One Word for 2020

opening a curtain

“Take care of your words and the words will take care of you.”
Amit Ray

For the fifth year, I’m sharing with you the concept of One Word. I was introduced to this idea in 2016 by my colleague and friend Jeanie Burke, Senior Advisor, Home Instead Senior Care Halifax. It involves choosing one word to express your resolutions/hopes/wishes/goals for the coming year. I’ve been amazed at the positive impact of this seemingly simple exercise, especially as I look back on my word for 2019.

What was the impact of my word for 2019? And what word am I hoping will guide me through 2020?

There’s a lot of information available on the One Word concept. My research indicates the idea became a movement due to the writings and work of Jon Gordon, Dan Britton and Jimmy Page, and you can find more information at their website Get One Word. Simply put, instead of making a list of specific resolutions, which are often abandoned or forgotten by February, choose one word as your theme for the coming year. What’s the outcome? Here’s my experience:

The word I chose for 2016 was … DARE. I wanted to push against some of my self-created boundaries, challenge some of my fears, and knock on more doors simply to see what was on the other side. With the word DARE humming in the back of my mind, I: agreed to publish a second book; got meetings with senior VPs at one of Canada’s largest banks; did my first “keynote”;  hired a virtual assistant;  attended DreamForce in San Francisco (along with 169,999 other people – yikes!), and the list goes on.

Throughout the year, every time I hesitated over an idea or potential opportunity I said to myself “DARE” and amazing things happened.

For 2017 I chose the word LEARN. One thing that became crystal clear to me throughout my year of daring, was that I needed to know a lot more about a lot more things!

The word “learn” comes from Old English meaning “to get knowledge, be cultivated; study, read, think about” but also from the Proto-Germanic meaning “to follow or find the track”. So through my studying, reading and thinking, I aimed to identify my path for 2018 and beyond. I began with researching and then crafting a 3-year plan (with the assistance of Stephanie Coldwell and the support of the Centre for Women in Business).

And it worked again! With a focus on learning throughout the year, I attended more workshops, events, webinars (including a life-changing, 100-day marketing seminar with Seth Godin) than ever before. And when things got stressful or failed completely, I asked myself, “What can I learn from this experience?”

The result was a clear vision of where I wanted to take The Phone Lady that still left plenty of room to adapt to how business communication keeps changing.

My word for 2018 was IMPERFECT and it makes me laugh to write about it now. The intent was to acknowledge my perfectionist streak and prevent it from getting in my way; I intended to move past “But it’s not perfect.” to “Here it is. What do you think?”

And I did do this, launching several new courses (that still need tweaking), sharing the beta version of my online course, as well as forcing myself to make and share video content. But the real power of this word has appeared more in my personal life. During the year I juggled my responsibilities as a daughter-in-law, caring for my mother-in-law and the family as they came to terms with her dementia and the necessity of moving her to full-time care,  along with my responsibilities as wife/partner/friend to husband David, who’s diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s began to impact our daily lives in surprising (often hilarious) ways.

In 2019 I considered the word “patience” but when I looked up its meaning and history, I discovered it was connected to suffering and submission, and that didn’t suit me at all. So I settled on the simplest of words – BE.

As I look back on the year I realize it has been truly … abundant. I welcomed Miriam Jobin to The Phone Lady team. This has been amazing, allowing me to see the world, and communication skills, through the experience of someone under 25. It has challenged me to be a better leader and colleague which, after 13 years of working alone, hasn’t been easy. And at home, dementia has taken centre stage, continuing to create moments of joy … and frustration. I often found myself completely overwhelmed, feeling frozen in the moment and unable to do anything.

Then I’d remember my word – Be. I told myself, usually out loud, that all was well in this moment. That I was safe, smart and capable, in this moment. That whatever decision I made, in this moment, would be the right one.

What happened?

I found what continues to feel like a magical space, a space where worry, stress and self-doubt vanish. I’ve been hearing and reading about this space for years, practicing both meditation and yoga believing these were the keys to be-ing. And while they are certainly an important part of the journey, finding my own “be” happened because I be-lieved in its existence.

By trusting that I could set aside my worry and concern for the future, as well as my analysis and debate about the past, I discovered the present. While each and every second I spend as The Phone Lady is amazing, an unexpected blessing, I often rush past it, on to the next project and deadline. And with husband David, I can allow my worry to take me too far into the future, adding unnecessary anxiety to our days and limiting our moments of joy.

So after saying BE out loud, I’d take a very deep breath and ask myself questions like “What is truly wrong in this moment?” or “What is there to worry about right now?” The answer has almost always been … nothing, and as soon as I recognize that, my shoulders relax and my energy level shifts towards joy and creativity.

Have I perfected this? No … not a chance. But I now know the magical space exists, that it’s available to me, and that accessing it makes both my work and personal life much more joyful.

