Nearly six years ago, there was a boy and a rock that said, “You did it.” He was my then-two-year-old. We moved to Sweden early August 2013 with him and his baby brother, and it was a flurry of delightful, stressful activity. Driving on unfamiliar streets on the right side of the road, navigating new supermarkets, getting used to life with two children and the demands of a baby, the list of things I felt I could not do was unending. But there was this one morning when my two-year-old and I walked down to the water near our house with the baby in the stroller, we threw rocks into the water and watched the splashes.

My son tried to reach his favourite big rock, and he said he couldn’t do it. But he stuck with it, he tried, he reached further. He did not give up. And soon enough his tiny fingers grasped the edges of this rock, he grabbed it.

He did it.

The story became part of our family legend as The Rock That Says “You Did It,” the mantra I’ve repeated to the kids when they have to reach within them to find an extra piece of courage for whatever challenge they face.

That boy is almost eight now. He reads for hours and tells me how time travel could work one day. It took him a few years to learn how to ride a bike, he fell off, his confidence shattered, he had to find something else deeper inside of him. He did it. He can ride almost anywhere. He learned how to swim. He plays soccer. He learned how to lose at games and how to play people who are better than him so he can learn how to win.

I’ve watched from the sidelines of his life as he learned and mastered anything he wanted to learn. How did he do it? How did his brother (now nearly six) learn to do anything? They disappeared into a quiet, focused place. They set their mind to learn, it was like the world around them vanished while they repetitively drew letters, sounded out phonograms and pushed their bodies.

And I watch them with a silent envy. Why is it so easy for you? Where do you get your energy for this? Where did these reserves come from to work hard? How are you able to overcome failure?

I wrote about the 21-Day Deep Work Challenge yesterday, but if I’m honest, there is one group of people I thought about more than anyone else: Mothers of small children. Yes you, the one who read about this Challenge and thought, “Not for me.”

I can imagine that you thought the idea of 30 minutes of time without distraction is a fantasy, and that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Yes, both my children are in school in 2019. Yes, it feels like the absolute greatest luxury of my life. But no, I haven’t forgotten what it was like. When my kids were still with me at home, it didn’t matter what their age, the idea of undistracted time was a fantasy.

I started a load of laundry.

Someone needed food.

I folded a t-shirt.

Spilled milk had to be wiped up.

I read to my kids.

Their noses needed wiping.

I put one to sleep.

The other needed help on the toilet.

Then I stepped on a piece of LEGO with my left foot while my right foot landed in a squishy pile of breakfast oatmeal on the floor. Obviously.

In those early years of motherhood, I was distracted by something necessary every few minutes. A stream of activities that were constantly interrupted all day long, all week long.
Into this mix came my smart phone in 2014, and when I had a few minutes to spare, I had a piece of technology in my hand that connected me with family and friends around the world. There were beautiful things, like seeing photos of my new niece a few hours after she was born, but it only heightened my distraction. I found myself unable to pay attention to almost anything for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time My kids got older and had activities, but I would sit on the sidelines of a swimming lesson, bored, and scrolling through my phone for no reason. Fast forward to 2019, and I’ve found myself watching a movie on Netflix and looking at Instagram at the same time.

Ladies, there is apparently scientific evidence out there for the fact that this was killing my brain cells. In Deep Work, Cal Newport quotes late Stanford University researcher Clifford Nass’ NPR interview on the subject of multitasking. Nass studied behavior in the digital age. Newport says on page 158, “Nass’ research revealed that the constant attention switching online has a lasting negative effect on your brain.” To NPR’s Ira Flatow, Nass said in 2010:

“People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand…they’re pretty much mental wrecks.”

from p158 of “Deep Work”

I don’t want to be a mental wreck. I don’t want to multitask anymore. I want to take what time I have and devote it toward focused work, whatever that work may be.

Nass is talking about people who choose distractions while they are working. As moms, there are many distractions we don’t choose, our children are a natural, wonderful (and not) part of our lives, they are packages of distraction, and that is just fine.

But what about the way we choose our distractions? The texting, the apps, the cooking while filling out forms? The emailing while doing a bank transfer? The Netflix watching while social media watching?

