A year in ten lessons.

Traditionally, New Year’s Eve is the night when we make resolutions about the year to come, including what goals we are setting, what changes we will make, or what habits we’ll quit. The typical outcome is disappointment, failure, or an increase in those nasty habits as our rebellious nature rears its head. So this year, I challenge you to join me in recalling ten lessons you learned in 2022. My list is below.

  1. Lesson One: If you leave things alone, they tend to work out better than if you try to force your will upon them.
    Last Christmas my son came to see me in Maryland. We were talking about his roommate, who was taking great advantage of my son and who refused to get vaccinated because of his bogus “fear of needles”. The dude had those big plugs in his ear and had tattoos. Not afraid of needles, just a douchebag freeloader who did anything possible to keep his sweet (free) situation. I had gotten very sick that November after visiting my son, because his roommate and his roommate’s son were sick with bronchitis. I ended up in the ER and was finally sent home with a home nebulizer unit and medication. When my son visited, I was still recovering from that illness. I tried to push my son to get rid of this guy, but I pushed hard and ended up getting into a terrible argument with my son. Our wonderful relationship was soured for his visit. He left shortly after the argument to go to his father’s house in Delaware, and I wasn’t sure he was going to come back to see me before heading home. Thankfully he did, and we got through it.

    By the summer, the roommate had shown his true colors in all their glory to my son, and the relationship ended loudly and completely. It was unnecessary for me to push so hard on him last Christmas and it could very well have damaged our relationship. My son cannot read people the way I can, so it took some pretty blatant violations of trust before he rectified the situation, but in the end, it worked out the way it must have. I will remember this lesson.
  2. Lesson Two: Saving money should be a habit, not a goal.
    Some people know this from childhood, but I came from poor people who never talked about money. Sometimes we had nothing, and sometimes Dad had a few great jobs in a row (in his construction and contracting company) and would hand Mom hundred dollar bills to take us clothes shopping for school. But I never knew anything about whether we had insurance (we didn’t) or money in the bank (we did) or any investments (we did not). I learned these things later. After high school, I spent six months living in a car with my boyfriend (who later became my husband). I sold my class ring with the beautiful emerald stone to a pawn shop for twenty dollars so we could eat. I’ve thought about that ring for too long.

    I haven’t ever been perfect about saving money, but over the last couple of years, I’ve been paying things off and setting aside as much as possible into investment accounts or my 401k or my savings account. Getting rid of the debt has allowed me to do a lot more of that. (The interest on debt will keep you poor! Do what you can to get rid of it.) I’ve been poor. I’ve been hungry. And at other times, I’ve been flush with cash. I’m somewhere in the middle now, but I make sure that saving money is a habit I have nurtured. In the past, I would have made a New Year’s resolution to save more money. That’s not good enough. You have to be specific. “I’ll save $50 per month before spending anything on entertainment.” Of course, put aside what you can, even if it’s a dollar at a time. A neat little app is Acorns. That’s how I started a few years ago. You link up your debit and credit cards. When you make a purchase, the app will round up to the nearest dollar and take the difference, putting it into your Acorns account. You find you don’t miss that little bit of money. It added up. Soon, I was doing an automatic $50 debit from each paycheck to add to the growing nest egg. Seeing the money begin to add up felt good. When I got to a certain amount, I pulled the money out and put it into an IRA. That’s how I got started being a regular saver.

    So at Christmas, I splurged a little and got myself a small emerald cocktail ring (on sale). Now I can forget about the class ring, finally. I have my little emerald again.
  3. Lesson Three: Negative thinking sometimes comes disguised as realistic thinking.
    I’m a realist. I tell people this about myself. But sometimes being realistic takes my mind into a bad neighborhood. For example, it was a bad cancer, stage III. If it comes back it will likely be stage IV. That is a true statement. The statement itself is not inherently bad, but the thoughts that follow take me off track. Having a history of clinical depression means that I have to be more vigilant about thoughts like that, but even if you don’t have depression, that kind of thinking takes all the joy right out of you. A dear friend has a habit of saying things like, “I have no life” when I ask why she hasn’t retired yet. She calls herself a realist. When you say things like that, your soul is listening. Without realizing it, you begin to believe it and live it out. You don’t do the things that would give you a better life, or at least the life you want.

    As the teenage girl who taught me to ride a bike when I was 5 said, “If you look at the ditch, you’ll end up in the ditch. Look towards where you want to go.” That is one of the best pieces of advice I ever got. It has served me well. It got me through cancer, as I saw myself surviving. I knew it was a bad cancer, but I didn’t see myself dying. It got me through a difficult decision to move. I saw myself spending time with my son rather than only seeing him twice a year.(At one point, during the move, I had to see myself getting through the next five minutes, as I suffered a very severe panic attack right in the middle of it all as the enormity of it began to swell inside my mind. Thankfully my realist friend snapped me out of it, well…her plus some medication!) And now I’m looking forward to life in the country as I get older.

