The Five Best Decisions I’ve Made in My Life

Hand on Keyboard

#5: Acquired a Skill (Career Plan B)
You know your father is always right, don’t you?  Though it took a few years and a little maturing to admit it, my father was sure right about one thing: don’t rely on a Fine Arts degree as a way to earn a living.  Learn a skill.

Dad never discouraged me from pursuing a degree in painting, but he did encourage me to add graphic design classes to my course load.  I was having none of it.  I was determined to be an artiste even if it meant starving in a garret.  Fantasies have a way of crashing into the hard wall of reality, however, and post-college I quickly realized my brushes and oil paints were not going to pay the bills.  It’s a good thing that I had one ear open to my dad’s advice.  During my college years dad signed me up for computer classes.  I worked sporadically over the summers at his business doing data entry and sometimes (yikes!) answering the phones.  I learned skills I was sure I would never use once my art career took off – but it turned out that I earned my living thanks to learning my way around a computer.

Crossed SwordsBW

#4: Worked in Iraq
Sometimes you are fully in control of the decisions you make and sometimes decisions are made for you – no matter how much dragging, kicking, and screaming you do.  This is one decision that was made for me.  The last place I wanted to be in the spring of 2004 was in Baghdad, Iraq.  Only a crazy person would volunteer to go to the Green Zone.  Though I tried (begged and cajoled) to convince my then husband to rethink his decision to move us both to the Middle East, I thought by going I might at least save my marriage (see #3, below…), which by then was in its death throes.  Instead, our move hastened its end and when I came back from Iraq, I was a completely different person – nearly unrecognizable even to myself.  I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t had the experience of living on the grounds of one of Sadaam’s palaces; of lining up for the horrible chow each meal; of hashing through some really ugly stuff with my partner, and getting to know people from all over the world and feeling like in some tiny way I was bringing the message of freedom to an oppressed place.  How bad could my life be when theirs was so terribly, terribly bad?  Despite all of the negatives – I have this one profound thing for which I have my ex-husband to thank, though he might not appreciate how it changed both of our lives.

Drooping Arrow

#3: Got a Divorce
It took me a long time to recognize that I was in a bad marriage.  I had all kinds of excuses why most of the time I felt unhappy and trapped – most of which centered on what I was doing wrong.  I also figured that maybe this was exactly what marriage was: some really nice moments rippled with anger and arguments, guilt, blame, and recriminations. On some days, my husband was my best friend.  He was smart and funny and we had wonderful conversations, we traveled extensively, lived in interesting places and occasionally the sweet and soft person he could be shone through.  But eventually the bad outweighed the good and the cost was too high.  It took #4 to get me into to divorce court.

Me and some elephant garlic

#2: Joined a Gym (and Moved to the Boonies)
Yes, joining a gym is great for your health (as long as you go to the gym…).  In my case, it was also great for my love life.  I’d seen Kel occasionally at my gym and thought he was darn cute and noticed (ahem) that he was also in fantastic shape.  One day I gathered up my courage and – – smiled at him.  That was all I could manage before scuttling, red-faced, to the safety of the pull-up bar.  When I’d finished a few reps, Kel came up to me and asked me if I’d like to go sailing.  Although it sounded to me like a close relative of “hey, wanna see my etchings?” he and his invitation were bonafide.  Watching him work a sailboat sealed the deal.  I wanted to hold this guy’s hand.

Joining a gym led me to Kel which led us both to realize that we’d had it with city life.  Both of us had called major metropolitan areas around the globe home for most of our adult lives and we were ready to rip up our metro cards and buy some Carhartts.  How we settled on Oklahoma is a long story, but it’s a move I don’t regret a bit.  Instead of the roar of buses and cars, I hear birdsong and crickets and tiny frogs bellowing like web-toed Pavarottis from the banks of several ponds.  Nighttime is its proper pitch black (except for the soft light from the moon and stars) and the air smells clean.  Best of all, I don’t have to worry about the neighbors seeing me when I stroll outside in my jammies.

