10 things I learned in 2019

This year I’ve enjoyed regularly posting what I learned—from the serious to the silly—nearly every month. Today I’m sharing a few noteworthy things I learned in 2019, especially those things that I’m still reflecting on, telling friends about, and putting into action on a regular basis.

1. How to put on lipstick. This is on the less-serious end of the spectrum (and also the “didn’t you already know this?” end), although I will say I think about lipstick as an act of joyful resistance many mornings when I swipe it on.

I wore neutral shades for years. (I can’t tell you how many tubes of Clinique’s Tenderheart I’ve gone through since I was a teenager!) But in the past few years I’ve come to rely on a handful of bright, happy shades.

If you’re gonna rock a bold lip, you need to be confident that you’re putting it on right. If you don’t, it just looks weird. And if you’re not sure you got it right, you won’t feel comfortable.

This year I finally learned how to wear the inexpensive Sephora cream lip stains, which I LOVE. Google and YouTube didn’t have the answers, but I learned by experimenting that I need to start from the middle and work my way out to my lip line, instead of the other way around.

And a local makeup artist turned me on to using a makeup brush to apply regular lipstick. I never understood why people would choose that method when you could just swipe it, but I’m more comfortable with the softer line the brush method delivers—and I appreciate that this method is more forgiving for my mediocre makeup skills.

2. Show up a little early. I enjoyed this long piece on Tom Hanks. In it, the journalist relates that Tom Hanks showed up early for their interview, which never, ever happens in Hollywood. The journalist asked him about it, and Hanks said, “I think a long time ago, I learned how important it was to show up a little bit early. Be ready to go, you know? And to respect the whole process, and I think that you could respect the whole process even when the other people don’t.”

I didn’t need Tom Hanks’s encouragement to be on time, but the way he phrased this struck me. I’m not always excited to do interviews, either (hellllllo, introvert) but I can certainly respect the process, and the people who are part of it.

3. You don’t have to like it. This year, thanks largely to writing Don’t Overthink It, I was able to finally articulate an idea that has been invaluable in my decision-making.

I realized that I struggle to make decisions when I don’t like any of the options. I’ve finally realized that when it comes to choosing between multiple options, I don’t have to like it for it to be the right decision.

This sounds so simple, but I just can’t tell you how freeing this has been.

4. Audio nonfiction is not for me. This year I learned (again) that audiobooks work great for me—but only if they’re fiction or memoir, which is the only type of nonfiction I can handle. This year I tried listening to quite a few nonfiction books, and while I could tell they were good, I actively disliked reading them in the audio format.

I wish I could tell you WHY this is; if you have a theory please share it in comments!

5. Loosen up and try an experiment.

In other words, cut off the top of your plant already. Regular readers know that over the past several years I have jumped down the houseplant rabbit hole, firmly securing my Plant Lady status. My first major purchase was a large fiddle leaf fig, but since then I bought two more smaller ones, mostly because when Kroger ran them on sale for $17, I couldn’t resist.

One of these inexpensive fiddles lives in my daughter’s room (except for the summer months, when we move them all outside), and it’s grown much taller under our care. My daughter came across a passage in a houseplant book (we’ve got lots) about pruning your fiddle to grow into a tree shape, and—thinking we had very little to lose—we tried it. We cut the top right off.

Six weeks later, the plant did indeed branch at the point where we made our cut, and a bunch of healthy new leaves grew at the split. Months later, it doesn’t look like a tree yet, but it’s thriving.

(I know I’m not the only plant-obsessed reader because this book list featuring 15 books for budding botanists had a zillion pageviews this year!)

6. It’s worth enduring the bumpiest dirt roads.

Doesn’t this sound like the chorus of a country music song? My family visited Colorado this summer for a family reunion, but we also got to explore some on our own.

On our very first day there we set out to take a hike that Will had read about on the internet—and it quickly became apparent that the “short” ten-mile drive to the trailhead was on ten miles of deeply rutted gravel roads. We have a family of six, and three of us get carsick. YIKES. It was slow and dusty and stomach-churning.

