Welcome to a new year full of promises of what might be, of new adventures and dreams unrealized — YET!
For the past few years, I’ve taken part in the popular #OneWord for the new year. Instead of a bunch of resolutions such as I’m going to get in shape or I’m going to eat better or I’m going to read more books, the #OneWord focuses on selecting one word that you use as a guide throughout the year. There are a number of sites that can help you with this if it is of interest to you.
One word you can focus on every day, all year long…
One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live.
It will take intentionality and commitment, but if you let it, your one word will shape not only your year, but also you. It will become the compass that directs your decisions and guides your steps.
You might want to check out Alli Pollin and look at her explanation for exploring one word and ways to select a word for the year.
As I said, I have been doing a #OneWord focus for the past few years. Last year my word was UNBOUND which means to be not confined, not fastened. At the time I was feeling confined by what I was doing and past experiences. I was seeking to move past these, to be free of them and to move into a new stage of my life. I wanted to THRIVE.
Life Happens and I’m Not Unbound
The year started off rather well in many regards, making progress in many areas. Then, beginning in February, a series of events began which made focusing on Unbound seem unimportant. First, my mom, who was dealing with the beginning stages of dementia, had to be moved from her independent living apartment to extended care. I knew this was going to happen as I had been visiting her weekly since she had moved into assisted living in July of 2018. However, it was very hard for my sister and aunt. When she moved, I began visiting twice a week and taking my children to see her more regularly and then calling my sisters to give them an update.
Then, in late March, my mom suffered a brain bleed from which she didn’t recover. She passed away on April 2nd. All thoughts of being Unbound were lost in the immediacy of dealing with her death and all that was involved. For me, I was not unbound but coping, suffering, hurt, angry and many other things. Definitely not unbound. This took a toll on me and my depression was becoming more difficult to manage. This carried over into the summer.
Then, at the end of June, we moved across the city. As anyone who has moved knows, it is a very trying experience, even when it’s just across town. This pushed me deeper into depression until at the end of July a family friend came and had a heart to heart with me that it was obvious that I needed to see someone or do something because I wasn’t handling things well. In fact, I was a mess. I was spiraling downward into the darkness. I was supposed to be beginning my research for my PhD and maybe begin thinking about future work but I couldn’t. I was lucky to just be able to get out of bed some days.
Definitely not Unbound
Not only was I not Unbound but I was completely bound — unable to see past the darkness that had surrounded me. I was feeling helpless and hopeless, not coping at all. Finally, with assistance, I took the necessary steps to seek help and get myself back on track — as much as that was possible. That meant not only seeking therapy and trying medication but getting back to exercise and healthy habits in all parts of my life. To some degree I was successful. However, in October, November, and December, I fell off track in many areas of my life as deadlines for my PhD thesis dominated my days. And although I met all the deadlines, other areas of my life suffered.
Holidays And a Different Perspective
Because my wife is a teacher and I was a teacher before my detour into the grad life, we have always spend a lot of time during the winter holidays just doing family things — slow mornings, going out for day excursions, and evenings of puzzles and board games. This year, I took a complete break from my thesis because I needed it. Although taking a break meant being a bit behind timeline wise, I knew that I needed to take this time. Other areas of my life needed to my attention.
I not only spent time with family but I did more non-academic reading than I had in the past — reconnecting with one of my favourite authors Todd Henry. Todd writes about living life as a creative, as a person who creates for a living and is expected to be creative in order to solve problems and deliver solutions to various customers. He has authored the books The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder than Words and Herding Tigers. Todd’ s writing and ideas about being a creative have had a great influence on how I have begun to approach how I think about the work that teachers do and how professional development for teachers needs to recognize the amazing creativity that teachers do each day in their classrooms. But I digress!
It had been a while since I had had any time to read and his work was a good guide for helping me get perspective back and realigning myself. This time though, I reflected on how I had let the different parts of my life become unbalanced and I wasn’t able to Thrive.
It’s Not Balance — It’s Thriving
I’ve come to my own understanding that finding balance is, for me anyway, an unattainable quest which causes me more anxiety than anything else. Instead, through reading authors such as Todd Henry, Sunni Brown, Adam Grant, caroline arnold, Hal Elrod, Greg McKeowan, Patti Johnson, Cal Newport, and Gillian Tett, I’ve begun to focus on thriving in all aspects of my life. For me, this means that all parts of my life are intertwined creating a whole. To try to separate them into different parts denies the wholeness of who I am as a person. Trying to create silos of the different parts of my life and then trying to balance them is incompatible with me as a whole person. With this in mind, I have been exploring different ways to help myself thrive throughout the upcoming year. Given the experience of the past year, I knew I needed to make some changes.
Focus for Each Month
Because of the nature of life, trying to focus on #OneWord for a whole year just doesn’t fit for me. There is too much happening and things change. I want to THRIVE! For me, this means changing the way I look at my days, the work that I am doing, my own talents and abilities, and the risks that I take. It also means being much proactive and reflective when it comes to my mindset and what I am doing each day. The idea of #OneWord did break me of the habit of setting unrealistic resolutions for the year that I never did accomplish. However, it didn’t help me with making the gains and changes that I wanted to make. After reading small move, big change by caroline l. arnold, I began to incorporate the practice of micro resolutions. Each of these micro resolutions are small things that, over time, lead to big changes. I highly recommend this if you are wanting to make changes!
In order to better reflect what is happening in my life, I have decided that at the beginning of each month I will select a new word to be the focus of the month. In January my focus is on RECOMMIT. It underlies my desire to THRIVE as a person. I know that for this month I am recommitting myself to different practices that I have let slide and recommitting myself to narrowing my focus to only those things that will help me to THRIVE in all areas of life. That means that I am also having to say NO to things that, although good by themselves, are not helping me to THRIVE in my life.
Some of you might be thinking, well just use THRIVE as your word for the year. I mean, it’s why you are doing all that you are doing. And you’d have point. It is my why. But, it will always be my why. So, to support my why — THRIVE — each month I want to have a focus on HOW. How will I Thrive? This month, it’s be recommitting to doing what needs to be done in order to THRIVE. At the end of the month, I will take time to reflect on what I have accomplished and what I want to accomplish in the upcoming month. It provides manageable timelines. Goals can be spread across weeks, months or the whole year but each month I will review these and then see where I need to focus — a HOW for the upcoming weeks.
Overcoming inertia is difficult but once we can begin to move, continuing that forward progress requires consistent attention to the many parts of who we are as a person and ignoring any one area can cause progress to halt. Monthly focuses, I believe, will help me to ensure inertia doesn’t set in again.
I believe in order to truly be successful in supporting and helping others, we first need to be taking care of ourselves. I’ll be checking back each month as a way to support my own growth. But I also would like to hear from you. How do you continue to make progress on your WHY? What is your WHY? Why is it your WHY? What areas do you struggle with? What are you doing to support yourself and your growth and development?
I hope each of you has an awesome year. Remember — Every Day is a PD day!