How Choosing a Word of the Year Changed My Life

I shared a post last year on how to choose your Word of the Year. You can check out that post here. It shares 5 important tips for choosing your word of the year as well as my word for 2021. Rather than sharing the same tips again, I instead want to share with you a bit of reflection.

Back in 2015, I started using the Cultivate What Matters Goal Setting Planner. This may sound very over the top, but it truly changed my life. For those if you who know me personally, you probably think I was born with this natural talent toward setting and achieving goals. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Not until after college (yes you read that right – after college) did I really start to think about setting goals or focuses for myself and planning steps to achieve them. Up until that point I was more a go with the flow, making decisions in the moment, rather than being intentional in my choices and my time. I allowed myself to be heavily influenced by others, and not so much listen to my own thoughts.

Enter 2015, and somehow hearing about this goal setting planner, initially called “Powersheets”. I purchased the planner and put it in a 3 ring binder. I started to work through the prep pages and it on the page were questions I’d never asked myself before. Questions like – “Where did I see myself when I was 80?”, “How would I describe myself?”, “What do I want this next year to look like?”. I remember sitting at a local coffee shop with these power sheets in 2015 pondering these questions. The first few prep pages took me quite some time to fill out because I truly had no idea what I wanted the next one, five, or fifty years of my life to look like. I was very aware of today and maybe next week, but not the future or what I wanted my life to mean.

Fast forward two years. It’s 2017 and I’m still using the goal setting planner and answering the questions, but this specific year, something just started to click. In 2015, I had set so many goals. More than I could achieve. They were more desires than they were goals. I didn’t really have clear plans. And the plans I did have, I just wasn’t doing consistently. I had a plan, but wasn’t committed to it. But come 2017, I narrowed my focus, trimmed down my number of goals, and set realistic deadlines. I became intentional with them, and I really started to see that intentionality play out in my day to day. I had chosen “intentional” to be my word of the year in 2017, and with my commitment to make more proactive choices in my life, I started to see their ripple effects.

Over the next few years, I continued to use this goal setting planner. But I also started to ask myself questions like those posed in the first few pages of the planner. I would question if I was focused enough or spread too thin on my goals. I’d ask if what I wanted to do was achievable. I started to connect my goals not to just how they would benefit me but how they’d benefit others.

Over those next few years, I learned so many lessons by intentionally setting aside time in my life to prep for the next year, the next few months, and the next week and even the upcoming days. I started to trim down my goals from 10 to 8 to five and then to 3 goals for the year. I started to become more aware what in my own faith, I call the Godwinks or whispers or nudges. You know, those little “coincidences” that are never truly coincidental, but are instead completely divine? Over the years from 2017 until 2021, so the last 5 years, I’ve seen so much change in my heart, my mind, my faith, and my life in the best ways.

A Reflection

What you’ll find below are my words for each year over the last 5 year since I started to become more intentional with my life. When I look at these words, each of them brings back very specific memories and lessons from the year. That’s one of my favorite parts of choosing a word of the year, it’s reflecting on the end of the year and seeing how my word played out, often in the ways I didn’t intend.

I wrote blogs more specifically on on a few of my words of the year you’ll see linked below, but I’ll share a brief summary of the year and how my word played out throughout the year as well.

2017 – Intentional

In 2017, I started to read more. Truly, until 2017, I didn’t read a whole lot. I liked books and owned them, but didn’t read that often. I started to pay more attention to what I ate, and how I exercised. This was also the beginning of me sharing things I was learning with others. It was also the first time I did something because it truly scared the heck out of me. I decided to take my first solo trip. And then I took my second. Prior to that year I never imagined doing something I was fearful of on purpose. I also started to open my Bible and spend time in a community with others. There were lots of intentional firsts in 2017.

2018 – Wonder

At the end of 2017, I had read the Magnolia Magazine that was themed around “wonder”. I remember reading various pieces from the magazine and just finding such clarity in that this would be my word of the year for 2018. I cut out pieces of the magazine and put those as well as some other reminders to “wonder” on my bulletin board above my desk at home. I read the book “Chasing Slow” which was so impactful to how I thought about slowing down enough to wonder and enjoy all the beauty around me. I was able to travel to a few new places, and took in the wondered at the beauty that surrounded me. It was a reminder that wonder shouldn’t occur only at big moments or in exquisite places but in my everyday life. Truly a reminder to enjoy the gift of every moment.

2019 – Bold

Halfway through 2018, I had moved to Florida for my job. It was so uncomfortable because I had never lived outside of PA in my life. I had only traveled a few times on my own prior to this trip, and on a last minute trip over New Year to Utah, I chose the word “bold” for my word of the year the for 2019. And wow, what a bold year 2019 was. I took something like 23 flights in 2019 and had a rental car 72 days during the year. I traveled with my Dad on a road trip to 8 or so new states. I flew with a my friend Jen to Montana and ran my first ever half marathon. I finished off the year with having visited 10+ new states, putting me at 48 states visited in my life. I traveled to 16 new US National Parks, and 3 in Canada, with about half of them being on my own. I hiked many miles during the year solo, lived in a totally new place, and did so many things outside my comfort zone on purpose.

