In 2023, I chose the word “playful” to be my focus word for the year.

It was not a playful year.


Realistically, when I think back on it, there were plenty of playful moments in the year. Most of them were with my brother. We went to Tucson and Phoenix for a few days in February, and had a great time (good food, wonderful hikes.) In May, he came to visit me in Arcata and got to meet Sophie Sunshine, who immediately adored him, and we travelled up the Oregon coast and across to Bend. The weather wasn’t great, but the food and company was. We went to Oregon again in late September, and then had that crazy cross-country road trip in October, which, despite everything leading up to it, was actually a highlight of my year. It was lovely to be with him, lovely to feel safe and loved and cared for.

With the rest of the year, playful was never the word of the day.

If I can pick one incident to categorize why, it would be when we took the dogs to the beach for my birthday, and Suzanne decided that Bear was too excited and stayed in the parking lot with her while Sophie and I went to the beach alone. Yes, dogs aren’t supposed to get excited apparently, and if you could hear my tone of voice, you would know exactly how snarky I feel about that.

But 2023 is over, 2024 has begun, and it’s time to let go of the past and look for a new focus word.

Or maybe two of them.

At first, I was just going to choose Focus for my focus word, which feels a little ironic. But if you’ve been following along, you know that I need to make some serious choices about what I’m doing with my life. Some focus would be very good for me.

Focus alone, though, feels a little bleak. I do not want to suddenly become an ambitious, hard-working, driven, goal-oriented automaton. I want to continue practicing happiness. In fact, I want to continue choosing happiness.

In the morning, when I think about how my day should unfold, I want to be sure that it includes sunshine. Not necessarily literal sunshine – that’s obviously out of my control— but metaphorical sunshine. Well, and plenty of Sophie Sunshine, too.

I want 2024 to include, along with Focus, Fun.

Yes, I want to have a fun year.

I think I will, too, because I made a big decision in the last couple of weeks. Yesterday, I wrote myself a new job description. Ready for it?

I’m a certified wellness coach specializing in depression recovery through lifestyle modification, using habit formation strategies and gamification. Basically, I tell people struggling with depression that their parents were right, and they need to eat their vegetables, go to bed on time, and walk to school, and then we work on systems to help them develop those routines while also having fun.

Yes, I want to make depression recovery fun. (Also, “walk to school” is metaphorical — walking and learning are two parts of my theoretical recovery program, but I am not assuming or planning on working with actual students.) 

Also, yes, I am not that thing at the moment. I’m not certified in anything, so my first step this morning was to register for the life coaching classes at Transformation Academy. I’ve been doing my research, and their program felt like a reasonable fit. I’m a little ahead of the game, given that I was 2/3rds of the way to a Master’s degree in counseling ten years ago, plus I liked their unpretentious attitudes. I’ll be starting at the top, and working my way through as many classes as possible, so I anticipate most of the month of January will be given up to that task. Actually, I anticipate I’ll be working on that task all year long, but I’d like to be certified, with at least a couple of the specialties, by the end of January.

I’ve also purchased two new domain names, so I have two new websites to build, and lots of plans for potential products to sell, beyond my own personal coaching services. I spent a while yesterday researching sticker books, which sadly look fairly complicated to create, but I’ve definite plans for a card deck, a workbook, a tracking calendar, a course, and probably a book itself, or maybe two. I’m thinking of January as a learning month, February as a heavy content creation month, March as a design and content month, and by April, I hope to start some intensive social media marketing, probably on Instagram.

I’d like to be earning money at it by June, which might be optimistic, but doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility. I believe that there is a need for these services and products. I’m even, in fact, being kinda trendy — “lifestyle psychiatry” is one of the first things I’ll be writing about on my future blog, because it’s a relatively new trend in psychiatry and encompasses exactly the kind of stuff I want to talk about.

But what, I hear my horrified readers asking, about your fiction? Honestly, I think I will produce more and certainly be much happier as a fiction writer when it returns to being a hobby. I loved writing until I started caring about how much money I could make from it, and whether I could make money from it, and how to make money from it, and since then, it’s been oppressive. I’m much more interested in having my income be based on how I’m helping people than having my income be based on whether my imagination will produce the stories people want to read instead of the stories I want to write.

(And that’s not even fair. The real issue as a writer is discoverability. I’ve got umpteen hundred books on my Kindle about marketing and advertising and selling books, plus multiple emails a day about the same sort of thing, and it’s simply not work that interests me. But it’s the only way for books to be found in the absolute ocean of titles that exist online these days.)

All of which is beside the point. I’m definitely not giving up on fiction writing, but I’m hoping to return it to the pleasure it was when I was writing A Gift of Ghosts (<-affiliate link) in stolen moments between classes, a full-time job, and life as a single mom. And honestly, if writing returns to being something I can only give 30 minutes a day, I will probably be just as productive as I have been with my relentless, never-ending wheel-spinning while trying to write full-time.

Meanwhile, is this new job description/plan ambitious? Out-of-the-blue? Doomed to failure? Going to be a money sink for months? Yes, only sort of, absolutely not, and maybe.

Yes, it is ambitious, but I feel inspired and optimistic about it.

Out-of-the-blue — well, about thirteen years ago, I invested a lot of time and money into becoming a therapist. If 2011 hadn’t been such an awful year, that’s probably what I would have been doing for the past decade. This is obviously along the same path, but with a focus and clarity that I didn’t have a dozen years ago.

Doomed to failure? Nope. I have my moments of pessimism, of course — by one estimate, 90% of people who want to be life coaches fail, so what makes me think I can succeed? Answer: passion and faith and enthusiasm and knowledge and a willingness to work hard at something I really believe in. Plus, writing skill, web design competence, graphic design judgement, curiosity, the ability to learn new things as needed, and a reasonably minimalist lifestyle with few responsibilities. (I’m going to have to come back to that list when I get discouraged over the next year.)

Going to be a money sink for months? Well… probably. But not a particularly high-level money sink. Hundreds of dollars, not thousands. There are some investments that I’ll want to make eventually, but I won’t be starting with them.

What I will be starting with is Fun and Focus. My words for 2024!

two chairs outside

My office while writing this morning’s blog post. I truly do feel blessed.

Happy New Year!