We came THIS CLOSE to bailing and taking an easier trail closer to civilization, but for some reason—I have no idea why—we kept going. And we were all so glad we did. It was a tough climb up, but the views were incredible; it was my favorite thing we did on our trip.

If I haven’t scared you too much, that hike was to the Devils Head Fire Tower Lookout, and I’d go back in a heartbeat.

7. Invest the time to learn how to use my tools.

I spend a lot of time with the writing program Scrivener, and this year, thanks to Google and some writer friends, I learned how to use emojis to help structure my content, color-code my drafts to visually show my process, customize my menus to save multiple clicks, and generally make it a little easier to write—and that’s made my writing life a little better this year.

8. Set a flower alarm. I finally got the hang of planting tulips, but I haven’t gotten the hang of this zinnia thing. I love these cheerful flowers for their high enjoyment-to-effort ratio; scatter some seeds and enjoy blooms for months.

I used to plant seeds every spring, but in the past few years I’ve fallen out of the habit, only realizing my omission when it was far too late to plant.

This year I already have a reminder on my calendar for May. Here’s to 2020.

9. Get the Bakewell tart.

More Don’t Overthink It: It’s probably worth telling this whole Scotland story in its (brief) entirety sometime, but I’ve learned that decision making is so much easier when I can identity the question behind the question.

At first glance this decision is about dessert, but what if it’s really about experiencing something new? Another decision may appear to be about time management, but what if it’s really about what kind of person I want to be?

Asking myself What’s the real question here? has made decision-making easier.

10. Book people are the best people.

Back in July, I accidentally emailed our MMD Book Club survey to everyone who signed up to get our MMD newsletters. That means I sent it to about 100x more people than I should have. Cue mortification.

I instantly realized what I’d done, and sent out a real quick apology to everyone with some bonus reading tips. And the emails I got back from hundreds of readers were so, so kind. I didn’t need to make a silly mistake to be reminded of how great this community is, but I did make a silly mistake—and your all’s response made me love you even more. Thanks for hanging out here with me in this little corner of the interwebs. You make it a better place, and a better world.

What did YOU learn in 2019?

P.S. 10 things I learned in 2018, and 10 things I learned on book tour. Don’t miss What worked for me in 2019, plus my favorite books of 2019, and my favorite audiobooks and podcasts of 2019.


Leave A Comment
  1. Cathy says:

    Thank you for sharing your list. I have a theory about audio books not being as enjoyable when they are non-fiction (not including memoirs). I think it is due to our brains wanting to process facts by seeing words and not just hearing information. It is why most people tend to take notes in meetings, church, or a classroom. There is something about writing down information or underlining it while processing it that seals in my mind better than just hearing.

      • Nicea says:

        I have often listened to the same nonfiction book as many as three times to fully absorb it. The first time through I just absorb what I can knowing I will understand more the next time through.

    • Leigh says:

      I agree with Cathy! Also, for any of the million reasons that could be – you like your brain voice reading to you more than another person’s voice! It is 100% okay to not like something everyone else seems to love.

  2. Dominique says:

    I’m the same way with Audio books, and I think it’s because I’m a visual/kinesthetic learner. Aural learning style is not my thing at all. I have a much easier time visualizing what I hear when it’s a story. Nonfiction tends to be technical, and I just can’t visualize it very well from hearing it.

    • Anne says:

      I think this might be my situation. I want to SEE information because then I understand it better. Somehow it’s easier for me to follow a story over hours in my ears than a bunch of data.

      • Ej says:

        It may also have to do with being a visual learner or an audio learner. I am visual and kinetic so to learn something (which is often why I’m reading a non-fiction) I need to see it and write on it to have it sink in. The audio part of my learning is in one ear and out the other if not paired with one of the other two.