I want present in my life today the same resilience and brilliance I see my in my children. The way they attack a task and focus? It’s how to learn. It’s why your kids and mine go from not reading to reading. It’s how they learn the monumental task of writing real words. It’s how they learn to ride bikes and swim. They repeat a skill they did not know over and over and over again without doing anything else at the same time.

They believe they can do it. You know why? You and I are on the sidelines cheering them on. Telling them to try. Encouraging them to move past their failures and struggles. Telling them to keep going, reach further, the rock is within your reach. You can do it, kiddo.

Hey Mum of small kids, that message is for you, too.

You can do it. You can reach further. That skill you want to learn that you think is too hard? You can learn it. It is not too late.

I want to dare you to take this challenge. However hard it may be for you in this season of your life. The care and nurture of your children is important. Your role in their lives is irreplaceable. But it is not the only thing in your life. Don’t let your mind go to waste. You need your brain to function for a long life of meaningful work, however you choose to define the word “work” in your life.

This is not the time to be more distracted because there are already things that will distract you. That should distract you.

Push yourself to do mental work that will challenge you. It doesn’t have to be for money. It doesn’t have to be for a boss. Make yourself think harder. When you’re bored (and lord knows, I was bored a LOT with small kids), push past the urge to scroll mindlessly through your phone. Pick up a skill instead.

Tips on How To Work Undistracted When You Have Small Kids

  1. Pick work that you genuinely want to do – don’t pick something that you feel you should do
  2. Talk to your partner if you have one – tell him about this in detail, ask him how he can help you
  3. Set aside the time – I think the same time daily is what will work best
  4. Wake up before your kids – be honest with yourself, can you really do this?
  5. Plan to do it after they are in bed (be honest with yourself – are you someone who can work at night? Don’t do it if you cannot)
  6. Give your kids 40 minutes of screen time
    1. Take them to the toilet before, put a large snack out for them and their drink bottles.
    2. Explain to them that Mommy is going to have alone time as well
    3. Go into a different room and close the door.
    4. You get 10 minutes to prepare, and 30 minutes to do your work. Set a timer and do your work until it ring. I wish I had done this when my kids were smaller.
  7. During the three weekends, ask your partner to take care of the kids while you do your deep work, maybe try to push yourself to 60 minutes.
  8. Find a friend with small kids to do this with – encourage each other, swap kids to help each other do your deep work

Now tell me: If you’re a mum of small kids, what could you focus on for 30 minutes daily for 21 days? What would you love to do? How could you do it? If you don’t have small kids, do you have a lady friend in that stage whom you could help out? Could you pass this on to her – encourage her to try?

My name is Devi, and 2019 is My Year of Deep Work.

I’m typing this on a laptop with a piece of chocolate in my mouth, in bed and my iPhone within reach. Surely I’m not the only one here who feels chronically distracted? I started reading Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work a few weeks ago, and it is slowly shifting my thinking, and I hope, my way of living. This is a long blog post, chatty in parts, ranty in others, and I end it with a 21 Day Deep Work Challenge starting March 11 for all of us. I hope you’ll get to the end because that is the good part.

Newport defines deep work as:

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate.

Cal Newport, Deep Work, page 3

But there was one thing that nagged me as I read inspiring example after inspiring example of people who worked deeply.

Newport’s examples of people who “do” Deep Work are almost all men. (I give you my scientific post it note annotation method – the red ones are anecdotes about women, the white ones are male examples. It’s worth mentioning that two out of the five anecdotes featuring women are negative.)

The book opens with famed psychiatrist Carl Jung going off to his retreat place for weekends of uninterrupted work. There’s an MIT genius who stares at a whiteboard covered with math problems for hours just to think about the problems (YES! Hours! Math problems!). And Cal Newport himself, who is tenured at Georgetown University, has published multiple books but finishes work at 5:30pm, plays with his kids and even gets to read real books in the evening. But I have questions, namely:


My guesses — a wife, a mom or a housekeeper (and if it’s a girlfriend, girl, time to find a new boyfriend). Newport’s book is excellent, but it is saturated with the privilege of wealth, education and gender, a kind of “I just do what I want to do when I want to do it” attitude.

