The 20 Things of 2014

Janell Burley Hofmann, December 23, 2014

Two years ago this week, I wrote my son Gregory an iPhone contract to go with his new smartphone. I wrote it purely from my heart and shared it openly with people we loved. Then I shared it in the communities where I write. And then on television. And then on the radio and in print and across the globe via the internet. In the months that followed, I partnered with a literary agent and a publishing house and expanded that piece of paper in book form. That book, based on the principles of that contract, was in bookstores across the country and eventually across the world. I got to travel. I got to talk. I got to advise. I got to connect. My life changed. I’m so glad I bought that damn phone. I’m so glad I felt inspired to write 18 rules. Life is surprising and beautiful if you believe in it.

Every person I meet, every question I answer, every possibility considered makes me a better human. In the past year, so much has been made visible to me. The more I experience, the less I know for certain. But I’m getting pretty comfortable not knowing. In an attempt to understand, I’ve collected some of my 2014 experiences that have stayed with me. These are pieces of my wildest dreams, moments made real as I live my wildest life. And the more I allow, the more that continues to unfold and reveal. Thank you for taking this journey with me and believing in the unbelievable for all of us. 

To humanity – thanks for trusting me to bear witness and to everyone that welcomed me into their lives, I won’t forget you. I add your stories, your voices, your perspective to my own. I am stronger because of you. 

The 20 Things – 

  1. People bought me dinner. And lunch. And coffee. And champagne. It’s clearly the most direct way to my heart. I will never forget you, dear people that bought me things to consume. 
  2. I helped teenagers learn how to put condoms on cucumbers in a workshop lead by community volunteers about sexual health.
  3. I had tea with survivors of sex slavery. I sometimes forgot where I was because they reminded me of so many women I once knew or all women I never knew. It mostly felt like time traveling. 
  4. People asked me to sign their book. My name was listed as the author of that book.
  5. I was pulled into a circle of dancing young women and grinded against my sister, motivated only by their wild cheers and chaotic enthusiasm.
  6. I listened to parents – thousands of them – ask for help. Sometimes I could. Sometimes it was up to them to help themselves. My job was only to remind them. 
  7. I had homeless women tell me to be realistic, that I would be angry too if I were in their position. And that they loved my boots, when I wore my hair down and my look without glasses.
  8. I stood in a sacred place where I had been once before. It felt good to measure my own personal growth. I felt tiny and humble and part of something great and big.
  9. I told several hundred teenagers that they couldn’t offend me. That our time together was about truth. They booed a part of my talk. It’s funny though, I heard it only as applause because I knew it meant they were engaged. And they still hugged me on their way out. It was a funny victory.
  10. I sat in a New York City skyscraper with literary professionals in a boardroom and tried to act casual. I probably talked way too much and way too loud. It’s hard to be cool with that kind of excitement bubbling inside. 
  11. I gave a lecture in my socks because shoes weren’t permitted in the room. News crews were there. At least the audience and reporters were in their socks too. 
  12. I asked addicts to create their own miracle story. It always involved their family. I found that both comforting and sad. Pure, unbroken love is what we all want the most. 
  13. I missed three of my children’s birthdays while traveling. I didn’t feel guilty at all. I still wonder what changed. I once loved to torture myself with mother guilt. The answer probably has to do with meaningful work and living in the moment. Though I know they’ll never let me forget it. 
  14. I stayed too long during a Q & A session one night (like hours too long). The volunteers who were locking the building were falling asleep at the back of the room. I remembered why time limits are important – even if everyone in the room wants to keep being heard.
  15. I listened to teachers. A lot of teachers. They want to help your children. They are not perfect. They are trying so damn hard to get it right – best practices, balance, progress, needs. Offer them your partnership, extend your hand – not your criticism – in educating the whole child.
  16. Once I was given a driver. He waited outside of my hotel in his car until I called and said “Please drive me now.” Then he did. And he called me “madame”. Imagine that. 
  17. I asked my husband how he was handling all of my traveling. He said, “It’s like watching someone do exactly what they are meant to do.” I knew I married the right person. 
  18. She told me that if her husband wanted to have sex, it would happen. She could go peacefully or she could go forcefully. Nothing felt like a choice. I tried to tell explain that if there was violence for one woman, there was violence for all women. She looked down and smiled just a little, saying she really liked that. I feel like these conversations are now part of my genetic makeup. They are me. 
  19. I sat with smart and passionate people and discussed thoughts and ideas and perspectives. They charged me. Directly – like dialing into an energy source. And when it runs out, I now know, that I need to find more of it or else I don’t feel very good. 
  20. I fell in love with so many people I may never see again. I didn’t know that was possible. But I’m so glad it is.

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