Word of the Year

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

2023: Sustainable

Last year was a hard one for me.

After the previous couple years of pandemic life, I was already feeling pretty fragile entering 2021. But I also started the year with a crazy 9 month old puppy, awful downstairs neighbours who woke me up daily with their screaming, and local pandemic restrictions that just would not quit.

As the year went on, my capacity felt smaller and smaller. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it was the hardest year of my life, from a mental health perspective. I got Covid in the summer and it turned into a form of long Covid, affecting my energy & focus for a long while afterwards, and subsequently my ability to work and earn money from my business.

Then, in the Fall, we made the decision to move into my grandparents’ old house in Waterloo, Ontario, about an hour away from most of my friends and family.

The transition has been hard. The house is not what I would have chosen aesthetically, it’s in a (very) sleepy neighbourhood, I can’t walk anywhere, and I don’t know the city at all. We’re slowly making it our own, but it’s a process. Plus, Mike and I were also moving in together for the first time, so the last few months of the year were a struggle, to put it mildly.

As we approached 2023, I was EXHAUSTED. Depleted. Done. I was desperately craving some structure, some solidity, some steadiness after all the change and upheaval and disruption of the past few years. Every aspect of my life felt unsustainable. I felt like I was at my limit, everything felt hard, and I didn’t know what to do.

Sometime in early November, the word Sustainable popped into my mind. It represented everything I wanted the coming year to be: Calm. Manageable. Well-paced. Balanced. Full of small things often, as my friend Or (and the Gottmans!) love to say.

Sustainable. Able to be sustained. The key word here is ABLE. As in, I need to be able to sustain it. The word “sustainable” (or any word with the ending ‘able’, really!) indicates a relationship with the person sustaining the task or activity. If that specific person is not able to sustain something, that thing is not sustainable for them. “Sustainable” is not an inherent quality,  sustainable is a relative quality. Can I, personally, sustain it? If not, it is not sustainable for me.

This word is so clarifying. This word is so comforting. It reminds me to pace myself. It reminds me that if I could not continue an activity for months or years, it’s probably not the right choice for today, either. For example: if I’m rushing through my morning and skipping breakfast, that is not a sustainable choice. For today I might survive, but continued over time, that choice is not going to work for me. It’s not sustainable.

It also reminds me not to get too ambitious with my goals or tendency to want to overhaul my life. Sure, it would be awesome to wake up at 7am tomorrow morning and meditate for 20 minutes and get a workout in and only eat healthy food and, and, and. But can I sustain that right out of the gate? Am I going to be able to keep that up?

Instead, I’m training myself to go little by little. To start small. To do a 30 day yoga challenge in a gentle attempt to get back to daily movement. To slowly restart my weekly review process, because I know it makes me feel good. To give myself a “Fresh Start” in YNAB rather than trying to catch up on all the months I missed. To remember that wonderful quote from Anthony Trollope: “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”

So here we go: a sustainable year. We’re only 16 days in, and I honestly feel better already.

Sustainable

  • able to continue over a period of time
  • able to last for a long time
  • able to be supported as with the basic necessities or sufficient funds
  • able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed
  • causing little or no damage to the environment

Synonyms: feasible, renewable, supportable, maintainable, liveable, bearable, steady, worthwhile, eco-friendly, continuous, inexhaustible, reasonable, consistent

Intentions

  • Habits: I want to find habits, routines, and rituals that feel doable and accessible given my actual life. I would love to get back to daily movement outside of my walks, and my meditation practice, as well as more reflection & writing.
  • Energy: This year I want to crack the code on unlocking more energy for myself that feels steady throughout my days & weeks. I suspect this will have a lot to do with my habits, specifically my eating and sleeping schedule!
  • Money: 2022 wasn’t awesome for me financially, but I’m determined to focus on my business this year and create more sustainable income streams and spend in a more sustainable way. Getting back to YNAB will definitely help with this!
  • Choices: I want to make more sustainable choices whenever I can when it comes to what I’m buying or the waste I’m creating. I’m more aware than ever of the environmental impacts that our choices can have, and I want to try to reduce my carbon footprint however I can.
  • Systems: Since we just moved in together, we’re still figuring out our systems for sharing costs, running errands, and taking care of the home. I want to find sustainable systems that allow us to manage all the responsibilities in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming.

