One Word for 2021

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

For the sixth year, I’m sharing with you the concept of One Word. I was introduced to this idea at the end of 2015 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 impact of this seemingly simple exercise.

What was the impact of my word for 2020? And what word am I hoping will guide me through 2021?

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: 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?”

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 as well as forcing myself to make and share video content. But the real power of this word appeared more in my personal life. During the year I juggled 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, whose diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s began to impact our daily lives in surprising (often hilarious) ways.

In 2019 I settled on the simplest of words – BE. And this little word brought with it peace. This was the year I welcomed Miriam Jobin to The Phone Lady team. While her tenure was brief, it was amazing to see the world, and communication skills, through the experience of someone under 25. At work, I was challenged to be a better leader and colleague which, after 13 years of working alone, wasn’t always easy. And I was challenged at home, as dementia took centre stage, continually creating 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 a magical space, a space where worry, stress and self-doubt vanished. I’d heard and read 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.

This led me to my word for 2020. Again it was 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 was … OPEN. In 2020 I wanted to remain open … to change, opportunity, input, advice, help, ideas and possibilities. I couldn’t have chosen a better word for what became, for all of us, a year filled with the unexpected.

My first very clear memory of 2020 is of a chilly Saturday morning in January. I was out early, getting groceries and listening to the news on CBC. There was an interview with a family in lockdown in Wuhan, China. I remember thinking, “How difficult. So glad that won’t ever happen here.”

The next moment I likely won’t ever forget took place at noon on Friday, March 13. I had just finished a two-hour, in-person workshop and was walking to my car, checking my email. In the space of a few moments, my booking cancellations added up to $21,000. I was too astonished to be frightened.

Being OPEN became the best way for me to walk through 2020. Like you, I have been open to wearing a mask, restricting my time with family, friends and colleagues, and changing how I work with clients. This openness brought me some of the most exciting work I’ve ever done. One project, with a tight deadline, involved creating a customized national training program for hundreds of consultants in both official languages. Another, inspired by Chris Spurvey and championed by Carol Bartlett, resulted in the creation of an online community of motivated, supportive and energetic business owners called MyRevenueRoom. It focuses on its members consistently increasing revenue and has been a valued companion throughout this startling year. And with the assistance and endless creativity of my colleague Linda Daley, I began the launch of my new brand, InspireConversation.

I’ve also been open to the constant change Alzheimer’s brings into my world. As my husband’s disease accelerates, each day holds a new challenge for him and for us. Fortunately, I’ve always enjoyed a good challenge. It’s impossible to be perfect in this situation but being “open” allows me to find surprising opportunities to learn new skills and love someone beyond what I thought possible.

This brings me to my word for 2021 … THANKS. I want this to be a year when I truly acknowledge the circumstances, people, organizations and companies that contribute to my blessed life.

As I’ve listened and read news reports this past year, I’ve developed a deeper understanding of my great privilege and good fortune. I am the first generation of my family to go to university. I have more financial security than my parents (or my grandparents) ever thought possible. (This year I realized I’ve definitely inherited my grandmother’s “Get it done” attitude which helped them, and is helping me, navigate unexpected challenges.) I have clients who keep returning, allowing me to enter my 34th year as an entrepreneur. And there are neighbours and friends who bring meals, show up for walks, enjoy long conversations. There are colleagues who help with projects, offer stellar advice and genuine support for every part of my life.

So this year I want to continually share my THANKS with all these people. I’m committing to a daily THANKS. Perhaps it will be a text, or an email, or a phone call or a hand-written note, but there will be at least 365 people who receive a personal THANKS from me this year.

I’ll keep you informed and share the results with you in December 2021. Happy New Year.

