There are few growth processes I enjoy as much as I enjoy picking out a word for the year. This was a tradition I started in 2008 and every year I go a little deeper and think a bit broader. Resolutions come and go (and most go unfulfilled)—these words become part of the fabric of my soul. I live them. I breathe them. And I let them gently guide me when I am feeling stuck. This is my ninth word and I can honestly say that, with the exception of one word (and one particularly awful year), I have thoroughly and enthusiastically resonated with my choices. I know that as much as I seek these words out and ruminate over what they will mean in my life; the words are seeking me out just as hard. We find each other when we need each other most.
Last year, I was drawn to the word STRENGTHEN. You can read my post about that, if you feel called to do so. Strengthen was a perfect word for me in 2015 because there were many areas in my world that needed buttressing and some deliberate shoring up. Horribly degenerative knees needed rehabilitation and support from surrounding muscles and tendons. I thought about my word when I spent almost 4 months in physical therapy. A house, badly damaged from last winter’s ice dams needed repair and restoration. The word strengthen came to mind continuously as we worked through six months of home repairs and updates, insurance negotiations, arguments with our mortgage company, shoddy contractors, missed deadlines, etc. My relationship with my husband, the person I love most in the world, had been feeling kind of flat—picture a cartoon where demanding careers significantly limit your time in the same place, and then when you are in the same room, life-sized screens stand between you and prevent any meaningful personal interaction—and the word strengthen never left my mind as we worked together to be more present and mindful and passionate and spontaneous with each other. Strengthen was the word that I called upon when I took steps to grow my business this year and offer different services. I wanted to strengthen my understanding of my niché as well as strengthen my relationship to my customers and clients. As I took active steps to spend more time outdoors and rekindle my love of nature, strengthen was my touchstone. I strengthened my mind in the reading of 35 books last year (a record for me!). It showed up in so many ways; with my resolve, in my bones, in my relationships, in the classroom. I am so grateful for the support of this word in 2015. I almost didn’t want to see it go, but knowing a piece of it will always be with me made it easier.
The past couple of weeks have been spent thinking about what I want 2016 to feel like. In a recent Instagram post, I wrote: “Spending some time with this list today. Honing. Refining. Contemplating. Unearthing. Thinking about all of the things that currently cause me ongoing frustration. What word will help me navigate through those things peacefully and with purpose in 2016? Thinking of all the ways I want to grow and the milestones I want to hit. What word will allow me to skillfully navigate those sometimes daunting waters? Thinking of the ways I love and how I show up as a parent and a wife and a soul-o-preneur. What word encompasses the person I want to be?”
My initial list was 33 words long. I allowed myself a brain-dump of any and all words that stirred something inside. Some were action words. Some were being words. I knew some weren’t going to make the cut even before I wrote them down, but I wrote them anyways. Because I have gone through this process enough to know that imperfect words are the breadcrumbs that lead to perfectly perfect words. Thirty three words quickly became nine words, and that’s when things got tough for me. It was around that time that I got still and carried that list with me e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e (yes—even to the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium!).
A couple days in, I began to have a pretty strong connection to one of the words. I was thinking about an instance last week when I was accompanying my youngest daughter to her first physical therapy/dry needling appointment. You know how first appointments go: there is paperwork and lengthy patient histories and moral support. The WHOLE TIME I was there, I had my oldest daughter texting me about plans she wanted to make two days before Christmas and the plans were changing every 16 seconds. I had my mother calling me about Cookie Day and Christmas Eve. My husband was calling for clarification on the errands he was supposed to run. I was IN the physical therapy office with my daughter, but neither the therapist nor my daughter had my undivided attention. Thoroughly annoyed, I eventually told my oldest daughter she was going to have to stop texting me and wait until I got home because her sister was the sole beneficiary of my time at that particular moment. She didn’t take kindly to that because on-demand attention equates to love these days, while deferred gratification relates to coldness and lack of concern. It was an hour long snapshot of what pretty much my *entire* life has become. So, if we multiply my frustration in that hour by days, weeks, and years…I am frustrated a lot of the time. For example:
- Home alone with my husband, but neither one of us is really in the room.
