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My Word for 2016

What's the point of focusing on a word that feels safe and comfortable?

Over the past week or so I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what I learned in 2015 and how I want to carry those insights forward into this next year…many of them are perpetually works in progress. I’m digging into what I want to focus on in 2016 and why these things are important to me right now. I’m making plans.

One Word 365—choosing one word to focus on for the year instead of making a bunch of resolutions—intrigued me when I first heard about it a few years ago. While I’ve never officially joined in and honestly haven’t been very good about following through with the word I pick each year, I do like the idea of having one word that’s easy to remember and focus on along with any other planning I might do.

I didn’t actually intend to choose a word this year, but then people started sharing theirs and a word lodged itself in my brain. This is a word I would rather ignore. Frankly, it’s a word that makes my insides feel like they’re being squeezed in an ice cold vice.

As much as I want to run from this word, it’s an area that needs my attention. After all, what’s the point of focusing on a word that feels safe and comfortable?

The word that came to me is ask. Now I can already think of a number of ways that ask will be a real challenge for me. But as I think about what I want in this next year, none of it can happen unless I do a great deal of asking (gulp).

There are so many questions I need to ask myself. I want to get to know myself better so I can grow more into who I am instead of trying to cram myself into who I think I should be. This means being continuously curious to learn more about myself so I can show up more authentically in how I relate to people, make decisions, and spend my days.

There’s a question I’m asking myself this year that’s weighed on me as long as I can remember—what do I want to do when I grow up? What do I want to build as my contribution to my little corner of the world?

But this year I don’t want to ask out of despair, not believing I’ll ever find a satisfying answer. This year I want to ask with curiosity. I want to ask myself questions about my values and my strengths, about who I am and what feels meaningful to me. I don’t want to just ask what I should do with my life and sit back to wait for an answer that may never come.

Instead I want to also ask with my actions as I experiment and try and change direction and try again. Right now, along with writing here, I’m experimenting with being a life coach. I don’t know whether or not it’s a direction I’ll want to pursue further, but how can I know unless I give it a wholehearted try and keep asking myself questions along the way?

No matter what I do, I know I can’t and don’t want to do it alone. That means asking people to join me—whether that’s asking them to read my writing, try out some coaching sessions with me, give me feedback, or get together for lunch.

Asking people for things scares me. I don’t want to be annoying or a burden. I don’t want to admit that sometimes I need help. I’m afraid to invite criticism or risk rejection. I’m afraid to even let others know what I want to try—what if they don’t like it or what if I fail?

Asking is a risk, but it’s so necessary for making progress and for building community. Asking is something I need to practice over and over again.

The other side of asking is listening. In my interactions with other people I want to be curious and open to their stories instead of judgmental or too eager to try to fix things for them. I want to listen and ask questions more than I offer advice and opinions. I want to be curious about what they’ll say instead of assuming I know who they are.

And I want to create space for them to be curious too. To ask questions that support them in digging deeper into their own stories, as well as building my own understanding.

A commitment to asking is also an admission that I don’t have all the answers. I’ve clung to certainty for so long. Doubts and questions seemed like weakness and failing. It’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I believe it’s ok to have questions.

For awhile it’s been enough just to know I had the freedom to ask. Maybe now it’s time to start really asking—not to get back to another place of certainty, but to grow in my confidence that it’s ok to not have all the answers.

Letting go of the need for answers isn’t the same as not bothering to ask the questions. Asking is how we learn and grow and engage—even if it means continuing to wrestle with some of our questions for a lifetime.

I don’t know what will come out of my year of focusing on the word ask. Already I see enough to both terrify and excite me. We’ll see what the year brings.

So now I’m curious… What’s the next thing you’re focusing on? Do you choose a word or make resolutions or just wait to see what happens? What’s the most important question you’ve asked or been asked this past year?