Choose One Influential Word to Define Your Year
Choose One Influential Word to Define Your Year


One of the cultural touchstones that make the end of one year and the beginning of the next fun and interesting is the giving out of prizes for “[Whatever] of the Year.” Car and Driver picks the year’s 10 Best Cars, Time names Person of the Year, annual Nobel prizes are handed out, and the Merriam-Webster dictionary chooses the Word of the Year.

It’s not the prettiest word, or the most overused, or the longest. It’s the most influential word, the one that most affected us as a society. It’s what Time does in naming a person who may not be the year’s hero but who affected the world most deeply. For 2019, the word selected was “they.” However you feel about the issue, there’s no doubt that 2019 marked a change of attitude about the way people are defined by their gender.

So that got me thinking–not about gender; that’s a topic for some other time. It got me thinking about how we all have the power to define what the important theme and the influential idea of our year might be.

Crazily enough, since you can find anything on the Internet, there’s a Word of the Year Generator. Don’t just reject that idea out of hand; it’s a good thought starter. I took three tries and got “trust,” “mission,” and “pass.”

Just sit with each of those words for a minute. Whatever business you’re in, these words are food for thought. Picture how you might plan your year around trusting that first-year employee to follow an idea to fruition. Think about how your frustration might lessen if you spend the year remembering to trust your own ideas.

Then for “mission,” imagine treating your search for profit more like an athlete’s search for a personal best, or a political candidate’s drive to convince voters on important issues. Would it make you into a zealot for your own cause? Maybe. In a good way, of course.

For “pass,” what will 2020 look like if you are seeking ways to transmit everything you’ve learned to someone else the way a championship basketball team knows how to get the ball down the court? Or maybe “Pass” means to say “no” more often. As in, “I’ll take a pass on that one.” That’s something I need to get better at doing.

After much consideration, I landed on the word “cultivate.” It’s a well-known word among people in sales. You cultivate leads, you cultivate new business. I often talk about how you go from vision to success, and it’s all about cultivation: A vision that really fills people up, draws them to work, keeps them engaged through difficult times, and keeps them in place through prosperous times needs to appeal to our hearts. That’s where love comes in. The year I’m about to embark on, therefore, is going to be all about growing.

I knew a teacher once who used to say learning a skill is like farming–“and you can’t cram farming.” That’s certainly the case: you can’t wait until the night before the harvest and then hoe and plow a bunch to make up for lost time. You have to go through the entire growing season in order to get the crop you want to harvest months down the road.

That’s the same with business, really. Success will come when you’ve patiently and lovingly nurtured, weeded, and cultivated all year long.

That’s what I’m going to be thinking about all during 2020. I hope that word will bring me patience, perseverance, and the appreciation of people who are cultivating right alongside me. And I hope the same for all of you, with whatever word you may choose to motivate you this year.