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


14 thoughts on “One Word for 2021”

  1. Thank you for your constant inspiration, Mary Jane. I’m pleased to have finally committed to “one word”, avoiding it year after year. Going with “Vitality” for 2021 and in typical Phone Lady fashion, I’ll leave the definition here, too… for myself and your readers:

    [ vahy-tal-i-tee ]
    exuberant physical strength or mental vigor; capacity for survival or for the continuation of a meaningful or purposeful existence; power to live or grow; vital force or principle.

    • What a wonderful word. Just reading the definition makes me have more energy! And in true voice over fashion, I love how you’ve given us the correct pronunciation. This is a very powerful way to enter 2021, Natasha. Keep us informed.

  2. Thanks Mary Jane.
    I have searched my brain for my 2021 word and it will be ADAPT! Yep. 2021 will be a year of adaptation for me. Changes in my job, changes in my life as I head towards retirement in June. Selling our family home. There will be many ways that I will have to adapt to this next phase of my life. I so embrace it with enthusiasm! Happy 2021

    • Oh my goodness, Shelley, what a wonderful word and what an amazing adventure you have in front of you. I think we can all embrace the word adapt. My very best wishes to you as you move through all the change that 2021 will bring.

  3. My word is–Determined. aka Stubborn!? Like the Capricorn mountain goat I am.
    Keep on truckin’ (no matter the landscape….)seems to be the outstanding trait, for better or for worse.
    I think of the ‘impossible’ year that’s coming to an end, and the next year that surely can’t be as bad, I have this quote pasted in my journal: I am not going to let myself be beaten into the ground by the dread of what may happen. ~ Ibsen in the play Rosmersholm.
    Sue in Calgary

    • Ahh Sue, yes determined is a perfect word for you … and likely for the year ahead. I do hope that some of the wishes you hold most dear, i.e. seeing your family here in Nova Scotia this summer, come true. Sending you wishes for a comfortable winter in Calgary surrounded by good books, music and lots of words.

  4. What a great concept, that is new to me. I am clearly late coming to this “party”.

    I am going to choose a word, having only heard of this concept about 2 minutes ago. It is “Appreciation”. I hope to continually remind myself this year to appreciate what I have, not focus on what more I wish to have. Appreciate everything that others do for me. Appreciate what others have to go through.

    Check with me on Dec 31, 2021 to see how well I did!!

    • Delightful to hear from you, Mario. And “appreciate” is a wonderful word. In the 1650s it came from the Late Latin meaning to esteem or value highly. By 1833 it had taken on the additional meaning of “be fully conscious of”. You’ve certainly included both these definitions in your comments and I intend to check in with you at the end of this year to hear about the impact of your one word. Happy New Year!

  5. I finally figured it out – HELPFUL. Phew… that seemed to take a lot of effort this year. Thanks for your continuing inspiration!

    • This is a wonderful word, Linda, and so … you! It will be interesting to see all the ways “helpful” comes into your world this year. It may show up in other people being very helpful to you! Thanks for sharing.

  6. My word for 2021 is TRANSFORM. I’m taking steps and setting SMART goals to transform in my personal and professional life.

    • Transform is a fabulous word, Fariba. It comes from 14th century Latin and Old French and means to change in shape, metamorphose. So … connected in a way to caterpillars becoming butterflies. I look forward to any updates on the changes you bring into your life. Thanks for sharing!

  7. My One Word for 2021 is “Give”. I’ve wanted this to be my “One Word” for many years and knew the right year would come when I could fully commit to this “One Word”. 2021 is my year to give generously of my time and money to my community and the causes I believe in, to share, with new entrepreneurs, the knowledge and experience I’ve gleaned from my years in business, to give my full attention to my family when I’m with them, to give a hand to the lonely and the needy, and even to give myself a little bit of time to take care of ME after so many years of taking care of family members.

    • Jeanie … I’m so pleased to receive your comment here, especially since you are the one that started me on this path after we had a lovely lunch together on Spring Garden Road. And GIVE is a fabulous word. And I know how much you give to others and to your family. Very proud to know you and to learn from you.


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