        • Kristian says:

          This was my thought to- that Anne is likely a visual learner. Of course, we all need to learn in all modes (partly because for most people it also takes getting something 6-8 times to truly learn it), but we all also definitely have our preferred method. I’m an audial learner, so I love audio nonfiction books and have branched out to many books I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. It’s how I prefer to learn in other circumstances too ; if I wanted to concentrate on what a speaker is really saying, I will turn from them and turn an ear towards them instead. It feels a little rude not to look at them, but I can focus so much more.

          What I’m curious about then is this- most podcasts seem to be talks, nonfiction essentially, rather than storytelling (and even then most of the popular storytelling ones are often true stories)….. so, I wonder if, for the people who dislike nonfiction audio books…. is the same true for podcasts and if not, I wonder where the difference lies? So fascinating to see how other people intact media!

  3. Barb says:

    I am the opposite when it comes to audio books. I read to be entertained so non-fiction books are not my favorite books to read. I started listening to non-fiction last year and I would much rather listen to a non-fiction book than read one. I mainly listen to non-fiction. I did listen to one fiction book last year, Circe by Madeline Meyer and I enjoyed that one. Maybe I need to try listening to more fiction!

    • Dee says:

      Similar. I find I have to be all in on fiction and can’t do that by listening. My mind wanders just a little and suddenly I don’t know what’s going on. With non-fiction or some memoir, I can miss a little and still get the gist.

    • Nichole says:

      I can read fiction so much faster than listening to it, and find that I don’t savor the language as much on audiobook. I used to hardly ever read Nonfiction until I started listening to it. And last year, the majority of my favorite reads were actually nonfiction.

  4. McKenzie says:

    It’s so good to know what works for you! I really prefer to listen to my non-fiction. I don’t want to take precious contemplative reading time to say, read a book about potty training or decluttering, so I’d rather get that information in while doing something else I dislike, like laundry.

  5. Liz Snell says:

    I really love non fiction on audio book! For me I can go with that flow, zoom over some hard bits that stop me on the page, digest as I go. I just get bored easily by facts & put down the book. Partly works because I’m often listening (& knitting) in airplanes so I’m captive & stick with it. I have enjoyed more audio fiction recently. But get most of my non fiction on audio. Interesting topic on how different brains work!!

  6. kathy b says:

    Happy new Year!
    I enjoy MrsDarcy……..I usually relate to something you are writing about. “I don’t have to like it to be the right decision” is a great thought. Im writing that down.
    As for the flowers, My friend is wise and she gives me thousands of little seeds that fall off her perennials in the fall. She tells me to sprinkle them in fall, and they should come up as they would naturally. So far , IT has worked amazingly well. No blooms the first year with the echinacea or columbine, but they are going to bloom for the first time in 2020

  7. Dawn says:

    I love how different we all are! I can only listen to non-fiction on audio. My mind tends to wander sometimes when listening, so I miss major points when I listen to fiction.

      • Lee Hillhouse says:

        Yes, it’s especially useful for an intimidating classic that I’m having trouble understanding or getting into. The combination of seeing it and hearing it helps me. Usually, at some point, I’ll switch to one or the other.

  8. Erica says:

    I have tried listening to nonfiction audiobooks as well and it doesn’t work for me either. I think it takes more concentration and focus to listen to. When I’m cooking, driving, cleaning, etc., I’m not able to keep my mind from wandering and then I miss information. I find myself hitting the back 30 seconds button more than moving forward. There are too many books on my TBR list to be reading frustrated! 😉

    • Ruth says:

      I LOVE audiobooks so much so that I waste time parked in my garage listening to just another chapter before I enter the house. So now I limit myself to only non-fiction audio books. I am really dwelving into topics that I would normally not read. (I am constantly driving my 4 kids around so I have lots of time for audio books in the car.). But I am fascinated by how people react to books based on how they digested the information—whether by reading, reading it in the author’s first language, audio or even watching it in movie form.

  9. Nancy says:

    Lipstick question…is there a few brands you can recommend for bright colors? I want to wear them but them lose my nerve…thinking it would be good to begin with a bright sheer color initially.

      • Rosanne says:

        Anne, can you share which shade(s) of the Sephora cream lip stain you use? I am a makeup minimalist and my application skills are rudimentary to say the least. I always struggle in choosing shades and you and I seem to have similar coloring. Many thanks and Happy 2020!

