When I lived in Finland, a country plunged into icy cold blackness during the winter, people used to celebrate the winter solstice, the shortest, darkest day of the year. For them, this dark day represented not the gloomy days that had passed or a reminder of the many hard months of winter still ahead, but the possibility inherent in the twilight of a new dawn. It was a reminder that each day would get a little longer and bring a little more light to our lives - a celebration of hope and light over despair and darkness.
It’s a way of thinking about the passage of time and the new year that’s stuck with me. And every December, I carve out some time to sit in the metaphorical and literal darkness and reflect on the past year - to think about who I want to be, the things I want to create, and the things (or people) I need to let go in order to bring more light into my own life.
In that spirit, I like to pick one word to guide me as I move forward into the new year. This word becomes a sort of personal mantra or annual manifesto, if you will, and keeps me focused as my individual goals evolve and life throws new challenges and opportunities my way. It’s a touchstone I look to often throughout the year and something that provides inspiration when the darkness creeps in, those inevitable moments after the champagne buzz of New Year’s Eve has long past and time and work and love gets hard.
My word of the year for 2019 is:
I’m cheating a bit because my word for last year was BRAVE and COURAGE is only a slightly different iteration of the same theme, but that word worked so well for me last year that I wanted to continue to build on the strength and focus it brought me.
If you read my last blog post about my favorite moments from 2018, you’ll know that it was a year that taught me I’m capable of doing the things I’m afraid of – of pushing past my fears. Whether it was going on my first press trip, rappelling down a cliff in Mallorca, or night diving with manta rays, I consistently made myself do the things that scared me. I learned how to quiet that voice in my head that wants the easy, comfortable thing, and instead push myself out of my comfort zone – to say yes more often, even if I was trembling with fear.
These examples might sound trivial but they represent a big mind shift for me this past year because before that I didn’t focus on being brave or having courage, but on being fearless. That was my word a few years in a row, even. And it never worked for me because as much as I hated to admit it, I wasn’t fearless. I was afraid of failure and rejection and doing things like rappelling down cliffs and getting my heart broken. And I hated that, because I thought that fear made me weak.
But I’ve learned that being afraid doesn’t make you weak. It’s what you do with that fear that counts.
This is a lifelong lesson I finally learned, of all places, at the barn. I’ve ridden horses since I was four years old, but to be honest, it’s a passion that terrifies me a bit. When you ride, especially hunter jumper like I do, it’s not a matter of if but when you fall. And nobody wants to fall! There’s this moment, every time I turn my horse toward a jump, when I think about how I don’t really have to do it – about how I could just pull on the reins and stay on the ground. Stay safe.
But I never do that. I always jump.
When I was in those liminal moments this past year, those fleeting seconds where the future hung on whether I gave in to my fears or pushed past them, I thought about that. I visualized myself turning my horse toward the jump so powerfully that I could almost smell his sweat and the sound of his breathing - and my heart - as we barreled toward an obstacle. And just like when I ride, I took a deep breath and pushed past that moment of trepidation and did the thing I thought I could not do.
This year is about continuing to have the courage to do the things that scare me even when I know I might fall. Especially when I know I might fall. It’s about having the courage to create art and bring forth the stories inside me, to use my gifts, to love deeply, to choose adventure. Because I truly believe that if we’re not falling or failing, we’re living too small - that it’s those moments where we push ourselves past our comfort zones that we get to see what we’re truly capable of, that we create the lives we’re meant to live.
And because I know that even when I fall, I’ll have the courage and the strength to get back on.