Lessons Learned in 2018
By Javacia Harris Bowser
As I’ve looked back over 2018 I’ve come to the conclusion that this was not my year.
Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of good things happened in 2018. I gave a talk at TEDxBirmingham. I landed new freelance writing gigs. I took two unforgettable trips to New Orleans. And I met Nikki Giovanni, the renowned poet who is one of the main reasons I’m a writer today.
But as I review the seven major goals I set for 2018 I see that I only accomplished one. However, instead of lamenting the goals I didn’t accomplish this year, I’m going to celebrate the lessons I learned along the way.
If it won’t fit don’t force it. My mom would say this to me often when I was growing up whether I was trying to piece together a puzzle, fix a broken toy or fix a broken friendship. This year, I applied her wisdom to my writing goals, too. I was supposed to write not one but two books this year. I wrote none. My passion for both projects is gone. I’m one that’s quick to say that inspiration is overrated, that real writers write even when they don’t feel like it. And I still believe all that is true. But the issue with my book projects was a bit different. I kept getting the feeling that these were not the books I was meant to write. And I’ve decided to put my book publishing dreams on hold until I have inside me a story that I know I must be the one to tell.
Rest is not overrated, and neither is therapy. Because I teach full-time, write part-time and run a small business, I average about 5 hours of sleep per night — on a good night. Needless to say, this lack of rest is taking its toll and not just on my physical health. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life and this year my exhaustion exacerbated this issue and I started suffering from panic attacks. For years I’ve hidden my depression and anxiety beneath a mask of optimism and a cloak of overachievement. But things got so bad this year that my disguises started to fail me. My friends saw I was falling apart. Fortunately, one friend forced me to start seeing a therapist, something I hadn’t done in years. And this therapist literally saved my life.
Speak your truth. This summer, after famous fashion designer Kate Spade committed suicide, I decided to write about my depression for the first time. After submitting my essay it suddenly hit me that I was about to be “exposed.” For days I couldn’t sleep and my stomach wouldn’t stop hurting. I was convinced that all the women of See Jane Write (the website and community I manage) would no longer want to be associated with me, that my husband and family would be embarrassed, and that my friends would start looking at me with pity in their eyes. I even had a nightmare that I got fired from my teaching job because the parents of my students thought I’d be a bad example for their children. None of that happened. Instead, dozens of friends, family, colleagues, church members, and women of See Jane Write reached out to me to say how brave they thought I was for sharing my story and many of them started sharing similar stories of their own. Most important, several people reached out to me for help. Several people shared with me their struggles with depression and anxiety and I was able to help them find a therapist, too.
Follow your joy. By the fall of this year, I was so burnt out on all the things I do to run See Jane Write that I’d lost my love for blogging. Honestly, I’d lost my love for nearly everything. I wanted to quit every single thing I do and declared it all meaningless more times than I can count. But last month I hosted #bloglikecrazy, which challenges bloggers to publish a new blog post every day for 30 days in November. This year I gave myself permission to blog about anything I wanted, not just strategic posts meant to help me build my business. I would blog for blogging’s sake in hope of rekindling my love for writing. And it worked!
Beware the barrenness of a busy life. I hear this quote in my head each time I write out my daily to-do list. Yes, I want to work hard, but I’ve decided I want to play hard, too. This year I’ve decided to start prioritizing fun.
You are enough. I’ve spent most of the year trying to figure out if I should devote the rest of my life to being a teacher, a writer, or an entrepreneur or if I should continue to try to juggle all three. But after attending an empowering teacher conference and workshops for entrepreneurs and after publishing personal essays and blog posts that have started important conversations about mental health and more I know now that I can make a difference in this world regardless of my title. I can make an impact simply by being myself. All I need to leave a legacy is already inside me.
You are stronger than you think you are. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been struggling with feelings of hopelessness for much of this year. But after some soul searching I realized I felt this way because I had given up on many of my dreams. But I’ve regained my faith in myself and as I go into 2019 I’m holding on to this quote: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Javacia Harris Bowser is a writer, educator, and founder of See Jane Write, a website and community for women who write and blog. Read her blog at seejanewritebham.com and follow her on Instagram @seejavaciawrite.