How choosing your word of the year can change everything

My one little word for 2011

My one little word for 2011 was thrive. It sounded so upbeat when I chose it in January, so harmless, so optimistic, so healthy! I imagined abundance in every part of my life– thriving in my relationship with my husband, thriving in my body, thriving in our financial life. I suppose I didn’t think it through completely. Perhaps it was magical thinking? I must have assumed that I would simply wake up one day and just be thriving, simply because I declared it so… without having to do anything in particular!

What I didn’t realize is that when I chose this adorable little word, that I needed to be prepared to lose everything– have everything be tossed in the air and end up in a big, messy pile on the floor –waiting to be put back together.

It has been fascinating to witness; how each part of my life systematically fell apart one by one. In January, my son Ben’s health got to crisis point and after many doctor’s visits and tests, we finally found him the medication he has needed for years. In spring, we had, er, a bit of a cash flow crisis. Yikes! This was our big wake-up call and inspired us to finally clean up our finances, look at what we were spending and make a plan to save.

Soon after, even my business got turned upside down and I realized that I had been ignoring the truth about that for a long time too– that there were changes that needed to be made and new dreams that needed to be dreamed up for my creative businesses. Out of that came a brand new photography e-course that I launched this summer that is making me really happy. I’m feeling truly alive and inspired in my work again. It seems that in order to thrive, everything had to break and be put back together again.

Trusting the Mess

But how can we trust the mess? How do we have faith when it’s all falling apart? It’s hard to keep going sometimes, especially when it looks like we’ve failed, that the mess is too big to clean up, or that we somehow blew it.

But you know what helped me?
My one little word.
That little word, thrive.

When I took a helicopter view of my life– even while it was unraveling this year– I saw one thing very clearly– that I was manifesting a life where my family and I would THRIVE. Hilariously, we even switched to Kaiser this year. This one little word kept it all in perspective, gave me faith that there was a bigger picture here, that I was part of a larger story. Most importantly, it reminded me that I had power, that I had a hand in how that story unfolded.

There is a story Ann Lamott tells in one of her books that I have always loved. She tells it below:

“Carolyn Myss, the medical intuitive who writes and lectures about why people don’t heal, flew to Russia a few years ago to give some lectures. Everything that could go wrong did — flights were cancelled or overbooked, connections missed, her reserved room at the hotel given to someone else. She kept trying to be a good sport, but finally, two mornings later, on the train to her conference on healing, she began to whine at the man sitting beside her about how infuriating her journey had been thus far.

It turned out that this man worked for the Dalai Lama. And he said, gently, that they believe when a lot of things are going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born-and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.”

My one little word has been a gift– it has been a way that I held myself and my family more gently this year, with more compassion and more faith. It is a lens through which I glimpsed a truer story– that no matter how messy life gets, we are going to be more than okay on the other side; that we can trust what life hands us… and that sometimes when things fall apart, it’s just that something big and lovely is trying to get itself born.

In case you missed it

If you haven’t had a chance to download the “Complete Your Year” Worksheet, you can still find it here! And there is still room in the January Mondo Beyondo session. Just leave a comment and you’ll receive the secret coupon code.

*This piece was originally written for Ali Edward’s One Little Word Project. Her new One Little Word class begins soon over at Big Picture Scrapbooking.

32 Comments

  1. Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    I read this quote on The Daily Love today, and it has stuck with me, and I think it’s what you’ve said here, and speaks to the fear and vulnerability you felt about pushing “publish” for this post: “Those events that happen, happen to shape us, to mold us and to help us step into who we are supposed to be.” I also love the idea that when things fall apart it’s “something big and lovely is trying to get itself born.”

  2. Posted December 30, 2011 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    Oh Andrea! What an amazing year and post!! So glad that you and your family thrive in all ways 🙂 You’ve been a blessing to me this year and I’ve learned so much – I’m ever grateful. As you know my word for 2012 is prosperity…however interestingly just since choosing that work – things are falling apart – our old car and truck are now held together by duct tape…and magic…. we are living close to the edge…I hope to take your amazing photography class or wonderful mondo beyondo again this year…blessing to you in 2012 xoxo

  3. Posted December 30, 2011 at 2:43 am | Permalink

    i loved reading this. i too chose a word last year…less…that took me for a wild and crazy ride. i wasn’t always smiling, but i made it, and 362 days later i can’t believe my personal growth and gratitude toward one little word. i am so looking forward to journeying through 2012 with my new word {under top secret until the 31st} and taking your photography class, which 100% goes with my word. cheers to a happy new year! 🙂

  4. Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    One of my words for this year is Thrive. Now I’m a little afraid, lol. I love this post and the stories within. Thanks for being so transparent. I’m continually so grateful for your start.

  5. Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    Um, “start” above should be “site.” Oops. Either way: grateful.

  6. Posted December 30, 2011 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    Okay now I am scared. I *think* I am choosing “Connect” as my 2012 word but I need to think through the negatives. Oh screw it, why worry about the negatives?!

  7. Amber
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    It’s incredible the sort of perfection that can be found in vulnerability. Interestingly enough, “thrive” is the word I’ve been dancing around for a few weeks now. It’s a honkin’ big word, with a voice that shakes mountains. This post terrifies and inspires me, which feels quite right. Think it’s a go!

  8. Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    My mantra for 2012 is going to be
    authenticity. I chose this word a couple of weeks ago and I find it a divine coincidence to come across this post today.

  9. marilee pittman
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    I want everyone I know to read this piece. It is so wise and wonderful. “Thrive” what a great word. I need to come up with something as wonderful…

  10. Posted December 30, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I love this, love your insight. But, yikes, the word that popped into my head for 2012 is “grow.” Last year it was “truth” and big relationships fell apart. Still, looking forward to all that’s ahead. XO

  11. Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful post. Thank you. xo

  12. Suzy
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your lovely post. I think my word will be YES.

  13. Daisy
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been inspired to journal and find my word for 2012.

  14. Posted December 31, 2011 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    Wow! Always a treat to read your posts (and I love it when you get vulnerable). In considering my word for 2012, the one I kept coming back to was “believe”. I didn’t accept it at first, for some reason. Believe? Believe what? But then I thought, oh, believe in me. Believe that I can. Believe that I will. Believe that I deserve. And maybe, believe in other things too. Other people, possibilities, ideas, the universe. So there it is, believe.

  15. Posted December 31, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    At first I was gonna say there’s NO WAY I can chose ONE WORD for the new year, for an entire year–ridiculous! And then I thought, actually I can. And the word is FAITH. That’s a word worth focusing on for 365 days straight on and on. Thank you for this post.

  16. Posted December 31, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    I am interested in a coupon code for the Mondo Beyondo course. Last year my word was authentic.

  17. Emma
    Posted January 1, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    30 was a big birthday for my friend kimbo…. And I can’t wait to wish her a happy 2012!!! The world’s your oyster…, happy new year!!!!

  18. Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful post. I began choosing one word back in 2008 and it is truly amazing what things do unfold surrounding the word I choose each year. Things manifest that you never thought about, but they bring on such a greater purpose. It is a beautiful tradition to do each year and amazing to see what happens. I am still not sure about my word for 2012, but I think it may be fly.

    Wishing you and your family a beautiful 2012.

  19. Jennifer
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    My word for 2012 is FORWARD. Time to get out of neutral.

  20. Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    I think my word is fly. That story about something big and lovely trying to get itself born moves me deeply.

  21. Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Hi Andrea –
    I wanted to pop over and say Happy New Year! Yours was the first blog I read and you were the first person to introduce me to the word of the year (this was a long time ago now!) So every year when I choose my word, I always come back to see what you have chosen.

    My word for 2012 is Emerge. (I know, right?! BIG!)

    Happy New Year to you and yours – I hope that this year is a magical one for you.
    with love –
    xo

  22. Alejandra
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Last year can only be described a whirlwind of activities and outcomes that felt random, without purpose, or not really well thought out. A word for me this year will be direction. I don’t know what I want or what to get there, but I want to more aware of choices and decisions I make, which should have a sense of direction. Great exercise, and great to read about others words.

  23. Katherine
    Posted January 4, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    It’s hard to believe that choosing a word can have that impact but I am inspired by you to choose a word and see what happens. Now if I can just find the right one!