Bolder Boulder 2009

#1 Became a Runner (and then a Vegan)
I became a runner long before I gave up meat or dairy.  I started running during a time when my diet consisted heavily of Haagen Daz ice cream, popcorn and chocolate pudding – and my belly was beginning to show it.  Fruits and veggies?  What had they done for me lately? I started from a very comfortable couch-potato position to a few slow and painful laps around North Boulder Park to becoming obsessed about running long distances.  My days of running a lot of miles are over, but still, I cannot imagine my life without running – or at least walking really fast.  Running is meditation, free space, alone time and it works my body like nothing else.

So what does running have to do with me becoming a vegan?  Something wonderful happens when you run and you stick with it.  You start thinking about how your body works and feels.  You make connections between what goes into your body and how it functions on the next day’s run.  For me, this connection led to me seeking the foods that would best fuel my body so that I could run better – which led me to a vegetarian diet.  Now my reasons for going vegan are as much for my love of animals as for the love of feeling good and having a healthy and strong body.  Giving myself the gift of health has to be the best decision I’ve ever made.

Our days are made up of many small and sometimes seemingly insignificant choices – and sometimes you are walloped with having to make a momentous decision that you know will uproot you from your comfort zone.  I can say that for many of the life-altering choices I’ve made over the course of my life, some have been very painful, but all have moved me in positive directions and opened doors that I never knew existed.

74 thoughts on “The Five Best Decisions I’ve Made in My Life

      1. Cassie Hutchinson

        I recently became vegetarian and I love it, I try as much not to eat other animal products (dairy and such) and I’ve felt more healthier and my passion for animals have also increased. Any advice for going totally vegan? What was hard about it in the beginning? If I may ask 🙂

      2. An Unrefined Vegan

        I was vegetarian before going vegan – so for me it was a process that took a couple of years. I made the decision when it felt right so I think that made it fairly easy. As with a lot of people, the hardest thing to give up was cheese (a literally addictive food), but after a while, I didn’t miss it at all. My guess is that as you make changes and as your body responds, the incentive will be there. It’s just natural to want to feel your best. Best of luck with your journey, Cassie and let me know if I can help!

      3. Cassie Hutchinson

        Thank you for your advise and I can say that you have helped me. I adore the passion you have for animals as well as for your health, being vegan takes a lot of courage and dedication. I will be looking forward to reading more of your blogs, you’re doing a great job!

  1. bar

    I love this, Annie! Such timing with where I am right now. So glad you were honest and open – really, it’s helpful. xoxo

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  3. fithealthyhot

    It’s interesting how when we look back on things after the fact, we can see how they served us and made us grow. It’s hard to recognize meaning during our everyday lives, but in the long run everything has meaning. This was a great post! I’m going to try to remember to do one of these for myself one day. I just recently discovered your blog, and I’ll surely keep following it! I already love it.

  4. tearoomdelights

    What a great post, and really nice to get more of an insight into how you got to where you are today. I think it’s a very useful exercise to reflect on the changes that have made a positive impact on your life, and your title is a real draw, it made me wonder what I’d put if I were doing a post like this myself. I find it fascinating that you became a vegan from becoming a runner. Did Kel become a vegan at the same time as you? You seem to have found a soulmate in that gym. 🙂

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      I was taking a long walk through the pasture one day and thinking about all of the big decisions I’ve made and how my life has played out – – it is really useful and interesting. I hope you write a similar post one day! Kel and I went vegetarian and then vegan together. He’s always been 100% behind our dietary choices/changes. He’s definitely a keeper ;-)!

