My Word of the Year 2021

One thing I do every January is choose my word of the year. This is a long and labor-intensive process for me with which I have somewhat of a love-hate relationship. It has always been important for me. Choosing the right word has helped center me, balance my Gemini-ways, and lift me up to the best version of myself in years past. But it always takes quite a bit of energy, brainstorming, and hard work for me to feel confident about what I’ve decided on. January is always a time for reflection and organization for me. A time to gather up the chaos of my thoughts and pull out some clarity and insight.

As the earliest days of 2021 have unfolded, I have been making lists, mind maps, setting goals, daydreaming, and thinking about all the ways I want to grow and expand and continue onward in this adventure of life in the upcoming year. Last year I chose FOCUS (and as you can see from that last extremely long run-on sentence, that word had its work cut out for it!).⁠ The first month of a new year always feels like it has so much riding on it. So much potential, so much to be hopeful for. An opportunity for fresh beginnings. 

My Word of the Year 2021 blog post | | photo of WOTY mind map by Eliza B.

Part of my process of choosing a word involves spending some time brainstorming what I need more of in my life in 2021 (vs. last year). And then, what I need less of.

⁠This year I wrote – MORE: focus, patience, creativity, self-care, mindfulness, gratitude, doing, connection, rhythm, faith, sleep… / LESS: mindless scrolling, mental clutter, consuming, procrastination, control, fear, unintentional time usage, worrying, yelling. Another part of my process is to work through Susannah Conway’s 2021 Unravel Your Year workbook (a free download I do every year!). I usually create a list of books I want to read (and this year I even categorized them!). There were quite a few that I carried over from last year’s list, many of which I picked up throughout the year but never seemed to start. I’ve been ideating all of the things I really want to do in 2021.

Some of those things include: 

  • Create and launch a course (for anybody who loves letter-writing!)
  • Share more stories on my blog
  • Start sending out consistent newsletters (sign up here if you want to get them!)
  • Learn more about photography and take more photos
  • Cook and do more fun projects with my kids
  • Create a family photo album (and maybe one for last year too!)
  • Reconnect with my musical self more (play guitar, listen to music I love, sing/dance!)

Those are just a few of the things that I’ve been dreaming about. Things I’d love to do (and would totally fill my cup!) but I never seem to get started on them. I’ve been known to call myself a procrastinating perfectionist and this is just another thing that I tend to do. I pour so much time and energy into deliberating and planning things that I often lose sight of the action necessary to get moving on them.


Starting out as a new nurse working in the Emergency Department in Chicago, I was assigned a reluctant preceptor to guide me through the first few months of my employment. His name was Matt and his mentorship style was pretty much the “eat your young” mentality. His annoyance of me was evident as I followed him around the ER. I was eager to learn anything he had to teach me. My eagerness may have been his least favorite quality.

The ER is a pretty tough place to start out as a new nurse. Everything moves VERY fast, people are typically VERY sick, and a quick learning curve is critical. It’s inherently a sink or swim environment. Most of my knowledge was still fresh out of my textbooks. My nursing school provided excellent clinical experiences. However, most of those were post-initial diagnosis interactions in specific hospital units where patients had been admitted. For someone who tends to do a lot of deliberating, the ER was not a place that offered me much opportunity to do that. Yet I was determined, optimistic, and dedicated to succeeding at all cost in effort to help save lives.

My Word of the Year 2021 blog post | | photo of Eliza B. headed to work (captured by husband)

One particularly crazy night a few months in, I was assigned two very very sick patients that came at the same time.

They both needed critical attention upon arrival: physical assessments, IVs placed, blood drawn (for labs), medications administered, close monitoring of their vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels), and a variety of other tests ordered by the ER doctor (x-rays, CT scans, and EKGs). As a new nurse, I felt extremely overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle the care of both patients simultaneously. Where was I supposed to start? How could I decide which patient to attend to first and to what detriment of the other? I was inefficient at drawing blood and starting IVs at that point. And the ever-growing list of immediate tasks that I knew needed to be performed were piling up. I felt incompetent. 

So I approached Matt (who was not actually very approachable) and asked for guidance. I quickly explained what needed to be done and that I was feeling overwhelmed about both patients. And the I asked for his guidance on where I should start. “It doesn’t matter… just start” he said abruptly. I was reeling… of course it mattered! People’s lives were on the line! Mind you, I’ve never been great at asking for help and here I was pleading with him for it for the sake of these two patients. Was that all he had to offer?! “You’ve spent 5 minutes just running your mouth about it and who knows how long obsessing over it and I bet you’ve even got a list written out… am I wrong?” [he wasn’t wrong].

He continued… “YOU JUST HAVE TO START!!” 

In that moment, I’d never felt more frustrated. I gathered up my remaining confidence and hurried off into the first patient’s room and got to work. In much less time than I anticipated, I had finished. Moving on to caring for the second patient went similarly. Once I simply got started, I was able to attend to both of them in a fairly short timeframe. Deliberation, as it turns out, was my biggest problem. These poor patients needed ACTION, not planning and list-making and advice gathering. And while I temporarily resented Matt for his blunt response in my moment of distress, the lesson he taught me that day ultimately made me a tremendously better nurse, and a much more self-aware person in general.

My Word of the Year 2021 blog post | | image of medical equipment shared from - Myriam Zilles
SIDENOTE: I totally have Matt to thank for SO much the confidence and competence I gained as an ER nurse. Though it took time to gain his respect (and he didn’t make it easy for me in the slightest), he really taught me to dig deep to harness potential I didn’t know I possessed and to face many of my fears/anxieties head on. 


For me, the process of trying to harness all of the potential of a new year takes grace and patience. And most importantly – ACTION. Most days I get caught up in my mind and forget that action is the best starting place. I find myself in a perpetual state of mentally planning. Studying and researching, organizing how I will start, or how to lay out new ideas. I find myself tangled up in the procrastinating perfectionism of my thoughts. Starting is often the hardest part for me.

So this year, I’m choosing START as my word of the year. I believe this choice is going to pack a lot of punch for me with projects and ideas I want to take on in 2021. Starting this blog has been an amazing reminder and lesson on trusting the process. There is so much growth and learning that happens in the action. Joy is ours for the taking, if only we choose to start pursuing it.

A new year stretches before us today, rich with promises and dreams eager to be pursued. And I choose to lean into the process, be intentional about action… and simply START. I will trust that the rest of it will come. That I have faith in.

Happy New Year to you my friend. Thanks for being here by my side.

Yours truly,

Eliza B.

My Word of the Year 2021 blog post | | quote by caroline donahue | YTEB quote card

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