  24. Posted January 5, 2012 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    This quote was from the movie Bruce Almighty (I know, right?) but it clicked for me and I’ve had it on my wall for years. “When you pray for patience, does God just give you patience? Or does he give you opportunity to be patient? When you pray for courage, does he give you courage or opportunity to be courageous? And, when you pray for your family to be closer, does God just zap you with warm fuzzy feelings or does he give you opportunity to become closer?”

  25. Miranda
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    I love this ritual… Thanks to you andrea I do it every year. My word this year is one I’ve wanted for ages but this is the right time. My word is love

  26. Abigail
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Once again, your post hit me where I am in this moment. I am in a cafe trying to meditate in the mess that was 2011 and set some intentions for transformation in 2012. I am struggling with finding optimism in myself, and your post helps. Thanks.

  27. Posted January 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Since 2009 I have let the year tell me what it wants to be. That year was The Year of Gratitude wherein I focused on remaining grateful for the people in my life. 2010 was The Year of Humility in which I worked on getting past those nagging little voices that tell you you’ll appear foolish if you say or do certain things. 2011 never seemed to declare anything. This post is what I needed….not a grand statement but a little word. When I read it and my heart whispered….Become. I’m not sure what that means but I can’t wait to find out!

  28. Carolyn
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    This is my first year hearing about the “Choose a Word” theme, and I love it. While reflecting over the past year, all I can think of is the word “growth” (not an easy year, but, oh, so rewarding). This year, I want to build on the strengths, passions and still-fragile ideas I’ve seen growing for the past 12 months, so I’m picking “cultivate”, as in “to promote or improve growth by labor and attention”, for 2012.

  29. Lara
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    savor. for sure, that’s the word for me.

  30. Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful post. I especially love the excerpt by Ann Lamott.

  31. Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful post and thought. I especially love the excerpt by Ann Lamott. Thank you.

  32. Lara
    Posted January 25, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Savor is my word for the year.

    I recently threw out a leftover ice cream cake covered in freezer burn. I had completely forgotten it wedged in the freezer. To some, forgetting about food in the freezer is unremarkable. But for me – the fact that I had utterly forgotten there was a cake in the house, so thoroughly forgotten about it that it crusted over with freezer burn – it made me sit down for a moment. It was a milestone a long time coming, and I had to let it sink in.

    When I was 12 years old, I went on my first diet. For fun. With my mother. I was 5’5″ and 128 pounds, and wouldn’t it be fun if I lost 10 pounds? First it was the Scarsdale diet – the fruit salad and pecans, the hamburger patties with brussel sprouts. The 10 pounds (that I did not need to lose) came off. How empowering! But then they came back – plus, of course, a few more. So we went to Weight Watchers, my mom and me together, and I learned that the night before a diet you need to go on a “last hurrah” – Chinese food was ours – and that diets had to start on Mondays – and that if you went off your diet, well, you should eat all you could while you could, because Monday was coming…

    And so it began. I was in 7th grade.

    I remember allowing myself just 1,000 calories a day, and going to bed hungry, dreaming of the tiny Quaker granola bar and 8 oz. of skim milk I planned for breakfast.

    I would starve and read “Glamour” and “Cosmopolitan” magazines and imagine the life I would live when I was thin. I was certain to be popular and successful, with plenty of boyfriends and orgasms.

    I felt sorry for girls who were naturally thin, because, unlike me, they had nothing to look forward to.

    I would spend my time shopping for clothes (many sizes too small), for parties I imagined I would be invited to when I reached the right size and my dream life began.

    In short, I bought what they were selling – the magazines, the mall – hook, line, and sinker.

    Between diets it was all about making up for lost time with the Kraft Mac & Cheese, the Snickers bars, the Jif. And if you pushed it down fast enough, it was almost like it didn’t count. And sometimes, with a piece of cake or a piece of pie, I would have to get it into the trash before I’d gone too far…but then sometimes…I’d have to go in after it. There is nothing quite like the shame of sneaking downstairs when everyone is asleep, still bursting at the seams from dinner, only to eat someone else’s leftover pecan pie out of the trash.

