Why Nothing In Life Is Ever Wasted

Judith Valente
5 min readJan 7, 2024
Four round stones are balanced on two wooden logs which themselves are balanced on a single stone sitting atop a sawed-off tree stump against the background of waves lapping an ocean.
Doing a “life review” at the end or start of a new year can point us in a new direction for our life.

At the start of every new year, it’s been my practice to look back at each month of the year just past. I review significant events that occurred, important tasks I completed or left undone, and meaningful encounters I experienced. It’s something I do along with the folks who join me for my annual “Writing the Prologue to Your New Year” retreat.

Looking back month by month, I often I see patterns emerge. Some of those patterns continue to serve me well, but others might be calling me to engage in something new based on what generated the most passion and joy for me over the past year. That was how I made the decision in 2018 to leave daily journalism, which had been my career for decades to focus on writing books and guiding spiritual retreats for people seeking to slow down, find more balance in life and deepen their inner life.

That decision to leave daily journalism allowed me to spend time each year living in Italy, a country I adore that has taught me how to live with more balance. I can honestly say I’ve never been happier in my work.

Author Judith Valente enjoying a quiet moment seated by an iron picnic table with stone farmhouse, trees and grassy field in the background in Abruzzo, Italy.
Enjoying a contemplative moment during a stay in Abruzzo, Italy.

Admittedly, though, I sometimes question why it took me so long to make the leap into the work I’m now doing. Did the years I spent expending so much energy on my journalism career amount to wasted time?

This year, I’ve begun looking not only at the past 12 months, but the entire flow of my life. Like a river separating into different tributaries, I see my life dividing into distinct periods or phases. There was my childhood and teenage years growing up in Bayonne, New Jersey within the shadow of New York City. It was a time that gave me an appreciation of the people from many diverse cultures that one encounters in that part of the country.

There were my high school years at the Academy of St. Aloysius in Jersey City where the Sisters of Charity inspired in me a love for the humanities, and a heart for service, a phase that continued when I attended St. Peter’s University as an undergraduate. At St. Peter’s I received from my Jesuit mentors a firm grounding in the liberal arts and learned what it means to be “a person for others.”

My junior year abroad studying at the Sorbonne in Paris allowed me to develop friendships with other young women from several European countries, and also Laos, India, Cameroon and other parts of Africa as well. The experience showed me that it is possible to be a proud American, but also strive to be a “citizen of the world.”

Within my journalism career, there were my years as a young reporter at The Washington Post whose staff I joined when I was just 21. I went on to work for The Wall Street Journal in both that paper’s Chicago and London bureaus. My time at both The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal helped me develop a keen sense of observation and allowed me to hone my writing skills. Journalists learn to coalesce large amounts of information quickly and turn it into a coherent narrative. I doubt I could have written five non-fiction books and two collections of poetry in so few years if I had not had that background in journalism.

My final years in journalism focused on television and radio reporting, which taught me to tell a story with visuals and sound. That became a huge benefit during the pandemic when all of my retreats had to take place online instead of in person and the use of images and audio became important means of communicating on Zoom.

What I realized in the course of my ‘life review’ is that no experience we have is ever really “wasted.” I saw where God was present in each phase of my life, even in the periods that were difficult — when I had editors who were hard to get along with; when I focused so much on my career that I neglected self-care; and when I struggled to find the right life partner.

Still, as a wonderful Anglican priest I know once said reflecting back on his life, the word that kept coming to mind is pudding. “I realize I was making pudding all the time,” he said, “I just couldn’t always see it.” Or as another spiritual mentor told me, “God isn’t a character in our lives, God is the plot.”

In a famous passage from his book “New Seeds of Contemplation,” Thomas Merton reminds us:

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity, and love.”

What might your life review show you about the years you’ve lived so far? What are the major tributaries your path has taken? How do these events inform where you are today?

What “unnumbered seeds” might you be losing because you are not prepared yet to receive them? Just as importantly what seeds do you wish to plant this year in the “good soil” of your life?

(This year’s “Writing The Prologue to Your New Year” retreat will take place online on Jan 11 from 10 a.m. to Noon Central Time, sponsored by the Chicago Cenacle. For more information and to register, please visit: NEW & REVISED: Writing the Prologue To Your New Year — Cenacle Sisters)

An assortment of books by author Judith Vallente, including “How To Be,” “How To Live,” “Atchison Blue,” “The Art of Pausing” and “Twenty Poems To Nourish Your Soul,” arrayed on a table.
Judith Valente left daily journalism in 2018 to focus on writing books. She has written, co-authored or edited five spirituality titles and two collections of poetry and is working on two new books and a new poetry collection.

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Judith Valente

Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.