Since 2015, I’ve made a habit of choosing a word to define the year ahead. I’ve given up resolutions a long time ago (mostly bc I’m such a nerd for self-improvement that I’ve always got goals in the hopper) but this tradition is one that grounds me. It’s nice to have a word, a phrase, to rub like a stone in your pocket.
I’ve been chewing on 2019 for a few weeks now. It’s been a pleasure watching others that share this practice select their words (intention, truth, and core being a few I’ve seen already), but in early December, I was still rolling phrases over and over in my mind. Nothing felt weighty enough.
The holidays came and went, and with them, a flurry of mixed emotions. Fighting with the people that raised me made me realize that family (at least, the picturesque, IG-worthy, Christmas card version) isn’t a given; you aren’t entitled to good, healthy relationships with anyone. It’s work, and sometimes work you do alone. It can be exhausting, draining labor. And that is where I ended 2018.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that my word for 2018 was THRIVE. And thrive I did, although it was a much more literal definition than I’d originally planned for. I grew, despite strife. I was (unceremoniously) laid off. I changed jobs, twice (this means I was 1. broke and 2. insecure af). I questioned my relationship. I questioned my family. I questioned myself, and my career, and my finances. And amidst all that, I had an incredible year.
In 2018, I welcomed the new year with sparklers, freezing cold, in a jumpsuit and a gold party hat. I spent two weeks in the snow in Ohio, ate unexpectedly good tacos in Oklahoma, and hiked (also cried while hiking, an on-brand moment if I’ve ever had one) in the Arizona summer. Josh and I drove for hours to explore New Mexico. I volunteered for FemBeat and pitched myself silly. I made new friends! I spoke broken Spanish in Mexico, fell in love with the art scene in Atlanta, and then packed my bags to go back to Mexico in the first week of 2019.
That’s a good year, I explained to my therapist. A big year.
And amidst all of that good, here’s 2019, waiting for me, with teeth. Will this year be a good year? Will this year have equal amounts of difficulty in exchange for being a good year? I imagined building a moat around myself, a fortress. I want to live a bold life, but in 2019, I want a life vest first. And that is why I’ve chosen BOUNDARIES.
I can’t help but recognize that this isn’t a word with the same kind of immediate ease as intention or truth. It’s not something you’d get on a tote bag or a YETI cup. At first glance, it might seem standoffish; hostile, even.
Boundaries, of course, are a healthy thing. “Daring to set boundaries,” according to Brené Brown, “is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.”
And that is the difficult part, isn’t it? I spent large swaths of 2018 giving freely of my time and my emotions. I routinely put myself last, choosing work over sleep, or work over exercise, or work over not working. I did this because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone; I wanted to prove my worth, and in doing so, I devalued my own wellbeing. I let people treat me badly, repeatedly. Bosses, mostly. Men, mostly. But also I let people push me when I did not want to be pushed. I faked friendships. I attended parties and made people laugh only to sit in my car and cry on the way home.
In 2019, I am saying no. Period. My life vest goes on first, even when it feels like a selfish thing to do. Because it is selfish, but it’s necessary—at least, if I want to survive.