    When I went to visit my Jewish grandmother she’d ask me to turn around, so she could “look” at me, assessing whether I had gained or lost weight since my last visit. Once – after a period of particularly painful binging – my grandmother reported to my mom that my face looked like a big red tomato. (Maybe my mom could have spared me that tidbit?)

    I was 13. And then I was 15. And then a high school graduate, a college graduate, a lawyer.

    When I was 28 my mom called to say that she’d found my old journals in the closet of my childhood bedroom, that she and my dad had read them, and, well, they had some questions. “So, you know that part where you write about running into the first guy you had sex with? You know, after you had graduated from college? Well, you write about how you were feeling fat that day and didn’t want him to see you – and your father and I were wondering, if it’s so important for you not to be fat, why don’t you make it a priority? Why aren’t you thinner?”

    (That paragraph reads like fiction, doesn’t it? It’s not.)

    Why, I asked myself, why aren’t I thinner? There was shame in taking up so much space. I even talked quickly (still do) – not wanting to take up too much room. Not wanting to be too much.

    I stopped dieting altogether. I resolved never to weigh myself again. I rebelled and carried *forbidden* foods with me everywhere I went: Nutter Butter cookies, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Snickers bars. And it worked: when I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted, the *forbidden* food lost its magic. Entirely. (Have you tasted a Nutter Butter cookie lately? When you eat to taste it – as opposed to shoving it down before you can stop yourself – you can’t help but notice it tastes like nothing so much as chemicals.) When I stopped dieting, the binging stopped as well. There was simply no longer any need for it.

    Years passed, and I ate whatever I wanted. Or sometimes, I just didn’t eat at all.

    And then something happened last Fall. The kids, the holidays coming with family visiting from out of town, the ex-husband’s recovery from spinal surgery – everyone was depending on me to keep all the balls in the air. Panic set in. “I need to take care of myself!” I thought. “Quick! I need to figure out how to take care of myself, or I’m going to go under!” And I realized that I didn’t even know how to fucking FEED myself. I knew how to diet, and I knew how to not diet, but after 43 years, I did not know how to nourish myself.

    So I did something so outrageous, so radical, so GENIUS that I can’t even believe I came up with it: without berating myself – or even slipping in a sarcastic or otherwise unkind word – I simply began making sure I was able to get a little bit of exercise every day. Sometimes it looked like playing tennis with the kids, sometimes like the boring slap of sneakers on the treadmill. But it felt good. And then I started reading and watching videos about how to nourish my body with food – simple stuff, broad strokes that kept me from becoming too obsessive: loads of green vegetables, colored peppers and tomatoes, avocados, whole raw milk, tons of fruits and berries, nuts, grass fed meat, whole grains, fish twice a week, beans three times a week, olive oil and onions and garlic, and something fermented each day. Plus fish oil. (I am eating so much I can barely get it all in each day, and it is cracking me up. When last week I finished my lunch and then reached into my bag to grab and peel a gigantic grapefruit in the middle of a work conversation, I felt the need to apologize to the person watching me, explaining, “Sorry, I’m trying to eat more.” It just sounded so outlandish – a 40-something woman trying to “eat more”! But then again, just last week my friend Tracy told me I look like I’m aging in reverse. Now that I liked.)

    It’s so radically different for me to think about food from a place of nourishment instead of from a place of denial. And it turns out I don’t actually even like pecan pie! (I mean, don’t get me wrong: if you invite me for dinner, I’ll surely eat it if it’s what you’re serving for dessert. It’s just not something that excites me anymore.) But I do try to eat creamy dark chocolate every day. And the funny thing is, when I sit and let it melt in my mouth, let it roll around on my tongue, a piece or two is all I need, then I’m over it. In the decades of the secret binge, of the insatiable hunger, of the stinginess and the shame, who could have guessed such a thing?

    For years, I put my life on hold waiting for something better – and striving to be thinner was the mental short cut of imagining something “better.” And in my mind food was the thing that stood in the way. But it wasn’t about the food, of course. My old obsession with food and the result – mentally putting my life on hold, feeling that my hunger and desires were too much to control – cut me off at the knees. And now the most radical, outrageous thing I can do is to take good care of myself. To live in the moment. To breathe and savor where I am, what I am doing, the food on my tongue, the joy around me. Savor. It is my word for the year.

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