For eleven years, back in my 20s and 30s, I saw this wonderful therapist named Laurel. She had short, white hair (my own hair was long back then), and was very warm and wise.
I loved this woman. She helped me move past the crushing grief that paralyzed me after an injury cut short my budding dance career. She helped buoy me up during the depressing years of my first marriage.
I remember thinking that she was like my village wise woman. A thousand years ago we might have had the same relationship, me tromping through the forest to seek her counsel instead of driving across town. I imagined me showing up at her hut to sit on the dirt floor and spill my sorrows and partake of her wisdom. Instead of tearing a check out of my checkbook, I’d offer up a chicken or a basket of berries.
Anyway, I’ve lost touch with Laurel, but she came to mind this month as I contemplated the New Year.
I remember a conversation we had on the cusp of my 30th birthday. I was feeling overwhelmed by the passage of time, by the enormity of what I had not yet accomplished.
Laurel nodded in silence for a beat, as therapists do. Then she said, “Yes, most of the time we’re looking down at each step of the staircase, but something like a birthday can lift your gaze, so you see the span of the entire staircase — all the steps behind you that you’ve already climbed, and the length of steps rising before you.”
I think of that image a lot, especially at the ending of one year and the start of a new one, which practically begs you to take stock of where you’ve been, and where you’re going.
So let’s add one more to the plethora of “Year in Review” posts. Because looking back helps us to figure out where we are, so we can figure out where we want to get to.
Here are some of the milestones of my 2014.
2014 started off with a bang, as I said goodbye to singledom and hello to married life. MM and I were married in a tiny, intimate, perfectly imperfect ceremony in my parents’ living room three days before the New Year. Here’s the song I wrote and surprised MM with at the end of our ceremony:
If I had a theme word for 2014, it was Spaciousness. I wanted more spaciousness in my schedule (still working on that one) and in my physical environment, and thanks to the Great ClutterBust, I achieved the impossible: I transformed my studio from the room that made me cringe every time I entered, into a space that makes me smile!
Some before shots:
And after shots:
I still have lots of clutterbusting to do (clutterbusting being an ongoing process, like peeling layers off an onion), but I smile and shake my head in wonder at my new-and-improved space about six times a day.
Although I have a ways to go before I reach my income goals, 2014 was an amazing year in terms of finances.
First of all, after more than five years of laboring under my Enormous Mountain of Debt, I made the final payment! I think it took a few weeks to get over the shock. With the exception of our mortgage (more on that below), we are now debt free!!
But that’s not all.
This was also the year that I discovered You Need A Budget (YNAB) — the most amazing system and software that made me actually LOVE budgeting (seriously!) Our lives will never be the same. And I mean that in a good way.
If I had had YNAB back in 2007, I never would have gotten into debt. It’s that awesome. (Click here to check out YNAB for yourself and you’ll save 10% — $6 — if you end up buying the software. That’s an affiliate link, so if you do buy I’ll also earn a $6 commission, but I’d evangelize about YNAB regardless. It has, quite literally, changed our lives.)
And wait — there’s more!
To cap off our Year of Financial Liberation, we refinanced our mortgage, lowering our interest rate and saving on our monthly payments! We just signed the papers on Monday, a day after our anniversary (which I find poetic, since it was the pragmatic thought of refinancing, along with wanting to make sure we’d have visitation and survivorship rights, that got us started talking about the whole concept of marriage in the first place, almost two years ago. Call us romantics. 😉 )
Next steps: converting to bi-weekly mortgage payments (which will save the equivalent of a month’s mortgage in interest every year!) and setting up an automatic investment fund for the money we’re no longer spending on debt.
At the beginning of 2013, I decided to try an experiment. I noticed that my whole body felt about 5,000 times better when I got regular chiropractic and (sometimes painful) deep tissue massage. But geez, it’s expensive!
So I asked my massage therapist, Cindy, the protocol she would recommend, taking into consideration that money was an object.
“If you can come every three weeks,” she said, “that would at least prevent things from locking up completely in between sessions.”
So I gritted my teeth and readjusted my money priorities. I figured I’d give it six months or so.
That was two years ago and I’ve never looked back. In fact, I now budget for two visits each month. It makes that much difference to the quality of my life.
The other big health/self-care change this year was adding a daily stretching routine, based on the Ming Method. I do the neck stretches while my tea water is boiling, and a series of others either first thing in the morning (before or after my 10-15 minutes of seated meditation) or right before bed. Or both.
