What’s In A Decade?

I am sitting by the window in an eco coffee shop in downtown Boulder, where I am pet-sitting over the new year. Another occasion to see a new part of the country and catch up with writer friends. After a hike, I shall head to the movies to see Bombshell alone. A decade ago, I would have been too self-conscious to do this. There is a woman next to me having coffee with a friend. I am listening to their conversation; her husband died a few months ago and she and her friend are planning a trip to New York together. I started eavesdropping when I heard her say, “I woke up one day and was getting dressed and I was 65. Yeah, I can get a discount on a cup of coffee, but I never did half the things I always told myself I would and now too much time has gone by.”

Colorado, December 2019

In my mid-forties, I finally started to shake off the fear and the crutches, and not only embrace my true identity and gifts, but also let the world see them. It wasn’t so much a mid-life crisis as a mid-life celebration. In my 20’s I thought my 30’s would surely be the best years of my life, but I’m here to say the last decade has been my best and I trust it is just a foretaste of future bounty.

So many women reach their 40s and realize that in our younger years we didn’t fully love ourselves the way we should have; our priorities were skewed. Putting your self-worth on the back burner is a big fuck-you to your soul.

At 45, I finally gave myself permission to live my best life. I believe getting to know yourself takes time. Just like a garden, our happiness needs tending. We have to do some weeding, pruning and watering to reap the rewards. We learn what we will welcome and what we need to let go of in order to be happy.

Living our best life doesn’t mean we are doing something mind-blowing every day. It means we are doing things with meaning and intent that bring fulfillment.

It means knowing no one can fill your heart and soul with the things you need except you. It’s in our nature to look outside ourselves for happiness. I catch myself doing it all the time. I am grateful I’ve now learned that I am the only one responsible for making my dreams come true — no matter how big or small.

I am thankful for the pain and giant disappointments even though it was hell at the time. They nudge me closer to the life I really want. It’s work. It’s not always easy, and there are days when I don’t feel like putting in that effort, but I feel like my compass is true and I’m trucking in the right direction. 

Let me share some of the things that marked the past decade for me.

  • 2011 January, started writing picture books after years of thinking…. One day I will become an author. Am I published yet? No. But I took that first step and haven’t quit.
  • 2011 came out… it took 30 years to shed the life-consuming shame and be my true self; The freedom to be authentic has been the greatest joy of this decade.
  • 2011 Joined the international kid lit community and attended my first SCBWI conference in LA. Then spent a month here in the US to check out if my gut instinct to move here was right. And yes, I do not think starting to write coinciding with coming out and moving to another continent was a coincidence. 🙂
SCBWI Los Angeles, 2011
  • 2012 enforced sabbatical due to a job falling through at the last minute. Moved to New York with one medium sized bag, a small backpack and a strong belief I was where I should be just as I had done in Nice 13 years prior. I wrote a ton of picture book drafts and a first novel while still trying to find work.
Packed to leave Nice after 13 amazing years.
  • 2012 published my first picture, SNOW GAMES, on the now defunct e-book platform U-tales.
  • 2013 job search didn’t pan out (I was still very naïve about visa requirements) so applied for and began my MFA in Creative Writing and Literature, living in a bunch of different rooms in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Harlem….loved the process and New York immersion.
  • 2015 lost my dear, sweet dad.
  • 2015 graduated with a thesis novel which I loved and thought would land me an agent… I submitted it for a year before putting it aside.
  • 2015 after sending out more than 70 job applications (also due to my visa status), at the last minute in May, I miraculously landed a perfect part-time job as a librarian in a French-American School just outside NYC, and a year later they sponsored a work visa. 
  • 2017 loved and let go and learned I still have a great capacity to love, and there are still wonderful singles out there.
  • 2016-2019 wrote and submitted another novel, which was very autobiographical and timely and I thought would definitely  get me that agent, but even with requests for ten full manuscripts by agents, I am not there yet. I am working on a rewrite and have several other novels at various stages.
  • 2011-2019 have traveled a ton, mostly in the US. From east to west, and north to south, I’ve visited 29 states and stayed with over seventy friends, many of whom I had only met online previously…. I’ve hiked in the Adirondacks, the Cascades, The Sierras, the Smokeys, the Catskills, and the Blue Ridge! What an adventure and inspiring community of kind creatives I have found.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver

Life serves us the good and the bad, and you’ve gotta take it as it comes. The wonderful experiences and relationships wouldn’t be the same without all the turmoil mixed in. When it hits you, it can be glorious because you learn to expect it and get comfortable with the ebb and flow. You know the valleys will eventually lead you to peaks.

