Five Lessons I’ve Learned in 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, I’m spending a lot of time reflecting on what I’ve learned, what I’ve accomplished, what I haven’t, and how I want to set goals for 2022.

I didn’t always do this. I’m not a great planner, and sometimes it hurts to think about missed opportunities and bad moments from the previous year. But 2020 changed everything. I want to set goals. I want to make things happen and keep improving myself. I want to live every day with purpose, and live knowing that I’m doing my best. 2020 showed the world just how fragile life – and all of the things we’ve built around ourselves to be comfortable and happy – can actually be. So, here I am, looking back on this last year, and planning for the next one, knowing that all of my moments and all of my dreams are precious.

So, that was a big lesson from 2020. And I’m thinking tonight about what I’ve learned in 2021.

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Be gentle and patient with yourself.

Life’s hard enough without having your own self as a critic and an enemy. Things won’t always turn out the way you want them to. You can try and still fail. You can fail to try, and then have to deal with the consequences. That’s not a moral failing, or a sign that you’re not a good person or capable. That’s human. We’re all human. We are worthy of our own kindness and grace.

Life may get in the way of your plans. Make them anyway.

I had some big creative plans for this year, and though I’ve made a little bit of headway on them, they clearly haven’t materialized yet as I wanted them to. For the first half of the year, there was a bigger issue – an issue that affected more than just me – that required my full attention. So, I gave it. And it mattered. It made a difference. I made a thing happen. It meant changing up what I thought I’d be doing with my time this year, and that’s okay. I’ve still taken steps forward. And I’ll continue to take steps forward, even if they’re tiny ones, until I see my goals become real.

Failure is a teacher.

To be fair, I think I’ve always known this. I think we all do, but it’s a lesson we have to learn over and over, because it sucks to fail. There are few things harder for a human, I think, than to do your best and still not succeed. But it happens. And it will happen again and again. There’s nothing for it but to learn from it and take those lessons forward to the next task. If you’ve failed, at least you’ve tried, and if you’ve tried once, you can try again.

Every single second is a chance to start over.

Don’t give up on a day because you had a bad morning (or lunch hour, or just a bad moment). I’ve had to really contend with this, in the last year. It’s so easy to lose motivation, ambition, willpower – even hope – when things go south. But every breath you take is a chance to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again. Don’t wait. Don’t waste precious seconds of your life.

You’ll be scared. Do it anyway.

Hit send on that email. Type “Chapter One” on that blank page, and then keep typing. Send that text, make that phone call, book that ticket. If it’s important to you, do it, even if it scares you. You’re afraid because you care. And because you care, it’s worth doing. So do it.

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It’s been a strange year for me. So many ups and downs, moments of absolute relief, and joy, moments of abject fear, of sadness and worry. But it’s been good. I’m glad to be here, to be alive and to be working and loving and trying and singing and dancing (badly) and eating and breathing. And so as I close out my 2021, I look forward, and know that every step I take matters.

Birthday lessons, and 34 fun facts about me! (Or, it’s my birthday, but there’s a pandemic.)

Today is my birthday. I’m 34.

Normally, I would be spending time with my parents – my dad’s birthday is on the 17th and we like to celebrate together – but today I’m home, eating cake and being lazy.

When I was 10, 13, 16, 20, etc., 34 seemed very far away, and women in their thirties seemed so wise and sophisticated and put together.

Most days, I can’t remember if I’ve brushed my teeth. I think I may have been wrong about women in their thirties. I think we’re all just trying to figure out how to do this adulting thing.

But I do think I’ve learned a few good lessons, so I’ll share, because why not? And because I have very little else to do, given the pandemic and that it’s a Tuesday. And at the end, I’ll share 34 fun facts about me and a picture that will probably make you laugh, because…I can, I guess.

It doesn’t matter what other people think.

It’s old advice, sure, but it’s true, and I wish I’d understood it years ago. The only person responsible for my happiness is me, and so I’m the only one who gets an opinion.

When I left a full-time, well-paid office job to pursue writing, lots of people had nothing but kind and encouraging words. But lots of people also told me I was crazy and that I was throwing away opportunities I’d never be able to get back. A few people actually suggested I was lying, and that I just didn’t want to say what I’d actually be doing.

