Lessons Learned

Posted | 23 comments

Lessons Learned

When I left my last full-time job a little over two years ago I made a promise to myself that I would never let my life get that out of control again. Stressed, chubby, and unhappy, I committed to making self-care, the people I love, and work that allowed me to collaborate with amazing people and contribute in a meaningful way my top priorities. I decided that I wanted to wake up everyday excited and energetic. I wanted to love who I was with and what I was doing.

I’d like to say that I made a few changes and voila my life was as I wanted it be. Unfortunately, old habits die hard and I have to be totally honest and say that the first year was really rough. I floundered time and time again as I tried to figure out how to make all of this work. I would recognize something that needed addressing, research possible solutions, and implement only to discover that the program I had come up with just didn’t work for me.

Great idea after great idea was tested and scrapped. There were many days were I fought like mad to take one step forward only to find myself tossed back into the abyss the very next day. It wasn’t fun. I kept plugging away. I mean, this is my life, after all. Giving up just wasn’t an option.

Luckily, I started to find people who were doing amazing things (more on this later) and resources that offered workable solutions and slowly, slowly, slowly, I was able to implement real, impactful and lasting changes in my life. I’ve learned a lot from these two years of trial and error. It was rarely easy and not always fun but I can honestly say I wouldn’t change one single, solitary thing. I love where I am right now and I’m excited about where I’m going.

So, today I’m sharing a few of my hard earned lesson of the past two years.

  • It all starts with gratitude. I began to acknowledge and thank and bless every single good and amazing thing in my life every single day. I regularly let people know how much I love and appreciate them. I began to acknowledge and bless every single icky thing in my life as well. That’s when the real shift happened.
  • Make space: I had to acknowledge and let go of what didn’t work in my life before I could even begin to think about making any real changes. Just like plants, new ideas and habits need space and light to grow. I made space.
  • Ask for help: this was a big one for me. It took a willingness to be allow myself to be completely humbled to the point that I had no choice but to reach out for the wisdom and love of others. It was a game changer.
  • Control is an illusion: yet, another humbling moment. I realized that I’m not in charge even when I am. I thought I could control the wave, but I realized that life is just about riding it the best we can. I enjoy the ride.
  • Don’t be afraid to tinker: I discovered that just because it sounds good on paper and works for someone else, doesn’t mean it will be good and work for me. I learned to use other people’s solutions and experiences as inspiration and as a starting point to custom taylor my own solutions and create my own experience.
  • One stinky thought at a time: The only way I could make any changes that really mattered was to change how I thought about things. I had to literally change my mind. I ruthlessly questioned every negative, condescending, rude, thought that popped into my head and challenged it, no holds barred. This was rarely fun, often painful, and always, always effective.
  • Personal boundaries are the key to a happy life: I learned that I had to build fences and tend them unapologetically.
  • If at first you don’t succeed: I just keep trying. I’ve failed so many times in the past two years that I have lost count. Yes, there were times when defeated I crawled under the covers and gave into the despair, but then I put on my big girl pants and got back out there and tried something else.
  • Say no: When I say no to what I don’t want, I give myself permission to chase what I most desire. I say no, a lot.
  • Do what you are: lovers love, writers write, singers sing, painters paint, accountants count, runners run. You get the picture. Don’t talk about it, just do it. I keep my focus on what I want, and take the action needed to feed those things.


  1. Fences > walls. By a long shot. Great list. You are my hero, really. To think and DO… that’s the real quest. I spend way to much time dreaming without exploring.

  2. Love it! If only we had known how similar our quests have been the last two years, maybe we could have shared some of the learning. You are still way ahead of me–thanks for the “to do” list! 🙂

    • The universe brought us back together at precisely the right time.

  3. Beautiful post, Denise. Thank you so much for sharing. While change can be scary and difficult, it’s wonderful to see you made it through that time and are so much happier and peaceful now due to your faith and perserverance. I love your actionable items as well.

    • It’s a journey and it continues on…

  4. I LOVE the whole list, but for me.. This one is the best!! “Personal boundaries are the key to a happy life: I learned that I had to build fences and tend them unapologetically.” I still wrestle with the guilt when I do say NO to something I know is important, but not for me. I still sometimes say, “Yes,” when I really KNOW I should and want to say NO. This is a great list, albeit a difficult one to follow every step of every day. If we keep on moving in the right direction, following the above steps as best we can, before we know it, we will be running in stride along the path we were meant to travel!! GREAT blog post! 😀

    • I think boundaries may be one of the hardest for me to…I just sincerely want to do everything. It’s so easy to overcommit.

  5. Big, big fences that you can smile at and laugh about with your friend! An extra bonus is where the friend who loves you realizes and appreciates the fence and what’s lurking behind it!

    Love you!

    • Having a friend who has truly walked in your shoes makes all the difference in the world.

  6. Spot-on, Denise! What a good journey- and what outstanding nuggets of wisdom. You also “DO” for others- even with well-tended fences. Those blessings come back to you as well!

    • Fences should always have a gate or two.

  7. Love your list. Love you.

  8. Love the last one – DO WHAT YOU ARE. It’s so easy to sit around and talk about all the big things we want to do.

    blah blah blah

    It’s not until you start taking action do you really start to come alive!

    • Action, rocks. It much better to do something and then realize it’s not for you, than to do nothing.

  9. ask for help indeed! difficult, but essential for well-being. thank you for sharing your lessons learned 🙂

  10. I love the last point. So awesome! The point about asking for help has been the hardest one for me to learn in my life. I’m a lot better, but I still have a ways to go with that one :). Thanks for sharing your story!

    • I’m still struggle with asking for help. I just don’t want to bother anyone.

  11. Denise, you should be on TED giving motivational speeches! This one was awesome! Thank you!

  12. Thank you for such an open sharing of your journey, Denise. I think so many of us can relate to the dark + difficult parts, and I love your wisdom about how to move forward (and keep moving). Love it.

  13. I love your list, Denise. My favorite is the last one: Do what you are. We are so often stopped by the thought that what we have to offer is not good enough. It’s bulls*** – thank you for that reminder!!!

  14. Denise, I simply love the way you write. So clear. So identifiable. And dang good advice!

  15. Yep. Yep. Good reminders!


  1. Currently Loving… | Dream. Delight. Inspire - [...] Ellis Stewart shares some of her lessons learned after leaving her job 2 years ago. I wrote a similar…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *