I just learned that choosing a Word of the Year (WOTY) is a pretty popular activity! I thought it was just a silly little thing I started doing on my mom’s gentle suggestion in 2017.
Nope, turns out it’s a Thing. Like a THING. Even Melinda Gates does it.
It actually started as a German tradition in 1971, though the oldest English-language one dates back to 1990. That one is created annually by the American Dialect Society and is voted on by linguists. Last year’s word: fake news…
The major dictionaries all have a word of the year, too! They all clearly felt a certain way in 2018:
- Oxford: toxic (2017’s was youthquake)
- Dictionary.com: misinformation (2017’s was complicit…)
- Merriam-Webster: justice (2017’s was feminism)
None of these organizations have announced their 2019 words yet, but I’m eagerly awaiting their choices.
WOTY exercises can go by a variety of names. I recently discovered the Crafty Ass Female podcast and they were talking about One Little Word. That’s a Big Thing for them, hence dedicating an entire hour to their process, and something they’ve been doing for many years.
One Little Word specifically is a project created by Ali Edwards and includes all sorts of cute planner inserts and whatnots. She also has a $26 online class to..I guess guide you through the process? If you need that kind of resource, then there you go!
You can make your word, and the journey to discovering it, as simple or as complicated as you want. But if there’s something 40+ years of being around have taught me: simple is always best.
I came up with my 2017 word by simply trying to figure out what I needed most. I had an exceptionally demanding job and started having chronic health problems. I felt like I had a constant head fog between balancing work and figuring out what the fuck was wrong with me. So I chose the word FOCUS.
What I needed most, aside from quitting my job (done) and fixing my health (almost done) was to focus.
So I did.
I started a bullet journal. I love lists, and a bullet journal was a very simple way for me to take my love of listing and make it work for me.
In 2018, after getting my life back in order, I settled on the word GROW. I wanted to take what I’d gained after going through hell and just be better. And grow from the lessons I learned in 2017.
I call that a success.
How to Choose Your Word
This doesn’t have to be complicated. There’s no right or wrong way to do it! You can even leave it to a random word generator to determine it.
But if you want to be a little more mindful, Inc.com has a method for helping to arrive at your word:
- Take moment to reflection [sic] and be self-aware.
- Visualize your word.
- Narrow your options.
- Tell others and test your word.
This is a very good way of going through the exercise to determine the “right” word. You should reflect on where you are in your life, then brainstorm through options and see what shakes out.
Maybe you like certain sounds. Or maybe you need the word to feel a particular way when you think about it. Or it needs to roll off the tongue easily. It’s like trying on a pair of shoes (or as the Crafty Ass Females put it: trying on jeans). The point is that it just “fits.”
What if I get my word wrong?
What if you realize mid-stream that the word isn’t right? Guess what: your word isn’t a prison sentence. You aren’t buying a house and getting saddled with a 30-year mortgage. It’s just a word.
There are two ways to approach this. First, you can choose a very vague word. It could fit a lot of different situations, but still suit you and make you feel good about it.
The second way is trial and error. If you’re really concerned with nailing just the right word, adopt a family of words and try them all out. This is the time to bust out the thesaurus and see what other words are similar. One might resonate more strongly than the rest. Test it out for a few days. If it’s not the right one after all, move on to the next one.
Do not agonize over this.
Who you are today and the motivation you need today may very well be different in 6 months. So your word for today might be different from your word in the future.
It’s YOUR life. If you need to change your word, then that’s okay.
The world isn’t going to end if you change your mind about your WOTY. Maybe it’s a multi-word year!
Examples of Potential WOTY
Another way to find your word is thinking about who you want to become. Maybe this is the year you go back to school for your degree or to get another degree. Words that could work for this include driven, discipline, prepare, cultivate.
Or if your goal is to hit the next level of your career: breakthrough, upgrade, advance, progress.
Is this the year you expand your social circle? Network, exciting, thrill, mingle.
Or is it the year you quit smoking? Try patience, perseverance, guts, stubbornness.
Or just borrow from someone else. Melinda’s past words have included gentle, spacious, and grace. Mine were focus and grow. Your word doesn’t have to be unique, it just needs to feel like it’s right for you.
The WOTY doesn’t have to be a verb or an action word. It can simply describe a feeling, or put an intention in place.
These are just examples. If they work for you, great! I hope you make good use of them.
So what do you do with your WOTY once you choose it? If you went through the 5 steps outlined by Inc.com above, then you probably gave some thought to your intentions, goals, or even resolutions for 2019. Ask yourself: does this word line up with them?
The point of the word isn’t to rule your life. Its purpose is to align with your ambitions to make them successful.
Say, for example, you find yourself stuck. Think about your word. Need to make a decision? Your word can help anchor you to your ultimate objectives for the year, and lead you down the most fruitful path.
It’s like a mantra you can fall back on when you need help clarifying your options. A guidepost, if you will. You might have a tumultuous year. There might be some ups and some downs. The WOTY will not save you from that. But it can help steer you through it.
My 2019 Word of the Year
For 2019, this word won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s been reading this blog recently. It’s CREATE.
This time around it feels like the word chose me, instead of the other way around.
It had been percolating in the back of my head recently (probably from reading—and rereading—Create or Hate). And then it suddenly kept coming up in conversation or appearing randomly. Like when this image popped into my feed recently:
This is what Julia Cameron calls synchronicity. From her book, The Artist’s Way:
As you work…many changes will be set in motion. Chief among these changes will the triggering of synchronicity: we change and the universe furthers and expands that change.
This fully explains my favorite quote from Paulo Coelho: when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
It’s the right word for me, and where I am, right now. Even the universe thinks so!
It’s something I work at doing every day. Will this word enhance my work this year? I hope so!
Does it align with my goals? Hell yes!
Will I still feel this strongly about it at the end of the year? I guess we’ll see! You should expect to see a lot of it in future posts.
Do you choose a word of the year? Share it in the comments, I’d love to see what you come up with!