I don’t know many women – or men– who live in this universe. Most women I know, regardless of their status are expected to do multiple things at once. At work they juggle calendars, reports and emails. At home they juggle teething babies, diaper changes and school drop offs.

Newport doesn’t say it is easy to focus on deep work. He makes the case time and time again that it is a cultural majority that are distracted, male and female, wealthy and not wealthy, educated and not educated. But he never gives space for the non-digital reasons why people may be distracted. He is glaringly ignorant of groceries and laundry and pets and income and KIDS who GET SICK and HAVE BEDTIMES.

I had to flag this while reading because right now for me I have only one stretch of time where uninterrupted work is possible, 9am-2pm. And that’s without ever doing groceries, laundry, and cooking. In the first six years with kids, I didn’t have a stretch of more than an hour or two. If you’re a woman with children to care for, however equal your arrangement is with your partner, productivity has always looked different for us.

I read Cal Newport’s book with two thoughts in my mind. Where are the women? And how different would my work be if I worked in the way these men in his book worked? How different would my life be?

I’m a writer, I want to create longer form pieces of work, and I want to publish those essays and books. I know that many of you long to have stretches of time for your work – research and writing, painting, building a business, preparing material for the subjects you teach, design projects, and so many other fields of work. Because here is the important part:

I’m convinced now that deep work is the secret to lasting, meaningful work.

Newport talks about Deep Work as it relates to the professional world and as it relates to pushing yourself mentally in what and how you think about it. To bring your brain to the point of mental strain and push past it. I realize that for many of us, this world of mental work is simply not our world, and that is fine. But I wondered what would happen if we set aside the time daily to build a Deep Work Habit regardless. This time would be as distraction free as possible, and we work on the one thing.

I wonder what your ability to focus is like. Maybe you work full time, one tab of your browser is a report you need to write, and on another is your email. Your report takes you five hours to work on, interrupted many times during a morning by emails. Maybe you’re in management, and you have to figure out ways to get your work done in between meetings and phone calls. Maybe you’re a writer who needs longer chunks of time to write complicated articles but have to maintain a presence on social media as well.

Or you’re a woman with small kids, at home or not, and you just want a sliver of time to breathe without a snotty nose to wipe. You just want a second to think about what you might want to do that doesn’t involve meeting someone else’s needs.

I have a hypothesis – women are expected to multitask at work and are rewarded for doing so. But maybe we are the ones who aren’t benefiting from what we’ve developed as a “skill.” Whether or you’re a finance manager replying emails while working on a presentation or a stay-at-home-mother trying to finish family laundry, maybe all of us would benefit from learning to deepen our ability to focus on something.

So here’s the 21-Day Deep Work Challenge. I wanted to do it for myself, and then I thought – maybe you want to join, too?

Pick your deep work, mine is writing fiction

21 Days starting March 11

Set aside 30 minutes minimum to do the thing, push yourself to 60 minutes if you can

No phone. No people. (Mums, we are going to talk about what to do with the kids, I promise.) If you’re working on a computer, close everything but the thing you are working on. GOODBYE FACEBOOK AND EMAIL.

Set a timer.

Do your work.

Use the time for whatever deep work you need to do – only you will know what this will be for you. Daily report writing, reading, writing, painting, sewing, gardening, analyzing statistics, reading your Bible, wrestling with theology. What doesn’t matter, but the depth and single-mindedness of your attention does matter.

I’ll be writing the following posts here in the coming days and weeks:

Mums of small kids, undistracted work is for you, too

Deep Work Tips & Tricks

Routines to help create a deep work habit (Girl, I washed my face)

Social Media in a Deep World Universe

Make Your Own Village

A new way of seeing shallow work

Why Deep Work isn’t everything

I’ll also be posting on Instagram and Facebook daily during the 21 days – feel free to join in there or ignore all together if it doesn’t help you work deeply.  It’s not my desire to make this some big social media thing because our goal here is focus, and social media can be a distraction.

But sometimes it feels good to be part of a community, cheering each other on, and if you would like to do that, please use the hashtag #mydeepwork.

Now tell me: What do you think? Are you joining the Deep Work Challenge? I so hope you will – let me know in the comments or via email what you’ll be doing.  

Sometimes we don’t know how hungry we are for something else until what we consume stops satisfying.