    I generally have a five-year vision for myself. I don’t do vision boards or anything formal, but you can do that if it would work best for you.
  4. Lesson Four: You have to do what’s right for you. No one else is going to know what’s best for you.
    I don’t think this one needs a lot of explanation. I’ll just say that since cancer I have made some choices that others have questioned. Over the years, I’ve learned to trust myself, though. I have essentially been on the hook for all the choices I’ve made since my ex-husband and I ended our marriage. I haven’t ever had anyone else who I trusted the way I trusted him, though I have had people whom I loved. At first, I made very rash decisions, feeling somewhat adrift, but then I snapped out of it and began to give myself the same advice I might give a friend. And I listened. I’ve done some really nice things for myself – got a Honda Accord after finishing cancer treatment last year (which I had wanted for a long time); found that one-story, affordable house that I had dreamed of having in retirement; bought that house before selling the last one, and so on. These were things that others questioned, but they have worked out for me. And now I’m going to be upgrading my bathroom here with a hydrotherapy tub. I won’t even be telling my sister about this one, because undoubtedly she will ask how much it cost. That’s between me and the contractor. This tub is going to make a huge difference in my quality of life, and I had been thinking about it for years. This is right for me, and I won’t be going into debt over it (see Lesson Two).
  5. Lesson Five: Nothing changes overnight, but small changes can take you far.
    My sister has a lot of food allergies that have come on later in life. She’s eleven years older than me. Because of the problems these allergies were causing, primarily esophageal damage, she cut out all of the things her doctors suggested she cut out – cold turkey! We’re talking about nuts, soy, eggs, wheat, milk, tomatoes, and several other things that I can’t remember at the moment. Consider how many things you’d have to stop eating. She is far more disciplined than I am. But if you need to make changes, you don’t have to do it cold turkey like she did (unless, of course, your life is in danger). In fact, sometimes the shock of sudden and sweeping changes will cause your rebellious streak to come out, and then you end up going back to your old habits and even exceeding your previous level of consumption. Think of how many people succeed at crash diets and then put the weight back on with extra pounds besides.

    Instead, make some simple improvements. One thing I did this fall, because my blood pressure has been slowly rising, is to switch from caffeinated coffee to half-caff. I had, at first, tried to just quit coffee. That didn’t work, and I can taste the difference when I go full decaf, so this was my compromise. Friends of mine couldn’t imagine me without coffee! But at some point, I might try going to decaf only and maybe no coffee at all. Small changes. I’m working on others, but this is a lesson I learned while trying to cut back the caffeine.

    A final thought about this lesson. I was recently talking with a man at work whom I respect very much. We were just chatting. When I mentioned that my dream was to retire and write books, he said, “I have two kids who are creative types. My advice to them is, ‘Do that for 15 minutes every day. You’ve got 15 minutes to devote to that.’ The trick is that once you’ve done it for 15 minutes, you’re in a groove and want to keep going. That’s how you get there. You don’t need an endless block of time.” There you go. It’s a lesson I keep learning. I’ll let you know next New Year’s Eve if it helped me with my writing.
  6. Lesson Six: Unless you’re a masochist, trust your gut. If it feels wrong, don’t do it.
    We all have regrets in life. Things we should have said and didn’t, things we said and shouldn’t have. The most preposterous thing people can say, in my opinion, is that they have no regrets. That’s such a selfish and unenlightened statement. It says to me that you have no empathy and no self-awareness. It says to me that you don’t care if you hurt others. Where possible, I have made amends to people I have hurt, and as I’ve gotten older, I try to make my apologies as soon as I realize what I’ve said or done. That’s part of human growth. But sometimes my mouth gets ahead of my human growth and I unintentionally hurt someone. I hate that. If I could take a beat before speaking or acting, I could hear that inner voice telling me what to do. We all have it, but we have to be still and quiet in order to hear it.