There’s the possibility for transformation in everything, and I can’t wait to see where the next decade is going to take me. I am convinced the best is yet to come.

My word for 2020—BOUNTIFUL

And for you, dear friends, I wish you a decade to surpass all previous in creativity and loving-kindness.

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17 Responses to What’s In A Decade?

  1. Evelyne says:

    Hi Joanna,
    So nice to read your decade update and be able to fill in some of the details.
    I feel much more fulfilled later in life too and go places by myself at times.??
    Did you ever read Undivided by Vicky Beeching? Made me think of you when I read it.
    All the best for 2020 and let me know when you autobiographical novel gets published. Would love to read it.
    Love, Ev

    • Joanna says:

      Ev,

      I would so love to sit down voor een koffie en cake and a catch-up. The past 25 years have gone by way too quickly!

      I have not read UNDIVIDED, so thank you for the recommendation.

      I hope our paths will cross once again on one continent or another.

      Love,
      Joanna

  2. Becky Levine says:

    You are amazing and–np cliche–inspirational!

    • Joanna says:

      Thank you, dear Becky!

      I am sure to visit San Francisco again next year, so I hope we can do a Los Gatos diner again for a catch-up!

  3. Janet Clare F. says:

    Beautiful, Jo. Like you. Seeing a true and real soul, a person with so much to share. Living your authentic life takes courage and determination and I am just plain happy for you. No one ever promises it is easy or predictable. I love learning from and about you. Your posts and travels both inspire and pique curiosity. You are a giving friend in so many ways that matter. I wish you another decade of all that is right for you, whatever that may be. Happy New Year.

    • Joanna says:

      Janet, my hideaway week with you in Skaneateles was one of my precious memories of the past decade. I sure hope I can repeat it now time. Thank you for taking me in and hosting me with such love.

      Happy New Year to you!

  4. Love, love this look back over your decade Joanna. You are such an inspiring person, standing up for your believes, living freely, adventuring wildly, and creatively pressing on in hope, kindness and love. I wish you a bountiful new decade and year in 2020 with much love. Go you! (and don’t forget to put little ole New Zealand on your list of to dos!)

  5. Joanna says:

    Dear, sweet Diane, how lucky for me that you, Beth and Pat were my first kid lit peeps. I couldn’t have started with nicer folk.

    This next decade better have me making that trip down under that I have been promising so long.

    HAPPY NEW YEAR. It is already 2020 for you!!

  6. Kim Pfennigwerth says:

    Joanna, Loved reading your decade— you are truly an inspiration! Your work ethic, always pushing forward, and a friend to every and anyone.
    Wishing you only and all the best in writing and in life??
    Happy New Year!!
    Kim

  7. Patricia Nozell says:

    “Living our best life doesn’t mean we are doing something mind-blowing every day. It means we are doing things with meaning and intent that bring fulfillment.”

    I’m placing this quotation on my desk as a reminder for the decade ahead. Thank you, Joanna, for sharing your journey & for being such an inspiration. Happy New Year & New Decade!

  8. Thank you for this post, Joanna. What a decade it has been! I am grateful to have been on this writing journey with you (despite being far away) through nearly the entire decade. Thank you for your inspiration, your truth, your spirit. And like Pat Nozell, I thank you for the words “Living our best life doesn’t mean we are doing something mind-blowing every day. It means we are doing things with meaning and intent that bring fulfillment.”

    I wish you all manner of good things in this new year, and in the coming decade. I hope our paths cross again in person sometime soon!

  9. Joanna says:

    Beth, I was so happy to meet you, Pat and Diane in LA at the very beginning of this journey and treasure our continued online contact. All the happies to you this new year!

  10. What an amazing decade you’ve had. And is has been a pleasure to share some of your journey with you — and Beth and Diane. I remember our long Skypes when you still lived in Nice. I have always admired and loved your free spirit and your ability to just follow your dreams. And, I do believe you will be published. Wishing you an amazing 2020!

  11. Joanna says:

    Pat, so grateful for our friendship and continued mutual support along this journey.

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