Can one word make a difference? I believe it can.

What’s your word?

My what, you say?

Your word. I first heard about choosing a word for the year from Chris Brogan who recommends identifying three words.  Chris’s three-word idea is simple.

Choose 3 words (not 1, not 4) that will help guide your choices and actions day to day. Think of them as lighthouses. “Should I say yes to this project?” “Well, does this align with my three words?”

When I first heard about choosing a word (or three) for the year, the process reminded me of my strategic planning work. Strategic thinking and planning, by design, brings to the forefront those actions you consider most important.

Identifying values, articulating your purpose or mission, and looking forward at an aspirational vision grounds you in what matters and aligns with your purpose. The exercise works for companies as well as individuals.

Selecting one word that would drive your choices and decisions for the coming year made sense. The idea gave me one more tool to eliminate distractions and maintain focus on keeping the main thing the main thing (per Stephen Covey).

First attempts at three words

I gave it a try for the first time in 2016. I chose . . .

  • Courage (to seize my dreams)
  • Do (well, you can’t seize anything without planning and doing the work)
  • Gift (every day is a gift to give back to others)

In 2017, I selected these:

  • Simplify (my life, concepts that I teach, move toward a level of minimalism)
  • Resolve (to stay the course)
  • Create (better understand my own creativity and the inner artist within)

In 2018?  Well – since I can’t find them written anywhere, I think 2017 rolled right into 2018. Consistency might have been a good choice.

I would love to tell you these words resulted in extraordinary results. But truthfully, I tucked them on my desk and in my journal. Did they increase my focus? Drive significant outcomes?

Probably not significantly. However, once a year, I took a hard look at my life, work, dreams, and purpose. What was I doing to improve myself and the world around me? That was enough to make it worth my time.

In 2019, as I walked through a local hobby store, a small wooden plaque shouted, “Pick me up. This is you. This is what you do best!” 

Once again, I sat down to reflect, assess, and plot a path for the coming year. I started with the one word that creeps into my thinking anytime I consider my purpose — my unique contribution to those I love and the world around me. The word that literally seemed to shout at me from the display shelf.


In-spire. verb (inˈspī(ə)r); (1): to encourage somebody to greater effort, enthusiasm, or creativity
(2): to awaken a particular feeling in somebody[Latin – inspirare “to breathe”]

Remembering I needed (or so I thought) three words, I began to brainstorm.

What did I decide?

Only one word truly defines me. My mission, my goal in life, throughout my life, is, has been, and will likely always be to inspire. 

Inspire hope, optimism, kindness, the possibility that you and I can become our best. In everything I do, no matter how large or small the action, I aspire to empower myself and everyone around me to be and become our best.

The change may not consist of any giant leaps or magical transformations. Instead, we grow into ourselves in small ways. Tiny actions, taken consistently over time, can transform each of us to be more than we ever imagined possible.

The same can happen in our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, country, and world.

My one word for life: Inspire.

So, 2019 became the year that I focused on inspiring:

  • Kindness
  • Optimism
  • Possibilities

I had great ambitions for 2019, but my younger sister’s death left me drained emotionally and physically. My life paused as I sorted out feelings long held inside and buried in the guise of keeping it all together. 

In many ways, those three words became my lifeline. Each held me long enough to find my footing and myself.


My reflections at the beginning of 2020 revealed a sense of resilience. The field of psychology defines resilience as “that effable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back at least as strong as before.”

Dr. Brené Brown contends that “joy collected over time fuels resilience.” That reminds me of Stephen Covey’s concept of an emotional bank account. By finding and cultivating joy every day, we build our resilience muscles.

We need resilience and hope and a spirit that can carry us through the doubt and fear. We need to believe that we can effect change if we want to live and love with our whole hearts.
Brene Brown

I could never have imagined how prophetic that word, resilience, would become in 2020. My focus this year supported my aspirations to inspire resilience in those who crossed my path. Indeed, you and I may have received a blow to our predictable lives, but we can and will come back stronger.

This week a word emerged in my reading that spoke deeply to what I need now and through 2021. You may be searching for the same thing.

Hope in 2021

My commitment to you, my readers, my friends, my family, myself—inspire hope.

Inspire hope in my work, my writing, my photography. I don’t know what I will discover on this journey. I will hold hope as a central theme and look for it in the obvious and perhaps hidden places. Without hope, we face despair.  

 “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, “It will be happier.”
—Alfred Lord Tennyson

Call me a crazy optimist. Just don’t call me crazy. As I typed the Tennyson quote, a song and special memory came rushing back to me.

I would play the piano as my mother sang the melody, and our harmonies blended in the sweet, ethereal melody of “Whispering Hope.”

Your turn

What word or words will you choose for 2021? You can use Chris Brogan’s strategy or create your own method. Share in the comments. 

We can all rally together to inspire one another because I believe “it will be happier.”

And always—

Be kind. Be brave. Be you.