My 2021 Word, and Some New Years Thoughts

Since 2015, in lieu of the standard “goals and resolutions,” I have picked a word for my year. It serves as a touchpoint or a north star — a simple, comprehensive reminder of where I’m trying to go and what I’m trying to do in that year (and ideally beyond).

My past Words of the Year have been: Core, Focus, Shine, Open, Embrace, and Align.

My personal rules for my words are simple (and, I should note, just my personal guidelines — if you’re thinking you want a “word of the year,” don’t feel like you need to follow these!): it needs to be a single word (not a phrase) and it needs to be a verb.

I usually start thinking about my word of the year on or around the solstice, and I like having it solidified before the current year ends so that I go into the new year with that word on my mind and in my heart. This year, though, I was really struggling. I talked to friends about it. I polled Instagram about it. I scoured “Word of the Year” lists on Pinterest. Nothing was feeling right; nothing was sticking.

Now, this could easily be attributed to *gestures wildly at the state of the world in 2020*, and I think that would be a fair assumption to make. But I think it was also coming from the fact that, in this year in particular, I’ve been doing a lot of work – in therapy and on my own – about goals, expectations, priorities, interests, passions… And, in trying to think of a good word for this year, I found myself in conflict with a lot of old beliefs and behaviors I’d held and have been working to shed.

I’m going to take a bit of a pop culture-y detour here for a second, but I promise you, it all applies. Stick with me.

In Season 5, Episode 2 of Sex & the City (“Unoriginal Sin”), Charlotte finds herself single again. She picks up a self-help book that encourages her to say and post daily affirmations all around her house. Charlotte, being the committed believer that she is, follows this advice to the letter. She reads it, she believes it, she puts it into action. But it’s not working out for her, at least not as quickly or in the way she imagined or intended. The author of this book is giving a talk and she gets tickets and Carrie goes with her.

Now, look, I could do a whole series of essays about why Carrie is THE WORST, but the Internet is full of them and you can Google. But know that I tend to agree — Carrie is the worst.

S5.E2: Unoriginal Sin

Except at one moment in this episode. Here, while she definitely has some “Ugh, really Carrie?!” moments, she also does something that is so redeeming in such a small way that it almost, almost erases some of her other ugh-ness.

The woman who wrote the book is onstage giving every self-help platitude you expect a motivational speaker to give. Look, I’ve been in multiple MLM businesses and I’ve been to dozens of conventions/summits/etc., so I get it — the masses respond to sound bites. It’s not a judgement. I’ve witnessed and experienced it with my own full person.

But then there’s Charlotte. Charlotte who has taken in the sound bites, read the platitudes, tried to apply every single tip and trick provided. And it’s not working. So she stands up when it’s time for questions from the audience, and she tells the woman. She talks about how she’s been doing her affirmations and trying to put herself out there, but it’s just not happening for her. The self-help woman says some things about fear and doubt and how she just needs to keep doing her affirmations and “really put yourself out there.” When Charlotte assures her that she is, the woman tells her she’s not.

Charlotte, a bit bewildered, mumbles a little “oh, okay.” But Carrie is pissed. Who is this woman, and how dare she tell her best friend what she is/isn’t doing right? Carrie grabs the mic and says “She is out there.” The self help woman goes to her soundbite: “I mean emotionally as well as physically out there.” Carrie refuses to let go of the mic, and with clear and deliberate articulation says: “Believe me. She’s out there.”

The self help woman shrugs it off and moves on to another one of her “success stories” from her book, but the real success story is in that moment — it was Carrie showing up for her friend. Carrie saying five words that really meant, “Hey, look, Charlotte. I might not believe in this or understand this, but I believe in you and I understand you. Who cares what this lady has to say about it? You’re going to be fine.