  10. Blaire says:

    I don’t like non-fiction audiobooks because I learn so much better when I read something. When I am trying to absorb new fact based material the written word is best for me. In high school and college I would make index cards with all the info I needed to learn for a test and remembered this so much better than from just listening to the lecture.

    For fiction and memoir it is more about getting absorbed in the story. Though I even have to watch what fiction I listen to, certain genres, complex stories don’t work for me because I have a much harder time keeping characters etc straight on audio.

  11. Angela in NC says:

    I am very picky about the nonfiction is listen to on audiobooks because I often like to look up more info about or check out a map about where I am reading about. Thus I do not listen to audiobooks, unless I am already familiar with the setting, in which I would want to do those things.

  12. Amy says:

    Love your point in #3. Can’t wait to read your book (I totally pre-ordered it). I have a horrible time making decisions. Things will sit in my online carts sometimes for months before I make a decision. (I’m also an under buyer). One thing I’ve been able to sort out though is that if I need anything kitchen wise I simply go to crate and barrel and purchase it. I don’t overthink it. I know I’m getting something pretty and of good quality and no research is necessary. It’s my go to store. Having a go to store works for my being indecisive. No comparing looks or prices. Just take care of it. Drives my excel spreadsheet research husband crazy. But it helps me freak out a little less while crossing an item off my list.

    • Anne says:

      Amy, thanks for sharing your kitchen shopping tip and for walking us through why it works for you. I love it. (And now I want to visit Crate and Barrel—we don’t have one in my town but I’ve always loved browsing that store!)

  13. Kim says:

    I also loved “You Don’t Have to Like It”. I struggle when making decisions where no choice seems “right”. My teenage son has also had a hard time making decisions and I’ve reminded him in the past that there doesn’t always have to be a right or best choice and that most of our choices don’t have a lasting impact on our lives. Your post is a good reminder for me to keep that in mind for this year for myself too.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    On audio non-fiction: I love audio books but have had a similar reaction to non-fiction ones. I think many nonfiction books have a lot of padding around the interesting (to me at least) bits and so when I read them, I do a lot of skimming – which is virtually impossible in an audio format.

  15. Mary Taylor says:

    Love your lists. Interesting about audio books. I am the opposite love non fiction but have learned to only do paper or kindle for fiction. I wonder why, for different minds…. This year has been difficult so looking forward to better 2020. My reading life has done well in 2019, so work on getting even better this year.

  16. Vicki Mitchell says:

    Thank you for your recent podcast on chapter 13 of your new book. It really resonated with me, especially since my word for 2020 is abundance. I am pre-ordering your book today and can’t wait to get my hands on it! Happy New Year!

  17. Liese says:

    I also wondered why some audiobooks work and other don’t for me. When we were discussing our book club book, and I said, I couldn’t read it, but I really liked the audioversion, but still, something is missing – one of the members said: this just isn’t your type of book because everything is told and you prefer books that don’t give everything away. And that is exactly why some audiobooks don’t work for me, because I need to think about it and reread (like Crossing to safety, The Nickel boys etc), but books like The gown and memoires like Becoming or YA are just perfect. I only listen to non-fiction when I can take notes, I want to learn and I need to write to learn.
    And I’m really looking forward to your next book. My mother also, she has a hard time making decisions, and is learning English – the perfect gift!
    Note: the book is a Dutch book by Murat Isik about a young turkish boy growing up in Amsterdam in the 80ies. I don’t know if its translated in English, but it is worth reading.

  18. Gina says:

    Anne, thanks for your enthusiasm for books and related things. My reading life improved dramatically in 2019 after listening to your podcast and reading your blog. Keep up the good work!

  19. Diane says:

    My most life-changing lesson from 2019 is to use dry shampoo *before* you go to bed if you don’t want to wash your hair the next day. Try it! 😁

  20. Nancy says:

    Could be that you are not an auditory learner. Not a problem with fiction because your motivation, if you are like me, is listening for pleasure. Check out the learning modalities for which one works best for you and you just might have the answer to your quandry.

