My Year of Discovery

My Year of Discovery

Have you ever picked a word of the year? 

The idea is to choose a word to guide your intentions and mindset for the year.  Although I’d love to claim the idea, I didn’t come up with it myself.  I heard it from Gretchen Rubin, a well-known author and speaker on happiness and good habits.  On her podcast, Happier, Gretchen and her sister, Elizabeth, talk a lot about planning and goal setting to help make your life just that – happier.

I was walking on a cold and cloudy fall morning and feeling pretty glum.  If I’m in a particularly sour mood, I usually call my sister, Mary.  She always manages to make me laugh with some rant about work or gives me a valuable nugget of advice to knock me out of my funk.  This time, she told me about Rubin’s podcast.  I started listening and eventually stumbled upon this idea of reigning into one word what I want to accomplish in a year.   

So why was this “word of the year” idea so appealing to me?  Didn’t it feel limiting?

For me, it was a brilliant way to put some structure to the uncertainty and lack of control I was feelingIt was a way to be kinder to myself.

Instead of having a feeling of urgency to figure everything out immediately, this gave me the feeling that I had time to grow into what I wanted in life.

I had recently moved back to America after living abroad for 23 years, and my personal life was in major transition.  Firstly, the second of three of my children had just left for college, and I was feeling the pains of being an empty nester, as my youngest was away all day with school and activities.  Secondly, I didn’t have a career to fall back on because I gave all that up years ago by staying home with the kids as we moved country to country.  And the icing on the cake, I was lacking a network and friends in my new city.  Basically, I felt lost and alone.

But, I also felt like I was on a launching pad of sorts.

I was extremely fortunate that our family was in the position to do without a second income for the time being.  And the plus of an empty nest was a clean slate and plenty of time.  This feeling of confusion over my next steps was no surprise.  I had started wondering about my next chapter in life before we had even left Singapore.

A close friend of mine, Steve, happens to be one of the world’s leading CEO recruiters and often coaches top managers on what to do next after their prestigious careers.  I asked him…how do you decide what to do next when you have no idea where or how to start? 

His answer: “Think of your dream job.  Then work backwards to the beginning and start there.” 

His logic was sound.  It’s not about getting the actual dream job.  If it’s your dream, you’ll be passionate about it.  So, you’ll enjoy the process – no matter where you are in it.  But what if you don’t even know what your dream job would be?

I picked discovery as my word of the year.

I was going to figure out what I truly felt passionate about.  I wanted it all:  I wanted to enjoy what I do, find it meaningful and have it on my terms.  Why not? To discover though, I had to be open.  I spent decades restricted by self-imposed barriers.

 Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • You should do what’s in demand.  Yes, choosing to study something or work in a field that’s in high demand increases the likelihood that a job will be available.  But what if you don’t like it?  I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I have an MBA in Finance and have never worked a day in my life in Finance.  The classes were wretchedly boring, and I retained practically no working knowledge of the subject.  I don’t even put it on my resume, because I don’t want anyone to know.  I should have studied Human Resources, what I actually found interesting.
  • I’m not good at that.  I always did well in school at any subject that was logic based, like Math, English (the grammar part), Statistics, etc.  More “creative” subjects like Art, Literature and Music were always more challenging for me.  Instead of trying to develop those talents, I avoided them.  It was more important for me to excel and make sure I kept my GPA up.  I chose to make it part of my story that I just wasn’t creative.  I was never good enough to do that, when in fact, I just never tried.
  • I won’t like that.  Historically, this was pretty straightforward for me.  If my mom liked it, I probably wouldn’t.  The worst part was – I was also usually wrong.
  • What would people think?  This barrier has been the most pervasive in my life.  When I decided to leave my career to stay home with my children, I wasn’t thinking about the financial implications – even though I made three times more than my spouse.  I was worried about what my grad school friends thought. 

During my year of discovery, I watched the world around me; I tried to pause and listen. 

And I read… a lot.  My goal was to read 12 books in 2020, about 5 more than my typical year.  I ended up logging 71.  Listening to podcasts, participating in online seminars, watching authors and artists lecture, and taking online courses was my full-time job.  Through this observation and learning, I found I was consistently drawn to topics of health and well-being, optimism, happiness – things that made life worth living. 

Then I had my “ah-ha” moment.

I was browsing through the website of, when I read the following words:

“Kindness transcends difference.  Everyone has the capacity for kindness.” 2017 Annual Report, 2017

Anyone, I mean absolutely anyone, can be kind.  Kindness isn’t bought with money.  Kindness isn’t limited to people in certain countries or with certain levels of education.  Each person in this world has the capacity to potentially save not only someone else’s life but their own life every single day through acts of kindness.

This concept deeply moved me.  I discovered a passion; and I’m running with it.  Which takes me to this year’s word…fearless.  Let’s see how far it takes me.

What would be your word of the year and why?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, and as always, let’s be kindful of each other.

If you are interested in hearing a Happier podcast on choosing a word of the year, click here.

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