  5. narf77

    Aside from the running we appear to have been living the same life on other sides of the planet! I guess someone has to balance you out 😉

      1. narf77

        Or to live vicariously through the running efforts of others ;). I walk the dog (strenuously…Earl doesn’t know any other way) every day for 5km…when I get back I am a shallow husk of a woman who feels like she just did 10 rounds with Mike Tyson…I know it’s not pavement pounding but Earl is a trainer not to be trifled with 😉

  6. The Healthy Flavor

    This is an amazing post Annie! I loved reading about how each change brought you to a new place. It’s even more amazing to look back and see how it all came together and each step, although seems insignificant at the time, totally has its purpose. My arrival to veganism all started with a very negative thing from my hubby’s poor health. I’ve been his nurse in a lot of ways because he has suffered years with gout and through SO much pain and debilitating times, slowly we went vegetarian and ultimately vegan. Now, I’m a vegan for ethical reasons too. It’s amazing how much our hearts change. The negatives brought us to a very positive thing. That is wonderful that you met your new hubby at the gym, that’s a cute story! 🙂

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      I think a lot about the idea that “people don’t change,” but we can and we do! Look at your life and mine and so many of the people we’ve met through blogging. It’s all so inspiring.

      1. veggiewhatnow

        Yep. It’s always easier for me to write after the fact, though. I also really loved your comments about TMI/personal posts. It’s hard to know what goes up and what stays in. 🙂

  7. Brittany

    So basically I feel like you and I are the same person, just with a bit of an age difference. While I have never been to Iraq, or married..I definitely am making career changes, love life changes (more on that in a future post, which means you’re the first to know), and am loving my lifestyle as a vegan runner!! I look up to you in many, many ways and I really do wish we lived near by so I could join you for a walk and coffee talk about life. You are a very wise woman! Life would be good if I get to where you are in a couple years!

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      Oh wow, Brittany! You’re making me cry. I think you’re just the coolest and funniest and sweetest – so you see we have this mutual luv going on. I know you have SO many amazing experiences ahead of you. And I hope those love life changes are ALL GOOD!

  8. luminousvegans

    So so so inspiring!! I don’t know if it’s because it’s that womanly time of the month (sorry if that is TMI) or whether or not I’m going through many internal shifts myself, but this post really resonated with me. Hello, unexpected weepy eyes. Your journeys and self discovery are truly wonderful and inspiring. Thank you for posting!

  9. Gabby @ the veggie nook

    Wow Annie you are so inspiring. As someone I respect a lot, these life lessons you shares totally resonated with me. I’ve always had a hard time with change but this post reminded me change can be beautiful, even if it seems ugly at first. Thank you my dear 🙂

  10. Holly @ My Plant-Based Family

    I love it!
    I’ve noticed some of the best decisions I’ve made are also some of the most difficult (at the time). Of course if we knew how it would turn out we would embrace the change instead of being riddled with anxiety and doubt.
    Thanks for the post! I can tell it is encouraging a lot of people. I also love getting to know bloggers beyond what they eat!

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      I’m often reluctant to share too much, get too personal – but it’s always gratifying when I do! I love reading recipes, of course, but it is those more personal posts that get me. Thanks, Holly!

  11. Debb

    Wonderful to read, Ann. And that you wanted to hold Kel’s hand—so moving. I am incredibly pleased for you, and feel so fortunate that we are friends. Love.

  12. Becky

    What a wonderful list! Thank you for sharing this. Most of my best decisions have also been the biggest, most life-changing ones. The hard choices are so often the most rewarding ones, though!

  13. eatpraybake

    I love your points, and your sharing 🙂 I love hearing these points of wisdom from others. I wonder where I will be later in life and how I will reflect on my best decisions too.

  14. tinykitchenstories

    Wow. I love this post! (As I do so many of yours.) #3 might as well have been written by my own hand—word. I didn’t go to Iraq, but sometimes that relationship felt like a battlefield. But we’re stronger for it! And both have awesome 2nd husbands to boot! Thanks for a wonderful read.

  15. Rebecca

    Annie-O – You have always amazed me with your wit and awesome ability to write, I think your true calling was to be an author. I miss hanging with you. 🙁

  16. Rebecca

    I am bad about keeping in touch myself – when you get time email me….I totally understand, Believe me!