2020 – Empty

I don’t think anyone can look at the year 2020 and not have a surge of emotions. I’m not here to relive 2020 in a paragraph. Instead, what I want to share is how I specifically felt God in my life before entering 2020. I realize you may not be a Jesus follower if you’re reading that, and that is totally okay by me. But as one, I can’t help but share how impactful inviting God into choosing my word of the year has been. If you read the link above, you can read the long version, but in 2019, during an Advent devotional, I felt and knew clearly that my word of 2020 would be “empty”. I remember sitting with my on my oversized grey couch in my Tampa area apartment, and reading this one line of the devotional and being immediately overcome with emotion and tears. It read, “I want to be so empty that the most holy thing can grow in me”. And I knew in that moment, that “empty” would be my word. I journaled about it right after and how weird of a word it would be for my word of the year. As I was processing what that would look like, I wrote something like “What if I didn’t travel in 2020?” on the page. And I laughed out loud at my own writing. So I wrote an “lol” beside that question in my journal. Because if you read what I did in 2019, I took 23 flights. I went to so many new states and National Parks and felt like I was just getting started. Why in heck would I want to stop that travel in 2020? So I didn’t listen to the Godwink, the whispers, or the nudge. And in December and January for 2020, I had booked a few trips throughout the year. One was a road trip from Texas to California for May. Another a trip through South Dakota in and another half marathon toward the fall season. Well, you know how that played out. I didn’t step foot on a flight in 2020. I left the state of Florida only when I moved back to PA to the home I still owned. And then, I didn’t leave PA through the end of the year. From 23 flights to none. No new National Parks and no new states. I truly did have an empty calendar for that year. And guess what? I had a preview to that in 2020 and what I wrote in my journal at the end of 2019. When I. “loled” at not traveling. And having an empty calendar. I think about that moment often. When I thought my plans were greater than His. When I thought that I had control, when that was exactly not true. What if I had just listened? What if I had chosen to be still and empty when God asked? Rather than testing the waters. Well, I listened eventually, but only when I truly had no other options than to stay where I was. There’s so many other things I could touch on about 2020, but I share that specific story to share that when you allow God to enter and take part in your word of the year, I think you get a truly front row seat and a connection you wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s an incredible experience. Then, at the end of a post in 2020, I shared my prayer for us entering into 2021.

2020 Prayer:

I pray that we celebrate the remainder of the days we have in 2020 and embrace them rather than wish them away. 2020 was hard. For many I’m sure it was the hardest year of your life. But please God, remind us not to wish away the days we have left in the year. Help us embrace the tension and make the most of them. Give us wisdom to figure out how to both grieve what we’ve lost in 2020 but to remain thankful for what is yet to come. Please help us sit in 2020 and not wish it away too quickly, because we are not promised a better 2021. Let us treat each of these days as a gift and to celebrate you in each of them. In your name, Amen.

2021 – Tension

And then came 2021. My word of the year for this year was “tension”. Gosh, if God doesn’t have a way to illustrate to me the best lessons in the most unique words of the year. Who wants to have “empty” followed by “tension”? Yeah, not many people. But this year of 2021 was full of tension. And I don’t mean that only in a negative tone. Tension is “the state of being stretched”. Stretching can be SO good for you. It also can hurt. I can tell you that this year both stretched me in the best ways, but dang did it hurt in the process. I felt tension in my responsibilities (like taking 5 months off writing any blogs), my relationships, my time, and even my own mindset. And while it hurt in the moment, I’m so much better because of the stretching that occurred.


So what’s next for 2022? Another unique word?

Actually no, I don’t think so. I think most would call my word for 2022 pretty standard or even common. Maybe. I’ll share how the word chose me and what my plans are to align with it in a post in upcoming weeks. But until then, I want to encourage you if you haven’t already, to pick a word, or phrase, or theme for your upcoming year. Think about what you truly want. What you want to look back on as we end 2022 and enter 2023 that you can be proud of? What word or phrase strings that all together? Think about it. And then get still, and think about it some more. Pray about it if that’s a part of your faith. And then contemplate it some more. And if you need some encouragement, you can review the tips I have on choosing your word of the year here. When it’s the right time, it will come. I just know it. In the meantime, I want to pray over each of you a similar prayer to what I shared at the end of last year.


I pray that we celebrate the remainder of the days we have in 2021 and embrace them rather than wish them away. We’ve had two hard years in a row. But please God, remind us not to wish away the days we have left in the year. Help us embrace the tension and make the most of them. Give us wisdom to figure out how to both grieve what we’ve lost but to remain thankful for what is yet to come. Please help us sit in these last two weeks and not wish them away too quickly, because we are not promised a better 2022. Let us treat each of these days as a gift and root ourselves in your name through each of them. In your name, Amen.


  1. This is great! I’ve been choosing a word to guide me year for 11 years now, and it is far for effective for me than goals and truly guides all areas of life. My word for 2022 came easily, for once, and I’m looking forward to a year a Creativity. Saying a prayer for your theme to guide you through the new year. Cheers!

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