Whatever.

When I was younger and I wanted to be an opera singer, people made fun of me. I guess no one’s allowed to like opera before the age of 50.

Whatever.

When my husband and I bought a 200-year-old house, several people wondered, out loud, why we would take on that kind of burden, and if we would regret it, because old houses have old house problems and old house problems take time and money. And wouldn’t it be more convenient to just buy a new house in the suburbs and decorate it like an old farmhouse?

So. Much. Whatever.

I get to decide what makes me happy. No one else gets to do that. It’s like my own personal superpower.

And I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

No one is as hard on me as…me.

I used to spend a lot of time trying to live up to expectations. I was always so worried about how other people thought of me, and what they saw in me, and if I was making a good impression.

I realize now that other people don’t think much about me at all. They’ve got their own stuff going on.

Now, when I do something stupid or say the wrong thing or trip and fall in public (which happens a lot), I remember that no one judges me as harshly as I judge myself. And I remind myself to be kind to me, because…

“Perfection doesn’t exist in this universe.”

Neil Gaiman said that once, in a MasterClass I took. I like it.

It doesn’t do any good to hold yourself to perfection, because it just doesn’t exist. Mistakes are part of living. We can contextualize them, learn from them, and put them where they belong – in the past, behind us – or we can dwell on them, and let them rule what we do in the future.

Don’t do that. Perfect isn’t real. Everyone screws up. Be kind, to yourself and to others.

I know nothing.

Yep, John Snow and me.

The older I get, the less I know. I keep learning, every single day. I read, I write, I try to pick up new skills, I take a voice lesson every week, and I talk to people, because there is always more to learn. But every time I learn something new, I feel like it opens the door to 1,000 other new things I should also learn. I like this, because I get bored easily and I was always good at studying anyway.

Learning is beautiful, and it’s fun, and it’s valuable.

I am enough.

Just as I am.

And you are, too.

And because I said I would:

34 Fun Facts About Me

  1. I drink too much Diet Coke.
  2. I read at least one book per week. Usually more. Any genre.
  3. My favorite cake is Red Velvet.
  4. I forgot the words to the National Anthem while I was performing it once. It was embarrassing.
  5. I like winter better than summer.
  6. My favorite place I’ve ever traveled to is Wales (specifically, North Wales).
  7. Iceland is a pretty close second.
  8. I hate flying.
  9. But I love airports. The best people watching ever. And usually there’s wine.
  10. I am listed as “Katie Wineries” in the contacts list of one of my best friends.
  11. I have always wanted to learn to paint.
  12. I think ketchup is trash.
  13. I love mayonnaise, though. (Everyone tells me this is gross.)
  14. I am afraid of snakes, ticks, and ladybugs. (Don’t look at me like that. I don’t know, either.)
  15. My favorite gemstone is a ruby.
  16. I am a cat person.
  17. I don’t hold my pencil correctly, and I never have.
  18. I used to get pulled out of class in elementary school so they could teach me how to hold a pencil. Priorities, I guess.
  19. I will not wear shorts.
  20. I read palms for fun.
  21. I majored in English.
  22. I am a coloratura. Or, I was, when I was training to sing opera a lifetime ago.
  23. My favorite opera is Don Giovanni.
  24. My favorite composer changes every day. So does my favorite writer. (That’s two things, I know.)
  25. I played Shelby in a production of Steel Magnolias once. It’s been my favorite role to date.
  26. I love Mitch Hedberg.
  27. My go-to karaoke song is Gives You Hell by The All-American Rejects. It has been for years.
  28. Sometimes I’ll sing Desperado instead.
  29. I cannot play an instrument. (It makes me sad. I should learn.)
  30. I like pie.
  31. I prefer the mountains to the beach, but both are lovely.
  32. I bought tap shoes on Amazon once when I was drunk.
  33. I have OCD and anxiety.
  34. I love trivia, and I’m super competitive about it.

And the picture. I don’t know what possessed my mom to place that little bow where she did, but it was genius.

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