Blogversation 2012: What did you learn in 2011 that you’re carrying forward?

Throughout this year, several bloggers will engage in a conversation here and on their blogs — asking questions of each other and responding. Others are absolutely welcome to join the conversation, as well. Learn more about the ladies of Blogversation 2012.

I had such a wild 2011, a year of such intense personal and professional transformation, that it’s hard to point to a single lesson.

If I’m to choose one, though, I’d go with this: There are only two motives in life, fear and love. Don’t let fear be my guide.

Around this time last year, I learned my position was being eliminated. This was a good job at a company I’d moved us to New York for, and I faced unemployment in the middle of a recession.

My money anxiety lurks just below the surface on a normal day, and possible unemployment turned it into something like panic and depression. What if I couldn’t find another job? What we couldn’t make a go of it in New York?

Then I took a deep breath, with much help from my husband, John. He pointed out we had money in savings for a rainy day, and if this was it, we’d be fine. I could figure out what was next without fear of us missing a rent payment. I had a good education, a good resume, a good network. If I had to find a new job, I had reason to hope for the best.

Once I cleared the fear a little, I could see clearly enough to throw my Hail Mary pass — I proposed that instead of laying me off, my company create a new part-time position for me. I laid out the financials of how I’d work to grow revenue enough to more than cover the cost of my salary.

To their great credit, the bosses listened with an open mind. They said yes, and even agreed to a provision that I mostly work from home.

I was elated. This arrangement gave me the security of a steady paycheck at a job I love with the time to start doing consulting work.

We celebrated Easter in New Orleans this year, including drinking a bloody Mary on Bourbon Street in our dapper duds.

Then it got better. If I could work from home in Brooklyn, why not New Orleans? John and I spent two months in New Orleans in the spring and another month in the fall, long enough to really sink in to the place and feel what it’s like to live in a special, unique place.

I’m not sure any of this would have happened if I’d kept my full-time job. I’m too responsible, too practical, to walk away from steady work, but when it wasn’t going to be there anyway, what did I have to lose by trying something radically different?

How do I take that into 2012? By examining my life for places where I’m clinging to the shore and to ask, as John often does, what’s the worst that could happen? Very few risks that appeal to me are fatal so why not try a few? Some might flop, but some might work, and I’ll never know if I don’t try.

Here are some posts I wrote previously about taking the leap into semi-entrepreneurship:

What’s one thing you learned in 2011 or one experience you had in  2011 that you’re happy to carry with you into 2012? Why was it significant to you?


Categories: career, lifestyle

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10 replies

  1. I was a needy, demanding child. I wanted name-brand everything (not designer, I grew up in Wisconsin and didn’t learn about “designer” labels until my mid20s) and I wouldn’t settle for anything less. I’ve been beating myself up for my selfish childhood for a number of years. In my 20s I was a “professional volunteer” with AmeriCorps and Peace Corps (China). I saw poverty and lived a rich life without much money. I still beat myself up for my selfish childhood.

    It took asking for forgiveness from my family for the “sins” of my past and practicing the mental thought process that taking care of myself isn’t selfish for me to slowly see myself for who I am today and communicating that with my family. I am looking at a beautiful bouquet of flowers on my table that I bought for myself. A few years ago I would have seen that as a selfish act. Now, I see it as a simple $4 way to take care of myself and I’m thinking about who I am going to give them to before I leave town this weekend.

  2. The past year taught me how well I can live on so much less.

    For years, I felt like I had to keep working at a decently paying, full-time job that revealed itself to be quite stressful – too stressful – once it was gone.

    The reverberation through my household was huge when I lost that job and with it, nearly two-thirds of our income. How will we ever make it, I thought as I wrung my hands.

    “You’ll be surprised at how little you really need,” a neighbor told me.

    I wasn’t so sure.

    But we did things to soften the blow. We refinanced our house so that we now enjoy a payment less than rent for a one-bedroom apartment. Eating out, once the thing that made our work-crazed life manageable, is reserved for special occasions. We don’t spend a penny without considering it and we do without stuff that in the past we thought we had to have.

    I know that I am luckier than a lot of others who lost their jobs. I’ve got a working spouse with health insurance, and that gives us a mercifully soft spot on which to land.

    I think back on the days of rushing from the newsroom to after-school care to grab my kid, grab some food and head home to phone calls and, sometimes, community events and after-hours editing. I was always available, on weekends, during holidays. If news broke, I was there. Some days I’d be so tired I’d hand my kid the remote control, tell him to watch whatever he wanted on the television so long as he kept the volume down so I could sleep.