As I said, we’re a couple weeks into the new year and already it feels like things are shifting a bit. I am getting more support with my health & wellness, Bruno is turning into a more calm and mature dog, and we rearranged the house so my office feels brighter and more open. Small shifts have already taken place, and the best part is that all of them (so far) feel sustainable.

I won’t tempt fate here, but I am feeling more hopeful about the coming year and ready to take the next right sustainable steps to keep making things better. I hope your year is off to a beautiful start too.

You can read more about my words from the last ten (!) years below:

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

2022: Present

To be honest with you, this is a very difficult time to be present. I live in Toronto, so lately it’s been very cold, dark, damp, grey, snowy and dreary. The roads are covered in salt, which makes walking the puppy a total nightmare. Bruno is in the middle of his teenage months, which means that some days he’s great on his leash, and other days he’s a wild thing and flat-out refuses to listen to me. The temperatures in January were routinely -15C (5F) before windchill for days on end. And, in our nation’s capital, a large group of people are currently violently protesting mandates that are literally designed to help us protect each other, ease the strain on our healthcare workers, and help us get through this pandemic with the fewest possible deaths.

Or maybe it’s actually a great time to be present. Because the truth is that no matter how disturbing I find it that people I respect and admire are moving closer to radical conspiracy theories every day, no matter how awful it is to hear about the awful harassment and racism at these protests, no matter how divided the world feels: this present moment is actually okay. My apartment is very quiet. My puppy is sleeping in the hallway, damp after a big romp in a snowy field. I am in the middle of a good book that my sweet boyfriend gave me to read. There’s a warm desk lamp guiding my way as I find these words. In this moment I am healthy, safe, warm (except my fingertips) and wearing very cozy slippers.

That’s the trick about being present: it usually forces you to admit that you’re more okay than you think. Many of the things you’re afraid of have not happened yet, and may actually never happen. The things you’re reading about in those comment sections are upsetting, but not literally happening to you in this moment. The worst fears you have for yourself and your family are most likely unfounded.

Of course, this is not always true. Sometimes, even in this present moment, you are very much in pain. You are losing feeling in your fingers in subzero temperatures waiting for your dog to poop. You are grieving a deep loss with your whole body. You are holding someone’s hand while they cry. You are holding an entire baby while it cries. You are talking to your grandparent on a computer screen because you haven’t seen them in two months.

It is in these times that I’m trying hardest to be present. Can I relax into the moment? Can I be with what is? Can I remember that this hard moment won’t last forever? Can I breathe, because my breath is always with me? 

Not always, no. But I’m trying, because if there’s one thing that the past two years of this pandemic have taught me, it’s that there is so much we cannot control. There are bigger forces at play that will affect our lives & our well-being. But we can control whether we get the sunshine on our faces, whether we stop to enjoy a cup of delicious coffee, whether we light a candle, whether we take a few minutes to read a book, or pet the dog, or cuddle in the mornings. We can’t always plan for the future, but we can pamper this moment.

Present

  • a moment in time between past and future
  • being, existing, or occurring now
  • something that you give or are given
  • to be in attendance
  • to bring to one’s attention
  • to bring something before the public

Synonyms: existing, current, give, contemporary, available, now, today, the time being, show, immediate, here.

Guidelines

I’m not in the mood lately to set a lot of goals for myself, but I have some ideas that I’m planning to try to incorporate to help me live with the intention of more presence:

Morning Pages

I used to do these so consistently a few years ago, and they really helped me clear out the stressful thoughts and keep a clear mind. So I’m trying to bring them back! Since the beginning of January, most mornings I’ve been writing two pages longhand of my thoughts, and a short list of things I’m grateful for. I’m doing this alongside my morning coffee (a ritual I now crave & look forward to) and it’s the teeny-tiniest morning routine.

Evening Meditation

Another habit that I used to find so supportive, and then all of a sudden quit cold-turkey. Sigh. I always forget about meditation until it’s “too late” and I’m anxious, overthinking and spiralling. This year I really hope to re-instate it as a practice before bedtime. So far my track record in 2022 has not been great (I’ve only done it four times) but I’m going to use Elise Joy’s tracker and try to make it a habit.

Little Presents

I am a severe underbuyer, which means it’s difficult for me to spend money on things unless I absolutely need them. This means that my everyday life is full of tiny little things that either don’t work or are super annoying to use. My goal for 2022 (we’ll see if I stick to it!) is to get myself little presents: if it costs less than $25 and will make my life easier, I should just buy it right away without overthinking it.