  21. Beth Akins ( here in Louisville) says:

    Zinnias are not hard to grow and they grow best from seeds planted in the ground after frost. They love sun. I had to get a neighborhood garden spot to grow them as we have little sun and even less dirt at our house. Perimeter shade garden only but I LOVED growing Zinnias and Sunflowers that were 12 ft tall in my urban garden. I’m ditching tomatoes next year and going all in for a cutting garden. Farmers at the farmers market do a better job with tomatoes that I do!
    Happy Gardening and Reading in 2020.

  22. Renee says:

    That is so interesting about nonfiction audiobooks— I LOVE nonfiction on audio – especially science & history. I think that being able to do something else (dishes, laundry, driving) lets me focus more, since I’m less likely to get immersed as I would in a lot of the fictional books I read? Maybe? I’m also always thinking about how they will fit into my classes.
    I’m definitely going to have to try the lipstick brush-I’ve been loving wearing lipstick, but it doesn’t always look great.
    Thanks for another book filled year!

  23. Brooke says:

    I’m just the opposite. I can only listen to non fiction. If I drift off in my thoughts while listening I haven’t missed much,but I feel the opposite for fiction.

  24. What a fabulous list, Anne! Made my heart sing – full of unexpected deep insights in seemingly trivial moments (love how houseplants have become a metaphor for plunging in and trying something new). Book people are definitely the best people, I feel like I “knew” that one already but it was certainly reinforced throughout all of 2019. Have a wonderful new year!

  25. Jamie Freeman says:

    I’m thinking the nonfiction vs. fiction/memoir has to do with the story or lack there of. I think when we listen to stories, it activates one part of our brain and allows another part of our brain to focus on other tasks. When we listen to book that don’t have a story, I think it activates the same parts of our brain that are trying to accomplish other things at the same time. This is just my theory, and can probably be explained away because of podcasts, but I’m sticking to it!

  26. Pam says:

    Maybe listening to non fiction is difficult because you like to mark the important parts with book darts. You can’t do that easily when you are listening to it. I prefer to read fiction in general and have trouble completing any non fiction book.

  27. Kristine Bihm says:

    I like reading some personal development books but found out that they aren’t helpful or as helpful if I listen to audio! But like you I love audio for fiction and memoir! ❤️📚😊🎧

  28. Kim Little says:

    Loved the entire post…. and I totally a lipstick gal! I have used so many of the Clinque’s Raspberry Glace. It matched perfect with my former Piedmont Airlines navy uniform back in 1987. A dear friend I lost 10 years ago, told me she never left the house without lipstick & earrings.
    Happy New Year!

    • Anne says:

      I’ve worn Raspberry Glace before! I’d forgotten about it—thanks for reminding me how much I loved it. I love that story about your friend; it makes me smile to think of you remembering her as you apply your lipstick.

    • Robyn Guerrasio says:

      Raspberry Glace is the closest I have ever come to having a “signature color”! I have worn it off and on since high school (1990) and I always have a tube around. It is the perfect combination of saturated but not too bright and it always just worked for my coloring. I wish they made that exact color in a chubby stick, as I love the creamier texture of those more. Raspberry Glace forever!

  29. Louise says:

    Loved your varied 2019 list today! Would you write more about #7? I know about Scrivener but had no clue about the other writing tools you mentioned. My husband and I are both writers who would love to know more about the rest of the tools you mentioned. Thank you!

    • Anne says:

      All those things I mentioned are things I can do within Scrivener! I’m sure I only use 15% of its capabilities but that number used to be more like 5%, and I’m grateful for the things I’ve learned about it.

  30. Casey says:

    I often preview non-fiction in audio if it’s available through one of my library apps. If it’s good, then I often buy or check out a hard copy to use for more in-depth study or future reference.
    There’s so much non-fiction that is just… inflated Ted talks, or isn’t about what I thought it was about, or doesn’t actually have solid actionable take-aways, that I feel like I have to audition certain works.