Hi my name is Devi, and I’m addicted to distraction. If you have time to listen, I want to tell you a story about why I started meditating.

I still remember in 2014 spending an hour crying in my car because of something I needed to deal with and when I finished, I picked up my phone and scrolled through Twitter in the Lidl parking lot for another hour. There were parts of my life I could not look at. I didn’t realize this because for years I thought it was my phone habits that were the problem. It is easy to notice the way social media, apps or games keep our attention, but it was more than screen time. Focusing on my tasks during the day was difficult, I often wanted to escape normal down time that I typically enjoyed, I couldn’t sit for long periods of time to work on a task. My mind wandered when I listened to a long sermon or podcast. There was a current of unease that flowed through me on regular weeks, on holiday, and during my time alone. It took several years, but I slowly uncovered why I liked being distracted.

I liked parts of my life unexamined.

The truth is it had been several hard years, and when hard years go on and on, we develop coping mechanisms to get through the days. It’s almost like I broke my leg but kept walking without having it assessed and put in a cast. My distractions were the good-enough limp that kept me from the doctor.

So I paid attention when I saw that Michelle DeRusha had a book coming out called True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created. What connected with me when I read True You was the idea of Japanese open pruning, a metaphor Michelle works with throughout the book. She writes:

When a Japanese gardener ‘prunes open,’ he or she cuts away not only dead branches and foliage, but also a number of perfectly healthy branches that detract from the beauty inherent in the tree’s essential structure. Pruning open allows the visitor to see up, out and beyond the trees to the sky, creating a sense of spaciousness and letting light into the garden. It also enables an individual tree to flourish by removing complicating elements, simplifying the structure and revealing its essence. The process of pruning open turns the tree inside out, so to speak, revealing the beautiful design inherent within it. Sometimes the process of pruning open requires a major restructuring – cutting back limbs and dramatically altering the form of the tree – while other times, only a gentler, more subtle reshaping is necessary.

Sometimes we don’t know how hungry we are for something else until what we consume stops satisfying. This is what happened when I felt my hunger.

For a good part of 2018, this radical restructuring slowly took place in me. It was fed by time with friends, prayer, Bible verses, music, therapy and medication. There is no one-way through radical restructuring or open pruning. It’s a team effort, it takes time.

And time has a tender way of slowly revealing next steps. 

When I started reading True You a few weeks ago, meditation became the next step. Michelle begins the book by telling us about how she started taking a few minutes every day for self-directed mental rest. She sat on the same park bench daily, in the silence and started paying attention. What followed was a year of deeper processing, of uncovering layers of her own brokenness and a discovery of what God wanted to do in her life to bring healing, renewal and a new sense of purpose. I read this, and thought, I need this. Nineteen days ago I started setting aside 10 minutes a day for, what I’m calling, meditation.

This is what I did. I told my husband I was going for a walk on a Sunday morning, I walked to the end of our street where there is a bench, and I set a timer for 10 minutes. Like Michelle instructs in her book, I tried to quiet my thoughts. I listened to the birds. And I listened to where my worried thought trails took me. I heard rustling leaves, and I heard a list of what I needed to do. It was a start. I felt more relaxed after, at the very least more oxygenated. I went on to have a great day until a few hours later I had one of the melty-downest meltdowns I’ve had in a long time. Just in case you were afraid this post would say “Meditating Changed My Life.”

It hasn’t done that. But it is changing my appetites. It is changing the strength of my mind.

It is easier to switch into work mode and work less distracted. My ability to “just write” has increased.

I move through the day less overwhelmed with all there is to do and am able to do one thing at a time and not move to the next task until I’ve finished the present one.

I can quickly spot my body’s anxiety responses and speak to it with truth.

I feel physically more relaxed.

I have an increased ability to assess situations in my life – what is really happening here? What am I responsible for? Where do I need to change? Where do I need to expect someone else to change?

My Meditation Practice

I try to aim for the same time of day. I set a timer for 10 minutes, and I sit in the silence. First I see what may rise up when I settle into the time – if it is a thought or an image, I fix my mind on it. I keep my mind focused on a particular thought or image, sometimes it is a truth from the Bible, sometimes it is a truth in my day-to-day life. I breathe in for three, hold for three and out for three until I don’t need the breaths to help me focus. I have no idea if this is mindfulness or accurate meditation, but the truth is I do not care.

