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?