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2023 Retrospective and 2024 Goals

Every year I do a retrospective, and the time is now upon us once again. I always review what went well, what could have gone better, and what I'm focusing on for the new year.

Last year I said I wanted to allow myself the grace to find joy. Probably the most philosophical goal I've put in place. I really believe that if you put in the work and keep yourself open, life aligns you to what is right for you in that moment.

What went well

I had a mid-life crisis

At the beginning of the year my husband Jason went independent. Since his business was doing well, we decided that I could finally take a break from work.

Like many people, I'd been working since I was 16, and was excited to have the first real break as an adult where I didn't have to learn a new skill or transition to a new career path or recover from bad burnout. It's a truly privileged thing I've been able to experience, and I'm so grateful for Jason for all of the support. He believes in me even when I have trouble believing in myself, which is terrifying but also really wonderful.

So I took this break in March and spent a couple months kind of decompressing and reading and walking a lot. Then in the spring and summer I started spending even more time outside hiking and paddle boarding.

And around August the mid-life crisis hit. What was my purpose? Deep down I'm a nihilist but I'm okay with it. Nothing really matters in general, but a lot of things matter to me, personally, so what am I here for? How can I spend my time in a way that makes me proud? How can I help others? How can I find the joy I had in childhood? I had an absolutely great childhood. I spent the majority of days with my grandma and great-aunt and we baked, gardened, cooked, played Canasta... it was great.

They were dark days, honestly. A lot of soul-searching and crying and feeling guilty about the crying because how lucky was I to have space to think about these things? And how silly was I being for carrying on when I not only chose this but nothing was actually wrong?

I came out the other side, though not in the way I thought I would.

I re-ignited childhood joy

I thought I'd come up with a PLN (this is a Terry Pratchett reference for those that get it), and it would be a great plan full of to-dos and small achievable goals. I was going to Sort Out My Life and there would be checkboxes full of little checked achievements.

None of that happened.

Instead, I started volunteering more. When I was a kid, I used to volunteer at the Ogden Nature Center. When I was little I attended a lot of the nature classes. As I got older I started participating in events to pull invasive weeds. As a teenager I would teach the younger kids about native plants, the animals in rehabilitation at the center, and about the environment of Utah. I loved going there. I loved showing the kids Chitters, the great-horned owl. I loved teaching the kids about bats and snakes and beavers. I loved using the rope to jump into the river even though all the kids said there were leeches in it (veracity undetermined). I even loved pulling out invasive saplings by the river bank.

So, I started volunteering at Mt. Tabor. At first it was just on the last Saturday of every month. And then I found out there was an open spot on the Board so I joined that. Roles shifted on the board and I had the opportunity to be the Communications Chair so I started managing the website and writing the monthly newsletter.

Then I found out about the weekly Urban Nature Series, where volunteers lead a nature talk every Sunday. So I started coordinating that, since it's such a great free community event.

They are small volunteer jobs, but they make me feel so happy. And I finally met people who will stop mid-hike to look at lichen growing on a tree. Or will point out every native plant species they see, or will say "Did you hear that? That's a spotted towhee!" These conversations have brought me pure joy and a sense of belonging. I made new friends from the Board, which has been wonderful

I attended a lichen workshop where we learned all about identifying lichen and learned about their impact on the environment. I made a new friend from that workshop, too!

I kept working on my newsletter, Design and Nature Reimagined.

I wrote about native plants.

I started working on my sculpture and pottery more consistently and met ANOTHER new friend who is an artist, ceramist, studio director, and ceramics teacher.

And I started noticing a change in myself.

I started gardening more, like I did when I was little. I would sit in the garden and just watch the bees like I used to.

Habits that I had as a kid started coming back to me. I used to collect rocks and twigs on walks as a kid and take them home, just to look at them. I noticed myself doing a similar thing on my recent walks. I'd pick up some fallen moss, bring it home, and just... look at it. And it made me happy.

Then I started trying to sculpt what I'd been finding, and have re-kindled my joy of sculpture. I started working with clay when I was about 8 and have always loved it. And when I was a kid I did a LOT of sculpture. I'd forgotten how much I loved it.

Then I started to transfer that knowledge to 3D rendering, and it turns out I'm pretty good at it and I've had the discipline to follow through and finish my work.

I became stronger in my person

During my little mid-life crisis, I also realized a key thing that I'd been avoiding most of my life. And that was discipline. As a kid I participated in lots of extracurricular activities and classes. I didn't always want to do them but I would be dropped off at the class and had to participate. I don't think this is a bad thing, but I don't know that I learned self-discipline. Doing something to achieve a goal, even though I wasn't enjoying myself at the time.

It's why I started and quit projects. It's why I had ideas that I couldn't follow through on. I lacked the self-discipline to say, "I don't want to do this, but I'm doing it anyway because it will help me learn skills that will help me become who I want to be." Work projects were fine because I had to do them. Others were expecting me to do it. But I personally didn't believe in myself to follow through.

That was a huge breakthrough for me, and it's helped me push through projects the last half of this year.

All of this came together about a month or two ago where I wrote an aspirational bio about myself. The only way I can describe it is that it felt very right. And it's helped me focus my activities so that I'm making that bio true.

And I did figure out what was meaningful for me. I figured out how to spend time in a way that makes me proud. And it's been in front of me my whole life. I just couldn't see it until I took a step back.

It's connecting people with nature. That's all it is, but it's also everything.

What could have gone better

Stop should-ing all over myself

I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I should do. I should go back into the corporate world, although I don't need to since finances right now are okay. But I should do it because how do I respond to the quintessential American opening line of "So, what do you do?"

What do I do? Do I need to do something to be worth talking to? Does my art and writing and volunteering and community building count as doing something? Is it enough?

Or should I go back to what I was doing previously so I can say, "Oh I work at [insert company here]."

I went back and forth on this a lot this year. Lots should-ing on myself. Lots of coming to terms with understanding that a salary doesn't indicate my value as a human. Learning that yes, there are things I should do that I don't want to do but they ultimately fill me up as a person. And those are the shoulds I should (lol) focus on. But there are lots of things I should do that don't make me better as a person and I can cast those aside until a different situation arises.

What I'm focusing on next year

So, based on the internal reflection and break-downs and growth from this year, I've decided to focus on discipline. It's the "I don't want to do this but I'm going to do it anyway because it will help me become better." It's looking at things from a daily perspective, being one percent better today than yesterday. It's consistency. And it's having the patience to realize that this growth is cumulative.

What I'm doing today is enough, because I'm moving forward. And I'll be moving forward a little bit more every day.

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