Monday, January 04, 2021

One Word 2021: Practice

For a number of years now, I've been participating in One Word 365, which is an alternative to making traditional New Year's resolutions. I've found it a meaningful concept, and most years it has made a real difference.

The idea is that you pick one word to live by the entire year, rather than making a list of well-intended (and often too big) goals for self-improvement or personal fulfillment.

For 2020, my word was Stretch, based on the 3 basic stretches that I do as part of my karate training:

The three basic stretches, for five minutes every day, for 365 days. I have to say that, two days in, I'm doing well so far. 

This may not sound like much. However, my hope is that this simple and intentional action will lead to more. While I stretch every day, I'll consider how I may stretch myself in other ways: in relationships, in ministry, in my own creative endeavors, in my physical health. When I feel like something at the church has hit a wall, I'll stretch to find a new possibility. When I'm finding it hard to muster the energy to make it to the Y or the dojo, I'll stretch to do it anyway.

Okay. You may recall that 2020 had some...challenges. This was not a typical year to keep this word or any other. I didn't keep to my "5 minutes of stretching" idea, even with all the extra opportunity that I had to do that while sitting at home for a good portion of the year.

Was Stretch a total bust? I wouldn't say so. I still stretched myself in plenty of ways, certainly related to COVID restrictions but also besides them. I had to stretch to begin learning my way around becoming part of the UCC's national staff, while also learning to let go of what I was used to as a pastor. I stretched in beginning to learn the mandolin, and getting myself back into running 3 miles. Eventually I went back to the dojo and started stretching myself to develop the skills needed to earn my next rank (which I should do at the end of this month). I stretched by supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in various ways.

There was plenty of stretching in 2020. And it went far beyond what I expected. So I'm going to call it a success.

My word for 2021 has been building for a while. I've had an inkling of what I'd want to focus on, but couldn't come up with a clear word to name it. The first thing that helped me focus was this simple tweet:


2020 was certainly a learning experience. Those who have paid attention have hopefully learned some things about what it takes to hold democracy, and about racial injustice, and about responsibility for others. For myself, there were these learnings alongside what it takes to commit to my vocation, and to develop skills in various interests and passions.

And I want to keep up that development as best I can. Which is why my word for 2021 is Practice.

I'm big on the concept of learning by doing. As an Enneagram 5 I certainly do more than my fair share of thinking, but I also know the value of practicing in order to gain experience and knowledge. It's the only way I can actually get better at things like writing and music and karate and running and prayer. 

You can only improve if you actually practice.

So this year, I want to work on such improvement in hands-on ways, both the continued development of personal hobbies and passions, but also in the larger needs of the world around me for justice, peace, and advocacy. 

One of my favorite author/creators Austin Kleon is also making it a point to practice more this year. He made this handy 30-day checkoff sheet to help people stay on task:


In the accompanying post, he writes:

Something small, every day, adds up to something big over time.

What should you practice? Whatever you want to suck less at. You can practice drawing, you can practice kindness, you can practice praying.

I love learning and thinking, but at some point I need to begin to apply. This year, that's what I plan to do.