Ultimately this practice has been for me about establishing a habit and a mental discipline. In the same way that doing bicep curls will strengthen my arms and help me one day do a real pull up, training my brain to think on one thing and eliminate distractions is building a muscle.

My Meditation Rules

I put my phone on flight mode.

I set a timer for 12 minutes, so that I have a few minutes to settle into it. The aim is 10 minutes daily, and I know when to stop when the timer rings.

I never let myself wonder if I am doing this right. This is the one thought that I am not allowed to think, and yes, it comes up every time I meditate. That I’m doing it is more important to me than how I’m doing it.

I don’t have a place for meditation, but this is because of my life. Some days of the week I’m home with the kids, so I have to do it in the bedroom, when I’m alone I have more options of where I can do it. I don’t put pressure on myself to do it in the same place. Again, the point for me is the 10 minutes of self-directed mental rest.

If I’m alone with the kids at home, they watch something while I’m meditating because this is the only way I can guarantee 10 minutes without interruption. Of the 19 days I’ve done it so far, only one session got interrupted by a kid who needed a box of tissues. Hashtag real life.

In conclusion, friends, I am grateful for the slow ways our lives can change. I’m grateful for the resources God puts in our paths. I’m grateful for the way Truth is embedded into various corners of our cosmos, grateful that we don’t need to fear. And I am grateful for the way God made our brains, infinitely malleable, changeable, redeemable.

Now it’s your turn: What do you think about meditation? Have you tried it? What do you do to keep your mind focused and attentive? 

A few resources if you are interested in knowing more about meditation:

Has Mindfulness Supplanted Thoughtfulness? by Amy Julia Becker for Christianity Today

Feeling stressed and unproductive? Here’s how to stop being busy and be mindful instead by Gillian Coutts for Smart Company

20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today by Emma M. Seppala for Psychology Today

How I stopped fighting anxiety by Andrea Debbink for The Art of Simple

Read. Pray. Stretch. Breathe. Cook. by Andrea Lucado

mums first day of school shoes

Hey there, lady, I was just at Kmart buying a spare (cheap) drink bottle for my boys today, and they took 10 minutes to pick which one they wanted, and I was thinking about you and me and the first day of school. Here are a few things I want us to know.

They go to school, and you go to school. We all get schooled. They learn to read, we learn how to read them better. They learn how to get along with other kids, how to add and subtract, how to create and discover and write and learn. And so do you. It will be about how use your time, how to get along with teachers and parents, how to discover yourself as your time constraints change. You’re going to learn just as much as they will this year. 

When you walk up to your child’s classroom, expect to cut through a thick layer of invisible anxiety, first in yourself, then in everyone else. It is impossible to overstate the hopes and dreams and fears of every mother standing at the door as she releases her precious cherub into the ocean of the world. Every other kid looks like an octopus or a shark, and Nemo has a broken fin. Give her grace because this isn’t easy, and if you are honest, it’s not easy for you. All of us have invisible fears about our children that we hide behind our bragging and comparing. But you’re afraid, and this year you get to learn how to find your way out of the fear. You get to see the other kids as just kids who are all imperfect, all learning, and all on a pathway of discovery.

Speaking of bragging or comparing, you don’t have to do either. Protect yourself from this. When someone tells you something great about their child, it’s not an insult to your child or an invitation for you to tell a better story. You’ll find the women with whom you can connect who will have a genuine interest in your life and your kids, who don’t see your life as a threat to theirs. Wait for those people. While you wait, get rid of your own instinct to brag about yourself or your kids. There’s no need to fear, my friend. You are in process, and you are going to be ok, too. No need to come across as anything else to anyone else.  

At times it will feel like you are standing in a line with your child and every smile, every conversation with someone new, every invite for a coffee or playdate is going to feel like approval, the badge that says I am Someone, I am a Good Mother, I have a Good Child. Fight against this mentality. You don’t have to talk to another person at drop off. You have time to make friends. Friendship does not come easy. It takes time to lay down a groundwork of trust. You don’t have to tell the other mums you meet every deep, dark thing about your life. You don’t have to tell them the inner workings of your family life.