No Score-Keeping

I have a very bad habit of ‘keeping score’ in my life & relationships – Gretchen Rubin talks more about this concept here and here. In an attempt to give more ‘presents’ in 2022, both tangible and intangible, I want to practice giving more freely & generously, without worrying about fairness or making things perfectly even. It all always comes out in the wash.

These are the days

I want to remember too that this is not my practice life, and this is not my temporary life, this is my actual life. These are the days. These are the days I’ll inevitably look back on with nostalgia and love. Yes, even though it’s winter and a pandemic. Not because I am ignoring all the bad in the world, but because I’m noticing all the good. These are the days that I first had Bruno and was falling more in love with Mike every day. These are the days I lived alone in a sunny apartment with a million windows and made soup and cried a lot and took the world’s hottest showers. THESE are the days. Be here now.

Make more rituals

As I mentioned above, my tiny, precarious, coffee & writing ritual is becoming such a cozy spot in my day. I am also now looking forward to my evening Coke Zero with ice and lime, as a way to end the work day. Maybe I’ll add reading a novel to that time, to make it even more ritualized. And I want to keep finding more moments like these to bring in more intentionality & joy.


I am looking forward to seeing what Present will teach me this year. I have felt so scattered and anxious lately, and I know that more presence will be a balm for my fractured attention and heavy heart. The goodness is all to be found in this moment, this one right here! Not out there. Stay here. 

Sending you lots of love and joy and presence for your 2022.

You can read more about my words from the last few years below:

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

2021: Soften

2021: Soften >> Life In Limbo

This is my ninth time choosing a word to help guide me through the year ahead. I love this practice: it is intentional, it is simple, and it is meaningful. Every time I think of my word, it connects me back to my values and my hopes for myself. It helps guide my decisions! It can literally affect my mood, because it helps me think about things differently and reframe my negative experiences. In short, it’s a way to add more whimsy and intentionality into my daily life! (I am looking forward to being 90 and having 69 words to look back on with fondness and gratitude.)

As you may recall, my word for 2020 was Devoted, and it was the perfect word for the moment we were living through. You can read more of my reflections on it in this post, but the short version is that 2020 asked a lot from all of us, and the word Devoted really helped me to stay connected to myself and continue to show up for my physical and mental health, my budding romantic relationship, and my amazing clients, despite everything else going on. 

As we move into 2021, I actually want to keep up the fierceness and deep love that Devoted reminds me to embody. It is not done with me! (My words never are.) And, I want to embrace a new energy for myself, one of softening. One of pleasure, of enjoyment, of inner calm.

2021: Soften >> Life In Limbo

This year, my word of the year is Soften. I chose the verb, rather than the noun “Soft”, because it will remind me that to soften is a choice. Over the past couple years as I’ve moved to running my own business full-time, I’ve had to take on a lot of responsibility. It’s become harder to relax after work, or take breaks throughout the day, because I know that everything rests on my shoulders. Throw in a global pandemic, and you have a perfect recipe for anxiety, overstimulation, and dissatisfaction.

No thanks! In 2021, I choose to soften. To give in, when my wonderful partner lures me back to bed for a long cuddly nap, even though I have “so much to do”. To let go of my arbitrary timeline of launching my group program, because it just feels too forced and crunchy. To relax in the evening, rather than cramming in yet another online course, podcast, or some other such opportunity for personal development. To take more baths.

Already I know this will not be an easy word for me. As I’ve learned over the past few years, choosing a word instantly shows you all the places where you are struggling with its opposite. This word is bound to show me where I am hard, rigid, unyielding, unpleasant. That’s not going to be nice, but it will be nice to have more softness calm, and lightness in my days. Heck, as I write this I have taken the morning off of work to ease into my day! It’s working already.

So here’s to 2021! May it soften me.

2021: Soften >> Life In Limbo

Soften

  • to become less hard, to become softer
  • to become, or to make something seem, less severe or unpleasant
  • to make something less forceful, less harsh
  • to become much more gentle and friendly
  • to make something smooth and pleasant to touch

Synonyms: ease, relieve, soothe, assuage, cushion, allay, mellow, lighten, relax, relent, thaw, melt, tenderize, calm, gentle, loosen, sweeten

Goals & Intentions

As you can imagine, the word Soften does not really inspire me to set a whole bunch of rigid metrics to meet for the year ahead! Still, there are some things I’m thinking about trying to incorporate more of. So in true Soften fashion, I’m thinking of these ideas as mere suggestions, fun things to try if I feel like it, and to let fall away if I don’t.

