“I never lose; I either win or learn.”

I heard this motto on a guided meditation and I love it because it articulates in a much catchier way a lesson I learned about four years ago. Later this month, my family will mark the fourth anniversary of my brother Rob’s death from melanoma at age 27. In the immediate aftermath of losing him I felt many things, including anger. Now I am not naturally a very angry person–I’m more prone toward depression, which some consider anger turned inward–so to walk around feeling so bitter and furious with the world was new to me. Of course, anger is a natural part of the grieving process, but I didn’t want to get stuck there. I was a new mother at the time, so I needed a way forward that would allow me to heal and care for my baby.

As the months passed I read as much as I could about what happens after we die and what the meaning of life is. I considered religious perspectives and read books by psychics and people who’d supposedly had near-death experiences. I came away from my research with a strong sense that we are here to love and learn. Our relationships and how we treat other people are the most important parts of life. Adversity and failure are invitations to learn, grow, and deepen our empathy for others. Achievements and material prosperity are just icing on the cake. It’s good to have goals and there’s nothing wrong with wanting things, but that isn’t our main purpose here on Earth.

My little epiphany helped me let go of the anger coiled inside my chest. I stopped resenting people whose siblings were still alive and families who seemed to be a perfect picture of happiness. I resolved to approach everything that happened to me, good or bad, with one question: What can I learn from this?

It hasn’t always been easy to maintain this attitude, but I’ve observed over the years that everyone faces loss or adversity at some point. The person who seems to have it all today is the person who, next year or the year after, will get divorced, lose a job, say goodbye to a loved one, find herself in a bad car accident, and so on–the possibilities are endless. When life is going well, enjoy it and “save up,” so to speak, for the eventual darker days. When things don’t work out the way you wanted them to, try to find the lesson from your situation and have faith that you’ll come out of it sooner or later. As a wise friend said to me in the most intense days of my grief, “The only way around it is through.”

The requisite year-end reflection

All over the Internet, people are taking stock of 2017. Like many, I found it stressful to keep up with the news this year. However, the past few months have also brought important milestones in my personal and professional lives. Here is the requisite year-end reflection along with some intentions for 2018.

In 2017 my freelance writing work grew to the point that I had to scale back my teaching load. After a spring and summer so busy they left me feeling burnt out, I decided to give up a part-time academic job and dwindle my remaining fall course assignments down to one accelerated six-week class. When I made this decision in August I felt both scared and exhilarated. What if I failed? What if I succeeded? Would I like mostly working from home?

Four months later, life feels more settled, though there is always an element of unpredictability in the freelance life. I’m going into the spring with one class at Temple and a full roster of writing work. Just a few years ago I couldn’t have imagined this life for myself. Now I get to tell people, “I’m a writer,” when they ask what I do. I’ve written about my journey from brand-new freelancer to busy working writer in “How to Outsource Your Freelance Blogging Work with Integrity,”┬ámy Pitchfest-winning article for Be A Freelance Blogger.

So, what’s next? My challenge in 2018 will be to return to my Creative Writing roots. I put fiction mostly to the side when I had my first child four-and-a-half years ago. Now that my second child is almost two, it feels like time to dip my toe tentatively into the water. I’ve read more articles than I can count by women writers describing how they do (or don’t) balance motherhood with a writing life. But while these articles have shown me I’m in good company, they can’t really tell me how to find the balance in my own life. It looks a little different for everyone.

After thinking about it for a few days, I’ve decided the first step is to write regularly here on my blog. So expect one-two posts a week from me on whatever happens to be on my mind. It will be a little bit like creative writing, a lot like free writing, and give me a space to play around with words. After years of thinking I can’t have a blog because I don’t have one specific niche in mind, I’d like to return to the style of online journaling that first captured my attention in the early 2000s. On LiveJournal and elsewhere, I loved reading about other people’s lives in eloquent prose that captured ordinary details along with some wisdom. Many of the blogs I read were written by women older than me, and reading about their hopes, dreams, mistakes, and day-to-day routines gave shape to my wishes and plans for my own life. I shall strive to do something similar here.

Happy New Year, everyone!