties by trying to build up a support system, both of people who have chronic health issues and friends who don’t (I use the language of “spoons” to communicate my experience to people who don’t have chronic health issues, as a way to help them understand my experience). I’m still working on not attaching my identity to my illnesses and pain, and I’m very interested in trying new lifestyle shifts to assist in healing and maintenance.
What lessons did I learn in 32?
I learned a LOT in the last year, but my biggest takeaways include:
- For the sake of my health, it is necessary that I rest more and do less.
- When I’m struggling, I should seek support from appropriate places and not assume people are able to hold space right that moment.
- Don’t take yourself so seriously.
- Listen with intention and attention.
- Priorities mean a lot more than which task to do first from a to do list.
- I want more beauty in my life. I want to prioritize art, music, nature, spirituality, relationships, and reading.
- It’s almost always okay to do a “good enough” job.
Things I endeavor to do in 33
- Develop my coaching practice. Take on more coaching clients in a mentorship capacity.
- Play the violin, even if it’s badly. Practice doing something I’m not already good at.
- Read all of the original Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories.
- Finish my dissertation.
- Officially start a business.
- Be interviewed on a podcast (hit me up if you’re looking for a guest!).
- Develop my muscles to enable my body to heal.
- Learn to cook some great meals. Prioritize cooking.
- Do more yoga.
- Meditate regularly.
- Use my phone much, much less.
- Write a book based on The Tending Year (or at least a book proposal!).
Wishes for myself for 33
I hope that my 33rd year can be one where I see the practice of nourishing myself with art, music, beauty, spirituality, and relationships as equally important to the labor of earning my doctoral degree and establishing my business. Here’s a blessing I wrote for myself for 33:
I wish for myself that on the days when I’m dealing with limited spoons that I don’t automatically forgo a walk and phone date with my best friend in favor of writing one more email or revising one more page. I wish for myself the power to care for my sick and healing body by setting boundaries around my availability, and I wish for myself great softness in case people don’t understand or are unable to hold space for my needs. I wish to honor my needs. I wish for myself extreme amounts of love, laughter, daydreaming, wonder and awe, and to always be healing physically, emotionally, psychically, spiritually—to do this, I wish for true boundaries around how often my eyes are pulled to addictive allure of screens. I wish for myself the gifts of acceptance, rest, fresh flowers in my home, meditation, learning which classical composers are my favorite, an incredible amount of blank space in my days, comfortable clothes that make me feel good about myself, and going slower. Let it be, so it is.
You could wait until your birthday to answer these questions, but you can truly answer them any time you want to evaluate where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and dream about your future. Your goal is to look back to see what you can learn in order to set intentions for what is in front of you.
Here are your journal prompts:
- What brought you joy this last year? What were your favorite things? How did they bring you joy?
- What were your wins? Remember to define what a “win” looks like for you.
- What were your struggles/losses/challenges? Choose the word that feels best to you, and describe what it looks like for you.
- What key lessons did you learn?
- What are your wishes for yourself for the next year/month/semester/week? Imagine you’re offering a blessing or a toast to yourself. Pretend you’re someone outside of you who loves you very much. What do you wish for you?