And this has led me to my word for 2020. Again it is another very simple word that comes from the Old English and means “not closed down, raised up” and also “exposed, evident, well-known, public”. The word is … OPEN. In 2020, I want to challenge myself to remain open … to change, opportunity, input, advice, help, ideas and possibilities. When my world is very full of things to do, I tend to embrace my automatic no. This year, more then ever, it’s important that I put that characteristic aside in order to fully embrace all the unpredictable wonder my life contains. I’ll keep you informed!

By the way, what’s your “one word” for 2020? Please share in the comment section below. And … Happy New Year!


29 thoughts on “One Word for 2020”

    • Hmmmm, very curious about how this word will influence your 2020, Lea. It is from the Old French and means “state or fact of being connected,” from mid-15c.) as well as “a binding or joining together”. A lovely word to light your path in the coming year.

    • Awesome word, Judith. When I research the etymology of the word … you are going to have a very wonderful year. Old English “to have faith or confidence” (in a person); earlier from Proto-Germanic literally “hold dear (or valuable, or satisfactory), to love” ultimately meaning “to care, desire, love” … wow!

  1. Great idea. I will use this. This is powerful. I just realized my wife and I have a word we use to keep us on track. The word is “Together”. This word always brings us back on track when we hit a rough spot. I am going to introduce this to the whole team and see how many words we can create to set a course for 2020. Happy New Year Mary Jane.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Jeff. Coincidental as well. Only this morning I received an email from a friend with a young family sharing with me how she and her husband are struggling with work pressures and children, etc. I will share your wonderful word with her. Also really like the idea of working with your team to come up with a list of words.

    • Thanks so much, Meryl. It is interesting that we’ve chosen the same word for the year. Perhaps we should write next year’s New Year post together – see where “open” took each of us … and where it is leading us for 2021!

      • Well … that’s a surprising word. Of course, I expect you to be specific because that is one of your superpowers. You’ve certainly got me very curious about your thought process here. I did some research on the etymology and discovered the word has a lot of different nuances and a vast history depending on whether you are using it as an adjective, verb, noun or adverb. So rather than share all of the details here … I’m giving you the link:

    • Well … that’s a surprising word. Of course, I expect you to be specific because that is one of your superpowers. You’ve certainly got me very curious about your thought process here. I did some research on the etymology and discovered the word has a lot of different nuances and a vast history depending on whether you are using it as an adjective, verb, noun or adverb. So rather than share all of the details here … I’m giving you the link:

      • I considered a word like ‘increase’ but it seemed too easy. haha Writing on my own blog about it now. Always appreciate your inspiration.

  2. Mary Jane,
    Last year my word was “intentional” and it was a great year from a business perspective. I do feel I could have used the word intentional in other areas of my life as well to create more balance. This year I have chosen “self-care” and want to be more intentional in this area. Thank you Mary Jane for the opportunity to share this word! Happy New Year

    • Thank you, Dr. Kyra. And flourish is a wonderful word. It comes from the Old French meaning to thrive, blossom, grow and prosper. Wishing you all of this for 2020!

    • This is such a great comment, Kirsten. We can all learn from this idea “share everything we know with as many people as possible”. Yes! And I love your website. Thanks for sharing.

      • Diane … thanks for sharing. I’m so sorry that depression has wrapped its arms around you so tightly. I’m pretty confident we are all struggling with some level of depression right now. The situation we find ourselves in is so … unprecedented and it is human to embrace the darkness and hopelessness. But please, don’t make this your word for the entire year. There are many ways you can contribute to what is good and right in this world and use your energy and intelligence to help others. Also, of course, if your depression is very deep, reach out to those who can help. If you want to talk about it more, please don’t hesitate to call me.

  3. Hi Mary Jane. “Open” is a great word. Love it! My word for 2020 is “Explore”. With the sale of my business and my house both taking place in 2019, 2020 is the year for me to
    Explore new interests, opportunities and friendships. I’ll have more freedom to Explore ideas, read and learn as much as I like, and Explore places that I’ve always wanted to travel to. It’s going to be a great year!

    • So good to hear from you Jeanie and thanks for introducing me to One Word. Explore is a wonderful word. It dates back to the 1580s Latin “investigate, search out, examine” and a usage in 1630 “to make flow”. I really admire how you’ve used it in sentences and statements for yourself. I’m going to work on that for myself as well. Happy exploring!

  4. Great article! Has me thinking what my 2020 word is. Given that the year number itself is choice is Vision – the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom. I am going into 2020 with clear vision – with the imagination to see my business growth and potential!

    • Wow … can’t believe you are the only one to have had the “imagination” to come up with the word vision. Excellent choice. Thanks so much for sharing, Michele.


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