On Turning 39I’m turning 39 on Wednesday. Truth be told, an end-of-year birthday used to annoy me. I didn’t like how it
was mushed into the holiday season and specifically how it was jammed in the day before New Year’s Eve. But at this point, I like how there’s my age and the calendar change to consider all at once.

I’m happy to report that I have no mixed feelings about getting close to 40. How ungrateful that would be considering the alternative. There’s only one way to stop aging, and I’m not interested in that option.

The overwhelming feeling I have about my 38th year is summed up in one word: gratitude. I’ve probably said that here in birthdays past. But it’s always the case. I have spent 38 years in this world with the blessings of good health, a supportive family, the highest quality of friends, and the good fortune of wise teachers in all realms, including the spiritual, (which is, incidentally, what helps me stay focused on gratitude). I’ve shared the last 15 of those 38 years married to Bryan, who is my partner in every single way, and who will spend a good chunk of my birthday tomorrow the way we spend all of my birthday afternoons: he will help me map out my 2016 goals complete with a chart by the end of it. That’s true love in my opinion. I’ve spent the last 11 as a mother, which is my greatest responsibility and honor. I’ve spent the last seven or so not just saying I want to be a writer, but being a writer. Blessings abound.

There have been bad days, months, and years. I’ve lost people. Loved ones got sick and continue to get sicker. I’ve seen and heard about the suffering of families I know well, and ones I only know through the window of Facebook, or from the six-degrees-of-separation of the world. I pay attention, of course I pay attention, to the other kind of suffering in the world, the kind that is not from cancer or from other terrible diseases, but from the purposeful cruelty of murderers, terrorists, corrupt governments, and other non-accidental tragedies. But this site isn’t cnn.com so I’m going to switch gears now.

If I can get less morose for a minute, I’d like to talk about some career thoughts and my growing fear of complacency. The past year has been decent in terms of my writing. I continued with the friendship column, with my Jewish essays on various sites, and with book reviews at Great New Books. I had other occasional one-offs out there like this one at Modern Loss about losing my grandmother to dementia, this debate at Brain Child Magazine, and this post at the Today Show’s site about how I got the courage to start writing in the first place. I had posts at Club Mid at Scary MommyThe Good Men Project, and in various Jewish newspapers around the country.

The most exciting, or least different, thing I did in 2015 was start the Twin Cities Writing Studio with my good friend, Julie Burton. Our fall session filled quickly and our winter session, which starts next week, filled almost immediately. I absolutely love that work.

And “different” is the key word here. Other than starting that writing group with Julie, my writing career has been a bit same-same. A little less than three years ago I decided to let go of the idea of a novel and focus solely on freelance writing and blogging. I’ve enjoyed that work and would miss it if I stopped so I don’t plan to stop, however, a recent post by Jeff Goins got to me and made me realize it’s time to scale back so that I can scale “up” or really, deeper.

In “I Got Everything I Wanted This Year And It Wasn’t As Thrilling As I Thought,” Goins says, “We must stop this endless search for more and realize that we already have more than we need to make the impact we want. You have enough money. You have enough influence. You have enough skill. Now, do something with it. And remember, the secret is not more, but better.” 

Any freelance writer out there knows that it’s tempting to focus on quantity. First, the more we publish, the more money we make. Second, there’s a certain satisfaction in growing our list of writing clips and aiming for “better” publications. I’ve been engaged in that form of self-competition for a few years now, which is why I also related to another point Goins made: “So after reaching the same goals again doing more of the same things I’ve done for the past four years, what I realized is I’m bored. It’s time for a new challenge, time to try something that might not work.”

It’s time for me to get a little brave. I’ve had some thoughts about a nonfiction book. I made a rough outline this summer then promptly got “too busy” to do anything about it. I say busy in quotes because though I am busy, as almost everyone is, I can always find time. Listen, if I can find time to watch the entire Friday Night Lights series and rewatch all of Dawson’s Creek, then I can probably find time to write a book, even if it takes me a few years.

I’m not going to make any grand declaration about finishing before I’m 40. The only writing goal I’m making for 2016 and for my 39th year is to work on the book every week. It might be once a week for no more than an hour, but I can and will make time. The only thing that has stood in my way is a fear of alienating some of my blog audience if it gets published and fear of failing if it doesn’t get published. Okay, also fear of failing if it does get published. But Bryan gave me the same advice last night that he’s been giving me for year that I would also give to anyone who presented such fears: Don’t worry about publishing the thing until you write it. Just write! And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Any goals you care to share for 2016? Thanks for spending part of my birthday week with me here!

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Nina Badzin is a freelance writer, an advice columnist at The HerStories Project, a book reviewer at greatnewbooks.org, and a co-founder of The Twin Cities Writing Studio. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.