Choosing Your Word Of The Year
It was during a Toastmaster’s meeting earlier this week that an authentic idea was presented before me. Now for those that have never attended a Toastmaster’s meeting before (though I implore you to do so), each weekly gathering follows a very similar format. Guests and members of the club are asked to introduce themselves before answering a random question presented to them by the head of the club. It serves each of us as a warm-up exercise, allowing us to find our voice before more speaking opportunities arise later in the meeting.
As this was the first meeting of the new year, topics were largely focused on the idea of growth and change. Members and guests were asked to first introduce themselves before answering the following question:
What is your goal for the new year?
Now to be clear, this question isn’t breaking any new ground. It’s likely the very same question that arises in workplace break rooms, New Year’s Eve party conversations, and with your grandma during holiday chit chat. But there was one answer amongst the group that I admired far more than I anticipated I would.
Martha, an older woman in her mid-60s with gentle eyes and an even kinder soul, slowly stood before the room to detail her plan for the upcoming year. Quickly she reminded us that this was the same goal she’d created for herself in years past. But I found it intriguing nevertheless.
Martha described to us her process for choosing a word of the year. This was something she had done in years past, and for a number of years she chose the word “silence”, as she lived in the quiet of British Columbia for some time and found herself at peace with the world. It was in that environment that she came to understand what silence meant to her, and how it impacted her life. She was at one point afraid and saddened by silence, but slowly grew to enjoy it and found it to be of the warmest company.
This year however, Martha chose a new word (or phrase, if you’d rather): heart song. Googling the word heart song yields a definition that feels both magical and enlightening. It is described as “ An intense, euphoric feeling of happiness and contentment”. While Martha had focused on silence and the heavy emotions that came with such a word in the past, she now decided to focus on a lighter word, one far more inviting. I was touched.
Immediately I found myself writing all of this down, wondering what my word of the year would be. I approached Martha at the end of the meeting and asked for advice. How would I find my word? How did she find hers?
In a whispered tone that one would relate to molasses she detailed how every word she ever chose came to her naturally. Heart song appeared to her in an email from a friend, in the lyrics of a song, and on the pages of a book in the span of a few days. Noticing the signs from the world, she chose that foreign phrase with the intention of coming to understand it. That was the point of choosing a word. To conceptualize it, understand it, and let it naturally become a part of your being. Again I found myself somewhat emotional as I listened to an elderly woman’s soft voice as she detailed her discovery of heart song.
I left the meeting pondering my word heavily. It was difficult attempting to let a word come to me rather than simply produce one myself, but the world works in ways it knows best. And the very same truth can be applied here.
The following day, as I’ve written in greater detail elsewhere, I went to get my nose pierced in an act of impulsive excitement and nervousness. At the time I thought little of my word and still believed it would come to me just as Martha suggested I let it. After undergoing what I would describe as a potentially traumatic piercing experience (I’m exaggerating, don’t worry), I found myself focusing intently on the word “discomfort”. I’d previously written about being in discomfort, I’d determined that it was a goal of mine for the upcoming year, and thus it felt as if life was showing me my word:
At first, and still to this moment, I find myself somewhat frightened by the word discomfort. I assume it would be far more easygoing to choose a word such as “travel” or “exploring” or “relaxation”, but often the toughest tests are the very same ones we rarely enjoy. And with that in mind, it’s time to fully embrace discomfort.
In what medium I shall find myself discomfort remains to be seen, but I believe it’s safe to assume that I’ll experience it in nearly every way. In love and travel and money and work and experiences of every sort; my goal is to understand the concept of discomfort like I never have before. And when the year is done, my hope is to find myself in a different place with discomfort than where I am now.
If you’ve read until the very end then it is now your turn to choose a word for the year. Just as Martha suggested, don’t be so quick to force it. Instead let it present itself to you. Pay attention to the themes in your life, the daily patterns of thought, the words that arise from emails and songs and the mouths of others — in time your word will naturally appear before you. And when it does, simply embrace it and get to know it in every sense that you can. Take time to write down how you perceive the word now in terms of that word, and revisit these thoughts at the end of the year to see how you’ve changed, and maybe even how you’ve grown.
I look forward to seeing you grow.