In July of 2013 I learned that the organization I worked for was restructuring and that my position was one of several that would be eliminated at the end of the year. I was blindsided by this and completely devastated. I loved my work and believed I’d been doing it well. My mind was all over the place. I didn’t know if I should re-apply to do something else at the organization or if I should leave. And I certainly didn’t know how to prepare myself emotionally for the coming six months of work – work I loved that would be taken away from me.

I decided that I needed something to focus on—something to ground me when I didn’t know what to do or how to feel. Something quick and easy like a word or phrase. I used a process, which I’ll describe below, and landed on CALM and STEADFAST. No matter what happened, no matter how much uncertainty, I would be calm and I would be steadfast. Those words were like a beacon to me as I did my best to fully show up at work while also trying to discern what to do next. They helped me not rush into a decision too quickly and to take time to process and live with all my anxiety. They helped me make the decision to leave the organization and start a little something called LEAD 365 with Rodger. And they helped me in the first year of working with some of you. They helped me not be too anxious as Rodger and I kicked off the Pilot program of LEAD 365 (although, full disclosure, I was still terribly anxious the first few teaching sessions.)

The story above is how my Word of the Year practice began. I’ve continued it every year since, and it’s proven to be incredibly helpful to me. My Word of the Year is a bit like a mini-vision statement of what I need to focus on in the coming year for my own growth. I’ve shared this practice with a few people I’ve coached over the years, and they found it helpful enough that I wanted to share this practice with all of you.

Here’s the process I follow to come up with my word each year. It’s messy and might look completely different for you; this is simply what works for me:

  • Reflect on the past year: Near the end of the year I start reflecting on what the past year was like. I mostly focus on how I feel about the past year, not on my accomplishments (or lack thereof). I’m deliberate in this because I want my growth to be focused around my beliefs and values, and for me, paying attention to how I feel helps me tap into beliefs and values in a more honest way.
  • Take time alone: I take a whole lot of long walks by myself (sometimes with my dog, but even she stays home when I really need to process). My best insight and introspection comes when I’m alone in the woods, so I go out with the explicit purpose of reflecting on the last year and thinking about the coming year.
  • Quiet down: I quiet my world down and listen. I can easily fill every moment with input of some kind: books, music, TV, conversations. All of  this gets in the way of hearing my own thoughts, so I make time for quiet and allow my thoughts to percolate and coalesce.
  • Reflect on my personal Purpose Statement: I reflect on my personal purpose statement and how I need to grow and change in order to better live into this. (I believe that having a purpose statement is key to this. I’ll write more about that sometime soon.)
  • Patient discernment: Mix all of this together, and usually a word or two will emerge. Sometimes it takes a few days. Sometimes I have to think about it for weeks. My Words of the Year tend to be quite personal, and probably wouldn’t make any sense to someone else without a lot of background and context. But that doesn’t matter. The word is for me only.

Now think about yourself: Would you benefit from having a word or phrase as a beacon this year? Something to remind you of what you need to focus on in order to help you stay the course in your life and leadership? None of this is set in stone. You can do a word of the month, week, or day if that’s what works for you. The point of this is to keep you moving in the right direction and to help you become the person—and leader—you want to be.

Lead on,

Image by claudiadea131. Used under CC by 2.0 license.