This episode comes to mind because I’ve been seeing a lot of “New Year, New Me” posts already. Posts about affirmations, yes, but also ads for goal setting workshops and side hustle seminars and discounts on every possible product diet culture can morph into a “healthy lifestyle change.” And it got me thinking about “tips and tricks,” like the ones Charlotte follows in the episode, that I had been told – and believed and followed – myself for years. Things like “You have the time. Just fill in the cracks.” This was and is a very popular MLM strategy for convincing people to sign up. “It doesn’t take any time at all! Answer messages on your coffee break or sitting at a stoplight or when you’re in the bathroom — I mean, everyone takes their phone with them into the bathroom, right?!”

I’m going to be honest: I feel for this hook, line, and sinker. I didn’t use my bathroom time for that, but I definitely held onto the weird belief that bathroom time could be PRODUCTIVE and PROFITABLE. Like… just, oof. I should talk to my therapist about that in our next session. Making a note.

On that everything needing to be productive and profitable note, I started thinking about the first (and to this date, only) time I used my new Cricut machine. I cut a sample design out of a piece of paper, and of course, I shared it on social media. Instantly, I had comments and messages along the lines of “So when are you going to open an ETSY store???” I see this happen and I feel this pressure, whether it’s intentional or not, a lot too. It seems that, particularly in industrialized Western nations, we as society can’t just have things we like. We can’t have things that are fun, that bring us joy, that help us relax without turning them into a business. We have to do something with everything. Hell, I am even justifying my umpteenth Dawson’s Creek rewatch by creating a blog series here! So, I am absolutely guilty of this myself.

QUICK BREAK FOR AN IMPORTANT NOTE HERE: I am writing this blog from a place of exceptional privilege. I am a married white woman with no children in the United States who has steady shelter, access to food, a significant amount of luxuries (a car, home Internet, etc.), and few current concerns about if/how bills will be paid in the coming months. I am not blind to these facts, and I am sensitive to the fact that, for others, the need for the way time is spent to constantly be productive and profitable is a very different need and experience than what I am describing here. I am not, in any way, attempting to diminish or discredit that reality.

Now, of course, unless you’re basically Jeff Bezos, we do have to work and pay bills and be productive/profitable *in some way.* And some of that work, if you have goals for yourself that are professionally aligned, may be your full-time job/career or they may fall into a “side hustle” category, or an extra project, and those side hustles and projects – or job/careers – may actually reflect things we like and are fun (to us) and bring us joy.

Of course, the other component of this is that, if it is a goal that is not your current/immediate livelihood, without some sort of structure – goal, deadline, metric – a lot of things can just sort of slip by. Year by year the project (whatever it is for you) sits, waiting for attention, waiting for effort, waiting for movement. So, there has to be some sort of accord struck between having and enjoying things just to have and enjoy them, and also putting work/effort/time/dedication into things that are important to you and have the potential to grow into something significant – whatever that means to you (profitable, perhaps, or even just “done.”).

Sorry, Charlotte — you can’t just say your affirmations. You have to put yourself out there. (see, it’s all coming together…)

S5, E2: Unoriginal Sin

In trying to pick my word for 2021, I realized I was in the “all profit, all productivity” mindset. Everything was GOAL GOAL GOAL and…I didn’t want that. I don’t want that for myself. I have goals, yes. I have areas of my life where I want to be productive and, hopefully, profitable. I will/do have to work, and sometimes that work will be via things I enjoy and am passionate about, and sometimes that work will just be work. But I also know I need rest. I know I need things that are just for me and not for the likes on the ‘gram. I know I need to watch, read, bake, create without worrying about if there’s a Venmo payment attached to it. I wanted a word that, somehow, would encompass all of that.

And today I found it.

Today I found a verb that means:

  • Be part of construction
  • Create writing, artwork, or music
  • (and) Calm, bring under control

Today I found a verb whose synonyms include: Build, Belong, Design, Make, Pen, Produce, Collect, Contain, Arrange, Becalm, and Appease

My 2021 Word of the Year is: Compose.

Happy Early New Year, Friends & Readers. Be safe, be healthy, be well.

Do you set a resolution or pick a word of the year? I’d love to hear about your choices! Leave me a comment or tweet me at @ThatColette.