    These days, rather than sitting in the cafeteria after a full day of school, waiting to get picked up, my son comes home to a house with his mother, his dog and a healthy snack waiting.

    As well as writing, I am building a freelance business and growing a local information website, but it’s a slow process without immediate or consistent financial rewards. While it’s great to make money doing what I love, most of the time I am waiting to get paid.

    I warned my kid this year’s holiday season was going to be a lean one.

    “Santa’s broke and so are we,” I told him, driving home the point that there’d be no X-Boxes hiding under the Christmas tree.

    But we had a lot of fun. When we had a couple extra bucks, we’d splurge on coffee- and cocoa-to-go from the local coffee shop and drive through our neighborhood to take in the holiday light displays. We baked cookies. We had friends over for dinner. We planned the big family Christmas bash at our house.
    In the evening, we enjoyed holiday offerings on television, including the marathon of Harry Potter movies, each one near and dear to my kid’s heart.

    In one of the movies, Harry receives his first Christmas gift ever from the mother of his best friend, Ron Weasley. The Weasleys have a lot of kids and not much money; the gift, a hand-knitted sweater, was short on style but long on love. In another, with nowhere else to go, Harry happily spends time in the Weasley household, a semi-chaotic but supportive and loving hovel of a family gathering place.
    My kid turned to me.

    “We’re just like the Weasleys, Mom,” he said. “We’re poor, but we’re really, really happy.”

    So that’s the lesson I am carrying with me into 2012, that what I have or what I earn has nothing at all to do with the happiness in my heart; that being present for the people with whom I live, rather than for a “job,” is the right choice for me.

    I will do a whole lot more of it in 2012.

  3. In 2011, I learned to be my own university.

    The old model of needing a teacher to bequeath their knowledge to you through a class, years of mentorship, a masters degree — is dying. It’s dead.

    We learn to do by doing especially now when so much has never be done before. There is no script for your career. Many of us have a job that didn’t exist five years ago.

    Stop looking to be guided and start guiding yourself. Stop thinking you need an institution to have an opportunity and BE that opportunity.

  4. There was an experience that taught me about timing and trust, about having faith in seeds that I’ve planted. I had made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to get press passes to a Jim Henson-related event at the Museum of the Moving Image. Jim’s son, Brian, was going to be speaking about the evolution of puppetry. I kept thinking about how I wanted to go, but didn’t move on it, and sort of gave up.

    The night before the event, I received emails from two separate people, each offering me two tickets to the event. I could barely believe it. I thought “Who do I want to bring to this talk?” And the answer came: I wanted to bring a new friend who I had met while sitting in Mr. Hooper’s Store on the set of Sesame Street – someone who has worked for Sesame for about 20 years. Also, his wife, and my husband. I wasn’t sure if I could reach this person via email during the weekend. But I sent an email that same night I was offered the tickets, and the next morning, he replied that yes, he would love to come and bring his wife. The four of us met up and saw Brian speak and do a hilarious Muppet demo. A bit later, I interviewed my friend from Sesame about how he got on board with them and about his work there. A totally inspiring person!

    There was something about this experience that taught me about right timing, and about trusting that good things are happening all the time, even if it’s right below the surface. I guess this is what all good gardeners know!

  5. Rarely do we go through years without something significant happening. There are certain times that are so completely etched into our souls we have to find some way to shake off the symptoms and move forward. I had one hell of a year last year, to be blunt, and am definitely glad to be on the other side. The Kay that is often so light-hearted and full of fun went on hiatus for awhile as she licked her wounds. (If you are interested in more of the sordid details of my last year, please refer to my post

    One of the things I learned in 2011 is friends come from all walks of life, all parts of the globe, and that in this internet age I can honestly say there are friends who are as near and dear to me as ones in the flesh – even though I have never met them face to face. I have found that life is how we make it. I could still be wallowing in the hole I dug for myself or I can look at the sky and be happy to be alive. There is much to be thankful for – I hope I never forget that.


  1. Blogversation 2012: Some highlights so far « Newvine Growing — exploring evolution, revolution and living life intentionally
  2. Making our own luck by being open to possibility « Newvine Growing — exploring evolution, revolution and living life intentionally
  3. Reblog from Cameron Boehmer: Fear Makes You Less Human, Love Makes You More « Newvine Growing — exploring evolution, revolution and living life intentionally
  4. SXSW, part II: Serendipity’s role in success and how to cultivate it | Newvine Growing -- exploring evolution, revolution and living life intentionally

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