  17. VegansHusband

    You know, Anne, I was looking at these decisions that you’ve made, and I was goign to try to tell you how amazing you are and how great it is that you are willing to put yourself out there like this. . . and then I saw how many comments you have, and all I can think of to say is that if you hadn’t made these decisions, you wouldn’t be touching all of these people, myself included, so, thank you, from all of us.

  18. celestedimilla

    Thanks for sharing this Annie. You’ve had some tough decisions in your life, but how rich they’ve made you! I can certainly relate to getting divorced. That was one of the best things I’ve done in my life too, but it wasn’t my decision. Thankfully, however; my ex-husband knew it was the best thing for both of us. It took awhile for me to realize what a good thing it was for me, but on looking back I’m so very thankful my ex left me. I can’t imagine what it was like for you in Iraq, however. I know my life is good, but I still find myself complaining. Sometimes I think that what I need is an extremely challenging experience so I can learn to appreciate what I have. Of course, I doubt that I’ll put myself into such a situation. If your Iraq experience gave you appreciation for what you have, then you are so very rich indeed. Have a beautiful week in the boonies! Celeste 🙂

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      Can’t help but complain – – just part of our natures, right? No matter how good we have it, we can find something about which to gripe. You strike me as a very positive and upbeat person, ready for whatever challenges may come your way.

  19. Linne

    This is a great post; made me think about a lot of things . . . including what I would list as the top five best decisions of my life . . . needs more thought, though. 🙂 ~ Linne

  20. Kristy

    I love this post! And I loved learning a little more about you. 🙂 I completely understand, on so many levels, how much a divorce can be a blessing. It didn’t take moving to Iraq to figure it out, thank goodness, but I’m so thankful for all of the events leading up to it. 🙂

  21. Somer

    I loved reading this and learning even more about it. It’s amazing how certain decisions change the entire outcome of our lives. I can see from the comments above to that the choices you’ve made have resonated with so many others, which is beautiful. Love you girl.

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  23. Shira

    Gorgeous post Annie – so sorry I haven’t been over to comment! I read this a few days ago on my phone and am only getting to follow up now! I love thus kind of sharing and applaud every move — and the harder the better we always end up for it 🙂 You are fabulous woman. xx

  24. laurasmess

    This is an amazing post Annie. I don’t think I can really say anything that others haven’t said before me, but… you’re inspiring, and I love how you’ve taken control of your life. You’ve recognised what YOU need (so hard for a woman to do! I’m still struggling!) and pursued it. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned with the world. You’ve given us lots to think about xx

  25. Brandon

    Your story is sooo similar to mine, it’s scary. I started running several years ago, but it wasn’t until I started learning about plant-based nutrition and the benefits it has for athletes, that I gave up animal products. I am now a completely plant-based runner. For me, vegan is the best diet (lifestyle) choice. After I was adapted to my diet, I began to realize that this change was impacting way more than just my running; I was making a difference in the environment and all of God’s creatures.

    I also see running as a form of meditation. In fact, when I’m running I feel most connected with the Earth. It allows me the chance to stop thinking, slow down, and concentrate on my breathing. All of life’s problems disappear! I decided back in March that I would share my experiences with others through a blog. You can find it here:
    I mostly talk about running and vegan nutrition. As you have done, I share my information with others because many have done the same for me. You never know who you may impact or who’s life you will touch. I appreciate your blog and will certainly be adding it to my blogroll. Thanks!

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      Hi Brandon! I read your post on Vegan Bloggers Unite! and was really impressed with your story. I love how transforming running and plant-based eating are – – and that those of us who have benefited are so enthusiastic and want to share what we’ve experienced. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and to comment!

  26. happyhealthy365

    I love this. What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing a much more personal side of you beyond you amazing breads and cookies. Your life seems interesting and the changes that formed you to be the wonderful person you are today are inspiring.


    Thanks for being so brave to share these five best decisions you’ve made in your life! 🙂 My father is an engineer, he wants me to do the same thing, but I did exactly what I want to do…. design and food 🙂


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