- Working from home when those who are closest to me trample over my boundaries and pull me from my creative focus (focus that can be hard to come by once energy is turned elsewhere).
- Making plans and working hard to connect with my daughters, yet often ending up frustrated because all of us are being pulled in a million different directions by the needs of others and the demands of technology.
- Checking email on a day off because I allow the needs of others to trump my own.
- Checking small screens and responding to pings and beeps on dates, in nature, in the car, in the bathroom. Because it’s become “the norm.”
My Word for 2016 is PRESENCE. Because honestly, it is the biggest and most valuable gift I can give to myself, my family, and those around me at this particular moment in time. There are so many things tugging on me all the time—tugging on ALL of us all the time—and I really want to model what it looks like to be 100% invested in a task, to be 100% engaged with a person, to be 100% vested in your work, to be 100% off the grid when you say you are going off the grid. If I am craving the undivided attention of others…then others MUST be craving the same thing of me. I want to give that to them. I want to be all in, regardless of what the task at hand is (sometimes the task is simply solitude, quiet, reflection). I want to be in complete possession of the calmness, composure, and equanamity that presence of mind offers. Then there is the other side of this coin: the side where I get to BE a presence. To be an unwavering presence for my husband, children, family, and friends. To be a knowledgeable and loving presence for my students and the people who take my classes. To be a presence in the community and a resource for those that need my services.
Because, the fact of the matter is that I am not just a wife anymore. I have become a wife who sits seething and resentful at the affair my husband is having with his cell phone and laptop. If I am a wife who can model undivided attention, meaningful connection, and boundaries, he wins—and maybe he will also follow suit (in which case, we all win).
I am not just a mother anymore. I am a mother with two literal children who have to contend with the infinite supply of figurative children (i.e. demands on her time) that vie for her attention. Imagine how loved they will feel if I allow myself to be 100% present when at doctor’s appointments, watching their extracurricular activities, and while helping with homework.
I am not just a business owner and soul-o-preneur. I am following my passions while trying to run a house, yet often the house has a distinct way of running me. And, unlike a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I don’t have layers of people below me to deflect the often unnecessary demands on my time.
Some of the ways I see this word showing up: no checking social media during social occasions. No answering incoming calls or texts when I am working (too much input castrates my desired output). Being with the person in the room. Shutting down when I am tempted to plug in. Not having the fucking television on in the background no matter what is happening around us (sorry if this is the first you are hearing of this, family). Truly enjoying my surroundings. Staying laser-focused on the task at hand. Setting boundaries and allowing others to set boundaries with me. Getting outside. Turning off the TV and tuning into me. Taking regular technology sabbaticals. Seeing people face-to-face as opposed to their pixelated images on a screen.
I can’t say with certainty that this stuff will happen cold turkey or with any immediacy—actually, the only thing I can say with any certainty at all is that this is going to be hard and I am going to have to be super mindful day-in and day-out. But that’s why I totally shun New Year’s Resolutions and go with this process instead; it gives me a year to allow this word to seep into my DNA.
Imagine the benefits to my mental health!
Imagine the benefits to my interpersonal relationships!
Imagine the benefits to my productivity and my business!
Imagine! Imagine! Imagine!
I have to say, I was pretty psyched with the ultimate selection of PRESENCE. It felt right. It fit. It gives me a solid launching off point for the next 363 days. It will benefit not only me, but those around me. I immediately ordered my intention feather on Etsy (third year in a row) which I will add to the collection. And, I also ordered a salvaged word from Colleen Attara that I can display prominently, regardless of where I am. Tah dah!
This word is sheer perfection and I cannot wait to see what amazing things manifest in its wake in the year ahead.
Do you pick a word of the year and would you like to share (or link to your blog post) in the comments? Or do you have a specific New year’s tradition that you have found to be meaningful and effective? I’d love to hear from you!
Cheers to the new year and to the blank slate that lies in front of us all! What story will you be writing in the days and months to come?
Yours with love and intention—