2024: Strength

Illustration by Morgan Harper Nichols

By now I’ve shared quite a bit about the past few years and how I’ve felt throughout them. In short: not great! When I think back, what stands out the most to me is my overall feeling of fragility. Of not being sure what small thing was going to make me break down in tears, or of feeling utter despair at even the most minute setback. I often felt unsure I could handle a small uncertainty or try a new thing without it rattling me.

I hate that I’ve spent so much time feeling this way, because this is really not how I think of myself as a person. I grew up going on adventures at overnight summer camp and taking on singing musical theatre roles and bossing my younger sisters around incessantly. I was not delicate! I’ve always been a big feeler, but I’ve also always been confident. Even when I was nervous about something (examples: backpacking Europe by myself, moving to Korea for a year and Ecuador for another, starting my own business), I’d feel the fear and do it anyways. I knew I wanted to be the kind of person who did those things, even if I wasn’t sure I was that kind of person. Surprise! By doing the things, I became the kind of person who did the things.

Baby Steph in Italy, 2009

Until I wasn’t anymore. Until a pandemic and toxic neighbours and a crazy puppy tore through my life like a hurricane and deposited me in Sad Town, USA. I lost myself, and for a long while my confidence was shaken and my resilience felt practically non-existent.

As I shared in my Year in Review post, I’m in a better place now, but I feel like my muscles of confidence and resilience have atrophied more than I’d like. I’ve held onto several bad habits from The Dark Years™️, like hibernating at home instead of adventuring, or hitting the snooze button non-stop every morning, or mindlessly scrolling all night instead of reading a gosh-darn book. They’re relics of a time when I felt like hiding and/or numbing, which I don’t want to do anymore.

Instead, I want to show up for myself & my people. I want to rebuild my confidence and feel more resilient. I want to be less thrown off by small things, and more equipped to tackle big things. At the risk of sounding like one of those “Become Your Best Self!” people, I really do want to get back to feeling like my best self. I want to remind myself of my own strength, and offer that strength to others.

So my word for 2024 is Strength. As with most of my words, this one kept appearing to me as the year came to a close, along with other ones that felt aligned. Strength, strong, resilience, stamina, discipline, embodiment, fortitude, endurance. Challenge, practice, tough, core, spine, habits, routine. Dig deep, stand tall. As my mom always says, “Strong like bull.”

These words have an edge to them. They aren’t gentle and comforting, as many of my previous words have been (ex. soften, grace, abundance, embrace). They ask more of me. They remind me that sometimes the more compassionate, kind thing to do is bring in some structure, some discipline, some accountability. Being lax is not always being loving. Sometimes, you need that strong mama bear energy: do no harm, but take no shit.

Really, I’m choosing this word because I want to constantly be reminded that I’m stronger than I think. When I’m tempted to fall back into patterns that don’t serve me, or crumple when confronted with a challenge, I want to remember who I really am, deep down. And not just remember, but also create myself anew. There are places where I have always lacked strength, and I’d like to actively build up that strength for perhaps the first time – in my boundaries, in my biceps, in my bedtime routines.

One thing I love about strength is that it’s not binary, something you either have or you don’t. It builds up gradually, and it fades away steadily if not in use. We all possess various strengths and lacks thereof, but we always have the choice to build up our strength layer by layer, day by day.

Strength

  • the quality or state of being physically or mentally strong
  • the influence or power possessed by a person
  • the capacity of an object to withstand great force or pressure
  • the emotional or mental qualities necessary in dealing with difficult or distressing situations
  • a person or thing perceived as a source of mental or emotional support
  • bravery in dealing with difficulties

Synonyms: Courage, tenacity, fortitude, power, vitality, effectiveness, backbone, steadiness, health, anchor, spirit, vigour, virtue.

Intentions

  • Body: Quite simply, I want to get stronger! I’ve been weight-lifting at home lately with the StrongLifts program and it’s helping me discover the joy of strengthening underused muscles. I also need to get help & support with my back, which has been giving me problems and pain for years. I know the solution will involve literally straightening and strengthening my spine, which feels like a metaphor if there ever was one.
  • Mind: I have let my meditation & gratitude practices slip dramatically since the pandemic years, and I’d like to reclaim them. Meditation especially, because it helps me become less reactive and always brings me new ideas, two things I sorely need. I’d also like to reduce distractions, minimize multi-tasking and seriously curb my social media usage. To strengthen my mind, my focus, and my creativity, I need to limit the things that weaken them.
  • Reading: On a related note, I’d like to strengthen my reading practice! Over the past few years, I’ve tended to avoid challenging books in favour of nourishing romance that brings me delight and joy. To be clear: this is great! In my opinion, there is no moral hierarchy to books, different genres serve different needs at different times. BUT. I also like to read books that push me, that change the way I see the world and introduce complex new ideas, and those have been lacking in recent years due to my burnout. This year, I’d like to strengthen my focus and return to deeper reading.
  • Habits: I am also really excited to strengthen my habits in 2024. I’ve chosen four to track throughout the year: meditation, exercise, writing, and nightly flossing. I’ll be using DayStamp to monitor them, which offers a very cute visual report each month and year, plus a widget for my phone to show me what I haven’t done on a given day.
  • Community: We’ve just moved to Hamilton, and I’d love to spend time this year cultivating my community. One way I plan to do this is by starting a Cookbook Club locally, an idea that utterly delights me. I am lucky to know several friends in the city who I could deepen my relationship with, and some new online pals I’d like to meet up with. Plus, I’m living only about 20 minutes away from my mom, stepdad & grandma, who I adore. I’d like to host more gatherings & dinners, meet up with friends more often, make regular plans with my sisters and find the local entrepreneurial community here in Hamilton. When I lived in Toronto I had a very vibrant community, so I’d like to find it again in my new city.
  • Relationship: Mike and I are in a good place right now, but I want our relationship to become even stronger. For us to communicate better, strengthen our friendship, fight less and have more fun together.

And as my friend Sonja always says: more will be revealed! I’m curious to see how this word (like all my previous words) surprises me in ways good and bad. My friends and I often joke that when you choose a word, you also choose its opposite because that always seems to be the case. But I prefer to reframe it this way: when you choose a word, your attention gets drawn to all the ways that you are currently blocked from accessing that feeling or state. All the yucky stuff holding you back comes to the surface and needs to be dealt with before you can feel strong, or energized, or however you’d like to feel. So this year, I expect I’ll be shown where I am weak. I will likely feel weak on my way to strength. But that’s okay too, it’s all part of the process.

Welcome to 2024. For me, it’ll be the year of Strength. What will this year be for you? 

If you’re curious, you can explore all my past words below:

2013: Reach | 2014: Abundance | 2015: Grace | 2016: Light | 2017: Embrace | 2018: Flow | 2019: Energy | 2020: Devoted | 2021: Soften | 2022: Present | 2023: Sustainable

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