It takes a long time to find other women with whom you can genuinely connect who then you can deeply trust. Waiting is worth it. And if the women in your life end up not being in school, that’s totally fine, too.

Your kids don’t become magically different at school. The responsible kid will still be responsible, and won’t lose hats or jumpers or drink bottles. The kid with her head in the clouds, will still have her head in the clouds. Get this kid cheaper things. No need to feel guilty about that, this way you can replace their things without heaping shame on them. There’s a lot for kids to keep track of at school, they shouldn’t feel bad about losing a drink bottle here or there. We’ve all lost our expensive phones, right?

The teacher gets a version of your child, likely you get a different version. Both versions are real and true, and the joy of being a parent is working to understand all versions of our kids and helping them integrate their compartments into a whole. Your teacher sees a different side of your child, and you need their insights. Your teacher is your teammate, if you work together, your child wins. 

(An addendum here: There are I’m sure a tiny handful of terrible teachers out there – I’m sorry if you have one. Get on your child’s side, fill up their tanks with encouragement when they are down. Pray that the experience will teach them about empathy and perseverance. Talk to school admin. Hopefully next year will be better.)

Learn to see your child as one in a group, not the only one. The teacher has to attend to the group, and there are many others he or she needs to pay attention to. Your child is not especially deserving of unique attention. At least not more so than anyone else. Trust that every child will get the time they need. Trust that you are still your child’s number one influencer. Whatever their school cannot give them, you can fill in the gaps at home.

When you hear the thought, “My child deserves (a better teacher, a nicer table-mate, smarter classmates, more current technology),” replace it immediately with a list of what you can be grateful for. I’m thankful my kid gets to go to school. I’m thankful my child has food to eat. I’m thankful for clean water. I’m thankful for warm clothes in the winter. I’m thankful for a summer hat. Entitlement will cloud your judgment, entitlement will not let you see your kids for who they are, entitlement will steal your happiness.

Your child has unique needs that you can see more clearly than everyone else. But remember that there is a school full of kids. Every kid is there to learn, to develop as a person, to grow and to change. Learn to see other children. Learn to talk to them, appreciate them, learn to see your child as one in a group. We want them all to succeed.

Expect there to be issues between your kid and other kids. This may be the year you find out that your child isn’t as truthful as you hoped. It may be the year you find out that they like to steal or cheat or hit other kids. Maybe they started cutting class or failing a subject. Don’t let the disappointment you feel in your child become a disappointment you feel in yourself. Your kid gets to make his or her own decisions – this is true of a five-year-old and an 18-year-old. Their decisions are not always a reflection of your home or your parenting. They are their own people. Yes, you’ll have to lay down the necessary boundaries, but guess what? Your kid needs your love and your anchoring support in them as a person especially when they have disappointed you. And you and I need another lesson on how to dig deeper to find that unconditional love everyone needs.

Find the soothing words you need to use on yourself and your kids for specific stressful situations. For me it is this sentence, “We have enough time.” I always give us permission to be late. The irony of course is that we are almost never late, but giving all of us the permission to run late allows for a peaceful attitude in my heart and hopefully theirs.

You are going to need so much wisdom to know when you need to deal with something with your child and when you need to involve their teacher, other parents and members of the school. But trust that when you need wisdom, you will receive it. Walk into your decisions with a humble confidence. You can do this. Please tell yourself this every day, every week, every term. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this. 

Trust that you will make mistakes.

Expect your kids to make mistakes.

Plan for the teachers to make mistakes.

See mistakes as the doorway for all of you to grow.

You’ve got a year of growing ahead of you, my friend. Here’s to the new branches in your life, and here’s to the good fruit.

Now it’s your turn: I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got a kid starting school in 2019 or continuing on in school? How are you feeling? Drop a note in the comments. Got any good tips to share with the rest of us? Just write it all out here – we need all the ideas, right?!?!

beach day in Australia

Happy New Year, friends.  I hope 2019 started well for you wherever you are. I can hear the whirring of our ceiling fan as I write this. We are in the middle of what promises to be a warm Melbourne summer. It feels good.