Soft Mornings, Soft Nights

I’m tired of feeling like I’m rushing into my days without having time to myself to pause, or reflect, or enjoy myself. In 2020 I also developed a bad habit of bringing my phone to bed and getting sucked down the rabbit hole of YouTube, or TikTok or phone games instead of truly unwinding.

So in 2021, I would like to have softer mornings and softer nights. I am still figuring out what this means for me, but so far I’ve added in morning pages and meditation, both of which I do in bed. That feels very soft and cozy! More to come, but this has been a great start.

To me, softer mornings also mean feeling rested, so finding a good, consistent sleep schedule this year is also a priority.

Soften Up

Towards the end of last year, I suddenly realized that I was suffering from perfectionism in a few areas of my life. I’ve obviously known about the concept of perfectionism for years, but never resonated with it – I’ve always been good at shipping imperfect work and not making perfect the enemy of the good. But last year, I noticed that perfectionism was creeping in around the edges in weird ways. I was over-planning fun excursions, overthinking simple decisions, and wanting everything to work out perfectly. If it didn’t, I felt anxious or unsatisfied with my choices. NO! No.

This year, I want to embrace more spontaneity. I want to remember that life is long, and there is so much time to have all the experiences I want to have. I don’t have to cram things in, or force them if they’re not flowing. On the whole, I want to plan less and live more.

2021: Soften >> Life In Limbo

Soft Shoulders

I mean this both literally and metaphorically. I love the idea of softening my shoulders – not getting my hackles up! – over small things. Relaxing into the moment & accepting what is. Lightening up.

I also want to find ways to literally soften my shoulders and back. I carry so much tension in my back and it has been giving me pain for y

ears. I’d love to do more stretching and strengthening to reduce that pain, and maybe get more massages to loosen up the tense muscles there. And as always, I want to work on my posture, especially when sitting or standing at my desk!

Soft Eyes

This one is simple, but not easy. I want to look upon others with love, softness, compassion and affection. I want to be more gentle in my relationships. I want to be less judgemental. 

I’ll be honest: watching the actions of the world and the people around me during the pandemic was hard. I felt stressed and upset to see people flouting the rules and carrying on like everything was normal. But here’s the thing: judging them doesn’t hurt them, it only hurts me.

So in ways big and small this year, I want to have soft eyes: for my partner, for my friends, for my family, for myself.

Seek Softness

This is a fun one! I want to literally be surrounded by soft things this year. Cozy, soft, gentle fabrics in the form of clothes, blankets, sheets, pyjamas, pillows. Comfier furniture: my couch especially is so uncomfortable and hard. Spending lots of time around super-soft cats and dogs, and hopefully getting a very soft, fluffy pet of my own. Softness in all things! I want to be comfortable & cozy in 2021.

2021: Soften >> Life In Limbo

Softer Skin

I can’t be the only one who struggles with my feet, right? It seems like no matter what I do, I can’t seem to make my heels as baby soft as I might want them to be! I hope that 2021 is the year that will change. When I can safely go in person again for a pedicure, I will, and until then I’ll do my research and do my best at home. This also extends to my hands, lips, and body. I want to use lovely lotions and potions that smell good and make my skin nice and soft.

Softer Self

Last but not least, I want to be softer with myself. My self-talk can get pretty brutal sometimes, especially when it comes to my body, and my choices. I want that to soften. I want to learn to speak to myself with positivity and kindness and love. This may also mean finding a good therapist who can teach me more tools for self-compassion & self-love!

Being softer with myself also means scheduling in way more self-care. Over the past few years I have not been great about scheduling vacations or taking time off, so that changes this year. I’d love to give myself more time away from the computer and doing what I love: being creative, writing, taking photos, cooking delicious meals, and reading great books. 


Ironically, I know that having Soften as my word might be hard for me. But that’s okay! It’s a growth edge, and I know that this word has a lot to teach me. I’m looking forward to taking more opportunities to relax, breathe, and trust that everything is going to be okay. 

If you choose a word for the year, I would love to hear about it! And if you see any resources, books or posts about the idea of softening, send them my way. Happy 2021, everyone!

You can read more about my words from the last few years below:

2013: Reach | 2014: Abundance | 2015: Grace | 2016: Light | 2017: Embrace | 2018: Flow | 2019: Energy | 2020: Devoted

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