    I learned this year that you can find knockoff Magic Erasers on Amazon (in bulk for super-cheap) by searching “melamine sponge”, and that they are the best tool for removing shower scum – especially from the glass. I just keep one on my shower ledge and now my shower door never looks gross and scummy! No cleaner needed, just swipe with the shower water.

  31. Rae says:

    About the audiobook thing – the reason that I don’t listen to audiobooks at all is that I often need to go back and re-read sentences or passages – I’m a skimmer! I think this is doubly true with non-fiction, where small details can be crucial, or you may need to read something a couple times to fully grasp it. Additionally, sometimes I just like to read certain parts more slowly to absorb it more fully, and I find this to be extra true with non-fiction as well.

  32. I absolutely love using a small makeup brush to apply my lipstick — my lines are so much better and I don’t stress as much. Also, the bit about being on time made me chuckle. My husband always says that if you are not early then you are late. Embarrassingly enough, he tells me that events are half an hour to an hour earlier than they actually are because I am always running late. Whoops! Lastly, book people truly are the best ♥ Cheers to 2020!

  33. ShirleyG from Willoughby says:

    Re audio books: HATE them. I don’t like being lectured to. And non-fiction would really feel like being lectured to. For fiction, I want to hear the voices I’ve given the characters. I want to savor certain sentences, turn of the phrase. Not speed through at someone else’s speed. Yes, will take me longer to get through all the books I want to, but will so much more enjoyable.

  34. Nanne says:

    The Things I Have Learned in 2019:

    The things that I love doing & my hands on experience in bringing them to life plus what I have always thought of as “my crazy ideas” actually work really well in a retail space, are marketable, unique and appreciated.

    Be Brave, not Perfect (thank you, Reshma Saujani!!)

    Not only to accept, but to embrace the paths my children have chosen to take. To celebrate their successes with joy and to comfort them without judgement when things do not work out. Still working on this one but have made major strides this year :).

    I’ve been a fake extrovert my entire life. Being an introvert does not mean you are not social or friendly or do not enjoy being around people. It just means you need time by yourself to re-set after a lot of “people time”. Thank you, Anne for that insight!!

    I thought getting older would be awful, it is not. I LOVE who I am becoming in mid-age and am looking forward to more years, more wisdom, more mistakes and just a lot more fun.

  35. Cindy McMahon says:

    Non-fiction I’ve loved on Audio: “The Boys in the Boat”, “Astoria”, “1927: One Summer in America” by Bill Bryson, “Team of Rivals”, “Nothing Like It In the World” (about building the Transcontinental Railroad), anything Anne LaMott narrates, and “Undaunted Courage”. I admit that when I can, I like to also have a print version available, but I won’t spend a lot of money to make it so. Also, you can tell my taste here runs toward history that has some STORY to it. I don’t think I could listen to serious science, for example.

  36. Rebecca says:

    Re: Tom Hanks — he said something similar about arriving early during his Golden Globes speech Sunday night. He said being early is the most liberating thing you can do because then you have the freedom to get ready — for work or the interview, etc. I’m still thinking about that idea two days later because I have definitely been in the situation of being late and therefore out of sorts and not nearly my best self as I have to roll with whatever is already in action and have also had times when being early feels like a way to take back control.

    Also, I love audio book non-fiction but I think that’s because I have spent so many years listening to NPR 🙂 I especially love a memoir that is read by the author (Just Mercy, Becoming, Between the World and Me, The Year of Yes). I can handle some fiction on audiobook but only when I pick it for the narrator rather than for the book (bonus for a full cast recording) — not all narrators are created equal and a poor narration can make me dislike a book I would have probably liked on the page.

  37. Anna says:

    Maybe non-fiction is about analyzing information, so one wants to read it for oneself, while fiction involves receptivity to someone else’s story, so one doesn’t mind hearing it being told. Also, analysis involves memory, so seeing the data on the page is helpful, verses getting the gist of a story in the overall as the tale moves on.

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