I love thinking about the past year before I start thinking about the new one. For me there is a necessary amount of reflection needed to move forward. It’s like I can’t begin until I’ve looked back. The Internet has a gazillion tools related to thinking about the past year and planning for the next one. But for me I love answering this question: What did I learn? Here are eight important lessons from 2018.

Small changes are everything

Ruth Chou Simmons of Gracelaced sums it up for me in an Instagram post, “We make progress when we make minor adjustments, repeatedly. Not seeing impressive fruit or immediate change isn’t failure; it’s formation.” I am clinging to this walking into 2019. Small shifts in the right direction. Fun fact: Since October I’ve been going live on Instagram Monday to Friday midday to chat about this topic, and you can follow along here.

There is a long chain of people and events that help guide our direction

The short story is that 2018 was the year I started thinking about teaching writing workshops. I explored possibilities (teaching women in prison how to write their story), and no one called me back. I tried other avenues and had a meeting or two that seemed promising, but then again, no one called me back. Then in a most unexpected way, a door opened in a place I did not seek out to teach a writing workshop. The first one is February 7. This is after 10 months of thinking (well, maybe a lifetime of thinking), some exploration, a few closed doors and a random email. But it began when I read the newsletter of a poet who wrote about teaching poetry in a women’s prison. It grew during another friend’s month-long stay with us and our many conversations about injustice. Dear friends and my husband validated the idea and encouraged me to keep going. Like all good things in my life, there was a chain of people who encouraged and loved and worked to bring this thing (slowly) to life.

Follow your instincts

One of the enduring lessons of adulthood is learning which instincts to follow and which ones to ignore, but learning to listen to the instincts that I know, that I know, that I know I need to follow have led to immeasurable joy. In the middle of the year, I had this feeling that I had to learn how to garden, and I had to ride a bike. I didn’t know why, I didn’t know that I could (I still don’t know if I can grow anything), but I knew I needed to try. I have. Both activities have been two of the best parts of the end of 2018. I look forward to much more of both in 2019.

I need my friends

Friendship in my 30s has been one of the sweetest gifts of my life. Yes, it unfolds at a different pace now, we all have less time for each other, but the slow work of building trust yields rewards. We all need those women who are going to stand with us, speak truth into our lives, ask us good questions, yank out weeds from our garden and laugh and laugh and laugh (and maybe watch the Royal Wedding together as well).

Go back to the doctor

I’ve always been a person who went to the doctor because of a problem and never went back. The first appointment is a general inquiry, there were usually tests done, but now I know it’s in the follow up appointments where two things happen: the doctor has to work harder to understand you, and you have to keep telling the truth about how you really are, about the treatment and whether or not it is working. This goes for mystery physical things and for emotional and psychological matters. Before this year I never went back. I thought I was too complicated. I thought things would get better on its own. In 2018 I saw my GP six times, and it led to a new kind of health and freedom in my life. I sprained my ankle and had to see a physiotherapist at least five times. It meant sitting with a medical professional who often took my health more seriously than I took it, and something about that forced me to take myself more seriously as well.

There’s no experience like losing someone you love

Two women I loved dearly died in 2018. Their lives are irreplaceable, and there is a grief in losing them that will never go away. It was a reminder that we are made by love, the love of God, the love of others. I feel so grateful to have known them and been loved by them.

Write it down

It doesn’t matter if it is an idea that came to me while I was driving or a longing I could voice to no one. If I wrote it down, I felt better. If I wrote it down, I was less resentful of people or circumstances. Somehow letting the ideas out, letting the words out helped me to live and helped me to realize I have more to do. If you want to know more about my journal and writing tools, I did a series of videos about that here.

Endings are hard, some endings are necessary

We are conditioned as a people to think that endings are all bad, which is why we delay our endings. We stay longer than we need to in organizations and relationships that cause death to our souls. This year we decided to end our commitment to something. It was a hard decision, one we put off for a long, long time, but I have a feeling it will lead to a beautiful beginning.

Well friends, that’s it for me today. I have a feeling I could write a blog post about each of these eight lessons. Would you like me to do that? Could you let me know in a comment or email? As always, please join the conversation over on Instagram. I’m on there almost daily.

Now tell me: What did you learn in 2018?