If you follow me here or on social media, or if you are one of my dear family and friends, you know that 2014 was quite a year for the me and my family. From a lost pregnancy to cancer, from a successful and productive career to a lost job, and from losing my last grandparent to hurtling into the world of self-publishing, lots has happened.

I’m not going to rehash everything. What I am going to do here is list three lessons I’ve learned from 2014. Do with them what you will.

1. Make plans.
2014 wasted no time in beating the crap out of the plans my wife and I had made for the year. We started the year expecting our seventh child, and within two weeks that pregnancy was in question and we had a pretty firm kidney cancer diagnosis.

This derailed our financial and family plans. Then the layoff derailed financial re-plans again.

You might think this would burn me on making plans. Wrong. We started the year with a vision for where we wanted to be at the end of the year. Along the way, we had to re-calibrate and re-calibrate and then do so again. My mighty wife and I are different people than we were at the beginning of 2014. Not in the way we expected, but still, we’re different.

I’m still going to make plans. Living life without a plan, without a vision, without a goal or objective, is basically a plan for boredom and stasis. And if you live without making plans because you fear life and/or the universe throwing wrenches in those plans, then you are living in fear- and that never ends well.

By making plans, even with the understanding that circumstances might force change to those plans, you are telling yourself and the universe that you are the master of your fate. You’re shaking your fist at the vagaries of life and asserting that you are responsible for yourself and your direction.

So I’m going to keep making plans. Hey, 2014 was still filled with blessings, miracles, happiness, and bliss- even with all the raw crap that we went through. Why wallow when you can rise?

2. Love Generously
Life, man. Life. It can be tenuous sometimes. And when you face your mortality, like my wife did, or the possibility of years without the love of your life, perspective changes.

It’s an opportunity. A rough opportunity. An emotionally shattering opportunity.

My takeaway from the perspective shift of this year is that I am going to love generously. About five years ago, I decided that I no longer wanted to write from the anger I had in me but from the love I had and wanted to have more of. This year strengthens that resolve. I’m going to hug more- with both arms- and I’m going to continue to find ways to not yell at mouthy or dismissive kids.

And I’m going to keep trying to find ways to help people around me- without hesitation. I’m going to continue doing what I can daily to make the world a better place.

I can’t think of a better way to define my life than by the love I spread around, by the lives I improve, and by the smiles I widen.

3. Stop Waiting to Live
Twenty-five years. That’s how long I’ve spent practicing the art and business of writing. Twenty-five years honing my craft, immersing myself in story, and trying to get some publishing traction.

I’ve been telling stories through short-stories, poems, novellas, and books for as long as I can remember. Storytelling is my professional life’s work. I love it. I’ve tried quitting it a few times and cannot. I know that now.

But for so many years, my resolution lists have included this item: “Sell a book.” Of course I mean sell a book to a major publisher and hopefully do that via an agent’s representation. And I have spent countless hours imagining how cool it would be to do so, how accomplished I would feel if I finally did that. How I would finally feel like I belonged in the writing industry, like I had truly carved out a place that I merited.

Bull crap.

I don’t think I would have come to the catharsis that it was high time for me to stop waiting for my writing goals to happen to me if not for the events of 2014.

Yes, I was waiting for my writing goals to happen. Yes, I was working. I was writing, revising, submitting.

And I was waiting. And I kept waiting and waiting. And I doubted myself and questioned my worthiness to be a part of the dream I’d had for so long. But after my fiftieth rejection for Beyond the Cabin, and after being faced with so much crap that was out of my control, I realized that I had a lot more in my control than I was allowing myself to see.

So I went the self-publishing route. I had a lot to learn- and still do- but I will tell you that getting a story I believe in to people and having them read it is deeply gratifying. And doing this on my own makes it better. I still want to go the traditional publishing route, but I’m not going to wait on that fickle industry. I’ll keep writing, keep getting better, and keep submitting-

But at the same time I’ll keep building my readership and I won’t stop being in the driver’s seat. Will I become famous on my own?

Do I care?

Not really. What matters is that I’m not waiting anymore. I’m a writer and I’m acting like it. I’m taking this seriously. I’m writing stories and I’m getting better because I’m a writer now. Right now.

So my takeaway is that if I want something really badly, I’m going to go get it. I’m not waiting. Another case in point: I’m training for a triathlon. Why wait? It’s been on my old bucket list for ages.

Now I don’t have a bucket list. I have a list of stuff I’m going to do because each day is a gift. Forget tomorrow- what can I do now? What good can I do today?

Those are my three takeaways from 2014. What are yours? What happened this year that changed you?