EXCELSIOR: 2021 #oneword

Source: timetoclimb.com

After choosing #oneword to set my intentions for the year ahead for five years—CONQUER in 2015, MOMENTUM in 2016, NOURISH in 2017, METAMORPHOSIS in 2018, and LIGHT in 2019—I was so immersed in travel last January that I didn’t get around to choosing a word for 2020, though the year taught me plenty!

14 days into 2021 I haven’t yet been willing or able to set goals or intentions for the year ahead. The events and experiences of the last year, and current realities around the world, are playing on my mind. What word or individual targets could possibly do justice to what we all need to focus on now? Humanity. Equity. Celebration of diversity. Democracy. Unity. The goals seem too big and the destinations too far. What can one person focus on that might make a difference? How might we, individually and collectively, move onward and upward from here?

To move onward and upward is to move deliberately. It is not rudderless, purposeless movement, but purpose-full, advancing towards a destination, anchored by values and vision. Yet the moving forward happens one step at a time.

Perhaps, step by little step, we can edge towards the future we want to see. Lao Tzu is attributed as writing, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s 1991 protest song about Aboriginal land rights in Australia notes that “from little things big things grow”. James Clear in his book Atomic Habits writes “success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.” Writing a PhD, and then a book, were examples of eating the proverbial elephant one bite at a time. When I wrote my book Transformational Professional Learning, I had a visible reminder to myself that simply said: “Start now.” Write. Begin. Do. I stuck a word count list in 5K increments on the fridge, and crossed off each milestone as I passed it. Training in powerlifting also reminds me how small consistent effort can accumulate into big results. Chipping away. Being disciplined rather than motivated. Turning up regardless of how I feel and just doing the work (mostly this looks like arriving at the gym at 5.15am and doing what my coach tells me). In 2020 I hit some powerlifting personal bests: 112.5kg squat, 110.5kg sumo deadlift, 140kg trap bar deadlift, 67kg bench press. In 2021 these numbers will go higher, not because of any big move or lofty goal, but because of small regular actions that add up to progress over time.

And so, I have settled on a word to guide me in 2021: EXCELSIOR.

Excelsior is a Latin word meaning ‘ever upward’ or ‘still higher’. It is about striving for better. A catchphrase of Stan Lee and reminiscent of Michelle Obama’s famous motto, “When they go low, we go high”, excelsior is about aiming high, going high, being part of the world as we wish it to be.

This early in the year I am focusing on habits. What achievable micro actions can I implement, teeny step by teeny step, to make a positive difference for myself and my circle of influence? How might I fill my own cup, and pour into the cups of others? I am starting small. Very small. The first week of January had me focusing on quality sleep (via a regular sleep time) and increasing my water intake. Simple and achievable habits on which I can build.

I was back at work today, so I am beginning to consider what kinds of habits I can integrate into my work day. Prioritising what matters over what consumes. Returning constantly to values, purpose and context. Continuing to listen widely and intently. Moving more. Engaging with positive and productive people and behaviours that will move our care for our students and our school forward. Baby steps to move us onward and upward in the direction of those things that will make a real difference for our community.

I’m wondering, to what might I contribute this year outside of work that can be part of nudging education ever upward, to a more equitable, democratic, human, humane place? I’ve been editing a book that I hope will make a positive difference in the education world. Little by little it moves forward. Soon it will be time for me to consider: What more? What else? What next?

To move ‘ever upward’ means to advance, to move in a positive direction, to be part of creating what’s good (as in the common good, the greater good, good for all). Excelsior speaks to being in motion while focusing on the next steps as well as the big goal or distant horizon. Those hopes and dreams are there, but it’s the actions we all regularly take that will add up to making our world a better place.

Presence, Sharing, Strength: 3 words for 2015

presence * sharing * strength ~ words for 2015 against the backdrop of my New Year's Day

presence * sharing * strength ~ my words for 2015 against the backdrop of my New Year’s Day

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.’ ~ Alfred Tennyson 

We have passed across the threshold of the year to come. The new year is upon us.

While I tend to reflect constantly and set small, achievable goals, it’s been a while since I have set a New Year’s resolution (and I don’t intend to start here; what follows is an alternative approach to finding focus at the inception of another trip around the sun). While I love a good list, and an inspiring goal, I also love a good vision. Like organisations, individuals function optimally when we align our words and actions with a clear, coherent sense of identity and vision. Chris Brogan advocates for a simple personal visioning exercise to develop our own personal vision for the year ahead: ‘3 words’. Interestingly, some people (like educator Kirsten Wilson here) use this approach intuitively.

This is my first year of utilising the 3 words approach, and here they are:

Presence

This is a year of being present for me; of hereness, mindfulness and breathing into each moment. Presence, as I wrote about here, is an ongoing daily focus for me. My life, like most lives, is filled with competing, overlapping commitments, including my family, teaching, leadership role, PhD research, wellbeing and relationships. I have written about how I approach doing a PhD and my thinking around finding work-family commitment. My intention is to commit to being absolutely present in each of these spaces. If I can minimise distractions and focus fully on experiencing the person or task at hand, I can be immersed, productive and joyful. I can nurture relationships and be effective in my work and writing. I don’t want to see 2015 as a mad juggle of life’s components, but as a kind of ecosystem of interconnected wonderfulness in which all elements can be honoured and enjoyed. In amongst the doing needs to be the being.

Sharing

Sharing is reciprocal and collaborative. I read what others share. I share my thoughts on social media and on this blog. I share the stories of others in my PhD (which uses narrative research to examine transformative adult learning and school change). This word could have been ‘connecting’, ‘storytelling’, ‘expression’, ‘conversation’, ‘communication’, ‘collaboration’ or ‘tribe’ but none of those capture quite what I mean by ‘sharing’. In 2015 I am sharing – hopes, dreams, stories, pedagogy, beliefs, leadership approaches, writing strategies – with my friends, family, PhD, supervisors, PLN, Twitterverse, blogosphere and hopefully even some thesis examiners (although that might not be until 2016). As I discussed in my post about writing dangerously, I will be writing various texts in various styles to be shared with various audiences. Sharing our own thinking makes connections, starts conversations and builds collaboration. Sharing is viral, organic and transformational.

Strength

In 2015 I want to be strong in body, convicted in belief, confident in voice and resilient in character. A strength regime therefore involves physical bodily exercise including strength training, development of writerly voice (especially important in the final stages of my PhD), honouring my deeply held beliefs, and confidence in sharing my thinking in blogs, at conferences and in academic articles. Strength in myself and my identity means being able to stand up for my ideas, believe in my approach and be accepting of my own idiosyncracies, my own creative ways of thinking, my own imperfections and my own brand of ‘lovably weird’.

If you are looking for more visioning inspiration, check out the 2015 #3words blog posts of C. C. Chapman, Joyce Sullivan and Sheree Martin. Educators, check out Dave Burgess’s Teach like a PIRATE: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask & analyse, Transformation and Enthusiasm – kind of a vision and a list all rolled into one acronym. ‘Piracy’ would be a pretty good word.

What are your 3 words for 2015? I would love to hear them.

It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time. ~ Winston Churchill

into the future we go

into the future we go