When New Year’s approaches, I often think back to this article from Tolly Moseley. Written for the January issue of Citygram, it was the first time I was introduced to the concept of choosing a New Year’s word – rather than a resolution. As Tolly describes here, the New Year’s word is meant to be a guide for cross-roads decisions that we may encounter in the year ahead.
Last year my New Year’s word was “confront.” That word, which was surprisingly controversial to some – I suppose because the word carries a weight of negativity – was a great albeit tough guide last year. Immediately, it allowed me to speak up when something bothered me, or when I felt an energy boundary was crossed. In years past, these types of things were often perceived, but I would dismiss them in hopes that I was misreading a situation – but often times that initial subconscious feeling proved correct. The word also helped me make one of the biggest decisions of my life, and confronting a few realities that I needed to accept.
After getting back on my feet the past few months, I’m inspired by the coming year and the decade ahead. The year 2020 brings feelings of positive energy just by looking at its simplicity and repetition in type. And entering the decade of the 20’s, brings with it a feeling of excitement. With what I hope is a year of fulfillment ahead, my word this year is ‘develop.’
The definition I’m drawn to is one that reads “move one’s pieces into strategically more advantageous positions.” Which sounds precisely how I should focus my energy after a year of transition. With that all said, here is Tolly Moseley’s original essay, published in Citygram Austin in January 2014.
I have known exactly one person in my entire life to keep a yearlong commitment to his or her New Year’s resolutions. That would be my husband, circa 2006, who resolved to make soup for himself every Sunday.
“Every Sunday?” I questioned him skeptically at the time.
“Every. Sunday,” he replied decisively.
And with that, pots of French onion, clam chowder, split pea with ham, split pea without ham, and stews of every order simmered on our stove each weekend. He made 52 soups in total, and no, he doesn’t have obsessive compulsive disorder. Nearly all of them were good except for an admirable venture into the territory of experimental gazpacho, because despite its fabulous name, avocado gazpacho is disgusting.
But this kind of behavior concerns me. I guess I believe that resolve should bend to the curves of one’s life events, rather than soldiering forward come what may. Ok, I admit – I loved eating all the soups. However, New Year’s resolutions never worked for me in quite the same way, inspiring several lame riffs on their basic theme. There were the “New Year’s wishes” during college (“for 2002, I wish Alex Fisher would profess his love to me”) and then the more high-minded “New Year’s goals” shortly after (“for 2004, I plan to get into Cornell, Berkeley, and Stanford for grad school”) until I finally realized that I was kind of setting myself up for failure. As it turns out, involving boys or grad school admissions panels in a New Year’s resolution rarely ends happily.
But four years ago, I started a tradition called “the New Year’s word,” and that – with both its loose boundaries and simultaneous anchoring quality – has stuck.
It works like this: instead of a New Year’s resolution, you pick a word. One, single word, no proper nouns allowed. It also helps if this word isn’t secretly intended to function in a Law of Attraction-esque way, like “prosperity” or “partner” (basically, if it begins with the letter “p”…be wary). I tend to go for verbs, but that’s just a personal preference – the New Year’s word need not dictate parts of speech. Here are some past examples:
You’ll notice how lofty these are. O Magazine-like. Please do not feel the need to make your New Year’s word as corny as mine if this is in fact the route you go.
Anyway, each year the New Year’s word has paid off in some cool way. In 2010, I got a work-from-home job and also stopped going out so damn much. No commute, less hangovers! In 2011, I discovered aerial silks and haven’t stopped. In 2012, I quit my job to write full time. And in 2013, I choreographed some aerial pieces, started a podcast with my friend, and…got pregnant.
I just realized that the above paragraph reads like an obnoxious little list of personal victories. Forgive me: what it’s intended to reveal is the framework for how the New Year’s word works. If you have a fork-in-the-road decision to make – say, whether you or your partner should go off birth control – the New Year’s word is here to help you. “What am I doing this year? Oh yeah, creating! See ya, IUD!”
Now, the New Year’s word is not magical. In the past few years, I have also: over drafted my bank account, set my shirt on fire while cooking (again in the “create” year), wondered if I was boring, experienced jealousy, forgotten important dates, been an asshole, and miscarried. So it’s not a cure-all, this New Year’s word, but simply a kinder, gentler way to approach the whole project of New Year’s resolutions. There’s room to fail, and that is liberating.
Wheeling back around to the words themselves, I’ve decided that mine this year is both old-fashioned and fraught with tension. Here are the questions it inspires: “did she lose it? Is she trying to get it back? Did someone betray her?”
The word is “trust.” And the circumstances surrounding it aren’t all that juicy. It’s more like I’ve having a hard time trusting that my pregnancy will be flawless, that I’ll be able to manage work and a baby, that I am not actually deeply narcissistic rather than instinctively maternal, that, well – you get the idea.
Perhaps the New Year’s word then is, like soups, the thing that you crave. A response to the last year’s foibles, and – I’m squirming as I say it! – an intention. Your background music for the year, your twelve month tone, and if not a classic resolution, a field of possibility. And while it may wear the guise of self-helpiness, truly, the New Year’s word is a pragmatist’s best friend. It doesn’t underline hard goals, but it does follow rules: no manifesting, no multiples, and most importantly, no p’s.
So what’s your word?
Writer, Editor, Aerialist
Tolly Moseley is a freelance writer, editor and journalist living in Austin, Texas. Her work has been published with The Atlantic, Salon, Austin American-Statesman, and more.
Before becoming a writer, Tolly worked as a large waving costumed bear named Muffy, a coffee runner at a fashion PR firm in Italy, a children’s yoga instructor, a classroom assistant in rural India, a college composition teacher, a restaurant columnist, a waitress, a public radio intern, a food show co-host, and a literary publicist. She is currently Director of Communications for The Kindness Campaign, and a professional aerialist.