    My challenge with this one has been to silence the devil on my other shoulder when I’m trying to make a choice. In this, I don’t refer to something I’m going to say but rather something I’m going to do. I recently encountered a situation in which I could have acted aggressively in a situation, but by taking my time and reasoning it out, the “win” I would have gotten would not have been worth the feeling and repercussions afterward. I’m much happier with the final outcome, and I didn’t have anything to regret after.
  7. Lesson Seven: Doing one nice thing for yourself every day adds up to a whole lot of self-love.
    This is a tough one for most of us, but especially for women. We never feel that we have the right to take care of ourselves when there is so much to do and so many people who need us to take care of them. As a friend said to me recently, though, you can’t pour from an empty pitcher. You have to take the time to rest and nurture yourself so that you can be there for your family, friends, and so on. This convinced me I was doing the right thing by taking some time off. I was approaching serious burnout. Time off won’t fix everything, but it will make a huge difference in my stress level and attitude.

    But in each day, everyone has time to do one nice thing for themselves. One of my personal go-to nice things is a walk with my dog. Again, it’s not perfect, because I end up carrying a bag of poo, but it gets me fresh air and sun. The milder climate here in my new state means I have more time I can be outdoors. I’m not hugely into the outdoors, but I’m more likely to go out when it’s warmer. Your nice thing might be a cup of tea in your room with the door closed. It might be a soak in the tub. It doesn’t have to be big, like a vacation, but it should in some way nurture your mind, body, and spirit.
  8. Lesson Eight: The reality of a thing is usually not as awful as the fear of it.
    When thinking back to the panic attack I had during my move in July, it was the fear that overcame me. I was so stressed out about the move and whether I was making the right decisions that I worked myself into a storm of insomnia, muscle tension, and “stinkin’ thinkin’,” as they say. I got stuck in a moment and couldn’t take a step. I found myself in my empty bedroom, sitting on the floor and crying. The movers were steadily disassembling furniture and taking it out to the truck. Things were taking too long, and we still had a long drive ahead of us. I’d be driving into the evening, past sunset, and I can’t see well at night. All of these thoughts and more overwhelmed me. With the help of a small dose of anxiety medication and the tough love of my friend, I snapped out of it. But it was a really bad day. You know what, though? I survived it. I got through it and made it to my new home.

    Even for folks without generalized anxiety, some things seem impossible to bear. You might hear folks say, “Oh, I could never do that.” But I assure them that they can (unless it’s jumping out of a perfectly good airplane). So many newly diagnosed cancer patients say, “I can’t do chemotherapy. I just can’t! I don’t like to throw up.” Well, let me tell you. Movies and television always make it look as dramatic as possible. Do some people throw up? Yes. Did I? No. The drugs they have these days for nausea are wonderful. I was one of those people who believed all that I saw about chemo from the movies, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could manage it. Fear, you see, was the culprit. The reality of it was that I could and can handle whatever I must. So can you.
  9. Lesson Nine: Making new friends as you age is harder, but it is not impossible.
    This is one I’m still learning. I miss my friends back in my old stomping grounds, but I have met some very lovely people here in my new home state. It takes me awhile to be brave enough to open up to people, but I strive to remain open. To have a friend, you must be a friend. As much as my sister assured me that it’s next to impossible to find friends when you’re this age and older, I did my usual thing of proving her wrong! Haha! I like a challenge.

    If you remain open and have a little faith and trust, you will make acquaintances, and some of those acquaintances will become friends. One of the keys to friendship, I find, is to think less of yourself and more about others. What would make their day? How could you help them through a struggle? Could they use a hand in some way? Like dating, friendship has to start with learning about each other. Sometimes you find you are incompatible, but sometimes a real gem of a friendship grows. The great thing about friendship is that it doesn’t require monogamy. You can have as many friends as you want!
  10. Lesson Ten: There is no shame in asking for help. You are not a superhero.
    It might be that you need a hand around the house. It could be that you need a massage. It could just be that you need to have some groceries delivered because your back hurts too much to do all that walking on hard floors, shopping. It’s okay! You’re allowed to need help. You’re allowed to ask for help. The world will not end if you realize that you need a hand from another human being. It’s a tough thing for an independent sort like me to admit a need for help. But one of the things I asked my son to give me for Christmas was a day of assistance at my house. I had a few things that needed to be hung by the use of a drill, and I had new curtains I wanted to put up but didn’t feel safe doing myself (because I would need a ladder). In addition, there was a small kitchen cart I got for my baking supplies that was still sitting in the box. Not only did his afternoon of service help me, I think it helped him. There is nothing quite so good for the soul as to feel useful. He brought his tools and got to work. While he worked, we talked and laughed and listened to music. Afterward, we played a board game before he headed home.

    I could have seen it as weakness on my part. I could have gotten bogged down in berating myself for not being as agile as I used to be. Instead I saw it as a real blessing for us both. It was a very good day. I’m no Wonder Woman, and that’s okay. You don’t have to be either.

Happy New Year to you and yours. Much love, Jude



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