These practices (along with my beloved treadmill desk, daily meditation, weekly yoga, and avoiding the foods that my blood antibodies reacted to), haven’t eliminated my back issues or my migraines, but together they have made an enormous positive difference.
Of course the most important practice, as I like to say, is just getting back on the wagon. And doing so with love and compassion.
I stumble in my commitments. A lot. So I practice forgiveness and self-compassion, keep my wagon short (ie, I keep my commitments “ridiculously achievable”) and get right back on.
Each year I get a little bit better. Not at avoiding stumbles — no, I still stumble just as much. I get better at practicing imperfectionism and my Golden Formula (self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good), and my-oh-my, it is such a better way to live!
Speaking of imperfectionism, 2014 was the year that I finally overcame a particularly sticky case of perfectionist paralysis in my creative life.
For years I’d dreamed of making a calligraphic poster of my Rules for the Creative Sandbox, but the dreaded Perfectionist Gremlin had me convinced I’d never be able to do it justice.
Earlier this year I finally busted that self-installed glass ceiling, and used the rules themselves to bust through the perfectionist chains holding me back. I sat down at my art table over the course of several days and made a very imperfect, very “me” poster:
Then, energized by this experience, I gathered all my sayings about imperfectionism and created a second poster — my Imperfectionist Manifesto:
- painted a lot
- created over 100 daily artquotes
- completed a solid year of “tiny & daily” writing with Project 3x5x365
- wrote some poetry for the first time in almost 30 years
- started looping (and created over 50 loop tracks)
- performed in my very first improv shows!
(Wow! That’s a lot of stuff! I need to come back to this page and remind myself of this every time I start to feel bummed out that I haven’t been creating as much as I’d like. 🙂 )
And in the “Combining Creativity & Business” category, I also started planning what promises to be my biggest creative project of 2015: the Living A Creative Life Living Room Tour.
I’ll be couchsurfing my way around the US, performing house concerts and teaching creativity workshops in people’s living rooms. (Want to bring me to your community? Click here to read more.)
In the “Combining Creativity & Health/Self-Care” category, I’m getting better at using my Golden Formula to
(A) notice when I’m taking on too much (again)
(B) self-compassionately and lovingly guide myself back to sanity.
Which usually means letting go of things I really want to do, in order to make space for things I want even more.
This. Is. Hard.
I do not know if it ever gets easier, but I’m getting better at embracing the hard.
Business Transitions: Endings, Overhauls, Beginnings
In the “Straight Business” category, some good things came to an end in 2014. After a year cohosting our Creative Insurgents Podcast, Cory and I decided to end it in order to concentrate on our own projects. It was a great run! Check out our final episode for more on why we decided to pull the cord.
While some things ended, other things got refreshed: this website, and my music website, MelissaSings.com, for example, which I overhauled in a spasm of obsessive-compulsive productive procrastination. That’s how these things often happen in my world…
I also finally got some actual pages up for the one-on-one mentoring and consulting that I was already doing. Plus I finally added a shop for my art! Alas, there’s still much to be done — dozens of artworks still to add — but as I like to say, a website is always a work in progress. Just like a life. 🙂
Program-wise, 2014 started off with successful second runs of both Get Sparked! and Your Big, Bold, Creative Life Academy (I’ll be opening up the Academy again in just a couple of weeks — click here for more info), plus energizing sessions of the Great ClutterBust (x3), Finishing Blitz, Creative Ignition Circle and Creative Sandbox 101 (x2). (Sheesh! No wonder I got tired!)
On the “live” end of things, I hosted my 2nd annual Create & Incubate Retreat over Memorial Day weekend (another one is in the works for 2015 — I’m just waiting for confirmation of dates — get on my mailing list for advance access), and in July I ran my first full-day Unleash Your Inner Creative playshop.
Perhaps the most significant change on the business front, though, happened behind the scenes, and should really be cross-posted under Health/Self-Care: I finally broke down and hired a bookkeeper early in the year!
Can you say “quality of life improvement”? Yeah. Wish I’d done it sooner!
Wow. When I add it all up together, it’s amazing how much more I accomplished than I thought!
Life is like that. When you keep your eyes on the stair treads, it doesn’t feel like you’ve climbed very high at all, but when you stop at the landing and turn around, be sure to stand back because you might experience some vertigo!
All in all, it’s been a good year. Now MM and I are off to Monterey for three nights for our Anniversamoon, then it’s back to climbing that staircase.
Happy New Year!
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!