13 Lessons I Learned in 2013

Earlier this year, along with thousands of others, I chose one word to represent my goals, aspirations, and hopes for this year. The One Word movement aims to reduce the stress and inevitable guilt we feel in creating and then quickly forgetting our New Years resolutions. Forget the long list of aspirational and often unrealistic goals, and simply choose one word. For 2013, I felt called to choose a somewhat peculiar word: thrive

As I explained on my old (and now defunct) blog, my perspective on my one word was about flourishing, growing, and developing vigorously. But it was also about overcoming a survival mentality and learning to excel in any circumstances. I didn't want to just survive, scraping by in the day-to-day; I wanted to really thrive. For most of 2013, my one word felt like a sick joke of sorts, a taunt of what I had hoped the year would be like as we faced challenges and setbacks. But deep beneath the surface, the plates were shifting ever so slightly to erupt uproariously at the end of the year. After 11 months of Advent-like darkness, I can finally see brightness of Christmastime illuminating my next steps and the hard lessons I learned this year.

Here are 13 mini lessons I learned in 2013, all of which prepared me to thrive, although it certainly didn't feel that way most of the time.

1. Be thankful. 

I am convinced that a key to shifting my experiences of both challenges and celebrations this year was a grateful attitude. While I still struggle daily with thankfulness, I'm more aware of how counting my blessings regularly is important to feeling like I'm thriving rather than just surviving. There's a reason why Ann Voskamp and her 1000 Gifts book was on the New York Times best sellers list for over a year. 

2. Stop asking for permission.

I once shared with a mentor how I was interested in learning about global supply chain issues, especially as they pertain to human rights and brands, but that I wasn't sure if I was ready to pursue a graduate program focusing on this. She simply asked me why I needed to wait to be in a formal program to start learning on my own. In that moment, I vowed to stop asking for permission for things that didn't require others' approval. 

3. Give more than you get on social media.

Social media is a minefield of self promotion, quality updates, and unnecessary drama. As I navigated my own social media presence, I sought to emulate those who give more than they take by sharing others' content, encouraging those with smaller platforms, and generally being hospitable virtually. 

4. Extend grace to others and yourself.

I'm the type of perfectionist who scoffs at those who proudly call themselves "recovering perfectionists." As an INTJ, I strive to continually improve my skills and experiences. It's not that nothing is ever good enough, but rather that I know that it can always be even better. Yet this year taught me the hard way that sometimes, you just need to give one another (and yourself) some slack. 

5. Be honest about your goals. 

A few months ago I stopped blogging at the personal blog I'd invested in for about two years. In that time, I spent countless hours and expended way too much mental energy strategizing about how to build my readership, gain access to new writing groups and opportunities, and deal with the latest uproar in the blogosphere. But as I took steps back throughout the year to honestly evaluate these goals, it became increasingly apparent how the path that I was on was not only unsustainable (since most bloggers don't really make money off of blogging), but also wasn't really a true goal of mine. I didn't want to be a Christian blogger-turned-author, like so many of my dear friends. I didn't even want to be a Christian feminist-blogger-turned-author. Being honest about these goals made it easier to accept that and move on. 

6. Put your money where your mouth is. 

This holiday shopping season, nothing has tested me more than wanting to buy the cheapest, most easily accessible items for family and friends. Yet as I've dug deeper into the stories behind what we buy, I've become more resolved to put my money where my mouth is: promoting sustainable, eco-friendly, and ethical products. Yet I've also applied lesson #4 in many of these instances, knowing that I won't always be able to find an ethically-made alternative, or that I may need to pass on buying the alternative because it's way more expensive than the mainstream option. 

7. Stop letting fear make decisions for you. 

Fear is the noxious gas to many of our dreams and goals, and over the last year, I often learned the hard way that overcoming fear is the first step toward truly flourishing and thriving. When I stopped letting fear dictate my decisions, I was able to see more clearly and make better, more confident decisions. 

8. Take time to smell the roses – sometimes literally.

In the summertime and early fall, bushes of fresh lavender grow around the sides of our building in heaps and piles. For weeks, I ignored the perfumed branches while walking our dog or to the train because I was too "busy" scrolling through emails or Twitter on my phone. Finally I stopped bringing my phone on these walks and really took those few minutes to be mindful of and thankful for my surroundings.

9. Never stop learning. 

A couple of years ago I resolved that I would teach myself how to sew, even though I didn't even know how to sew a button and couldn't sew a hem for my life. But with much practice and many mistakes later, I'm pleased that I've learned a new skill, especially one that is increasingly a lost art and in stark contrast to the computer screen-heavy hobbies of my generation. 

10. Invest in creative pursuits. 

My main creative pursuit over the last few years has been writing and storytelling. But as I transitioned away from that creative endeavor, I realized that I needed to invest my creative energy in other areas. Over the last year, I've spent time painting, decorating, and most recently, reupholstering. 

11. Take small steps toward success and let go of unrealistic expectations. 

Rather than trying to bite off more than I could chew, I learned to take small steps toward success in a few key areas of my life this year and release unrealistic expectations for myself. For instance, I wanted to be more conscious about how certain products affected my health and wellness, so I stopped using makeup and personal care products with toxic chemicals and switched to organic, natural ingredients instead. I still have a long way to go, but making these decisions one at a time has added up over time. 

12. Hold onto hope.

Advent is a time of waiting in the darkness, of preparing quietly and prayerfully in the tension of what is hoped for and what may be. Oftentimes, we don't even know what we are really hoping and waiting for, and even if we do, we are unsure as to whether it will come to be. For most of 2013, we lived in a consistent season of Advent, all of which was preparing for an even brighter celebration at the very end of the year. 

13. Pursue the adventure. 

Last but not least, one of the most exciting updates and lessons from 2013 was to keep pursuing the adventure. In 2014, I will be flying to new heights (pun intended) in a new job at the Boeing Company, working on corporate responsibility and global citizenship strategy. For all of those who clicked on this post for the cryptic "B" plug, this is the "B" I am talking about. Sorry to disappoint some of you! 

What did you learn in 2013? What was your One Word, and how did it pan out this year?