By Michelle Ruocco
Did you pick a word to be your focal point for the year? I did! I got into that habit 3-4 years ago and every year it seems to teach me lessons in unexpected ways. In 2017, my word was “Grace”. “Grace” served me well because I needed to lead during a very challenging time, and I wanted to do it on my terms with “Grace.” The unexpected part was that I ended up having to give myself “Grace” during this period. At the end of 2017 our family was in London for New Year’s Eve which was also our last night in that magnificent city. We were at dinner and we started talking about our words for 2018. I shared that my word/goal was to “Go With the Flow.” We ended up getting stuck in an elevator that night so our great New Year’s in London looked very different than I thought it would. In 2019 the word was “Hope”. That year I saw important friendships change and experienced health challenges, and “Hope” was something very difficult to maintain. 2019 ended up being full of endings and new beginnings but going through it and maintaining “Hope” was painful and filled with tremendous growth. When selecting 2020 word(s), the pressure was on. I really wanted to pick a word or words that would not come back to bite me. My amazing therapist suggested I select the word “Flexible”… I thought that originally meant when there was an impromptu opportunity for a family road trip, go for it! I considered it but then I remembered the last time I picked something around being “Flexible,” I spent New Year’s Eve trapped in an elevator. Yes, I was with some of my favorite people in the world, but nope, no way, I am not falling for that one again. I thought maybe 2020 deserves a few words – Afterall this was the start of a whole new decade. My word of the year for 2020 started out as “Joy”. I ended up changing it after a bible study lesson when our teacher talked about hers being “Sanguine”… so I quickly adopted it because I felt it was more aspirational. The definition of “Sanguine” is, optimistic or positive, especially in an apparently bad or difficult situation. Could there possibly be a better word for where we are right now?
Here are some of the “Sanguine” things that are happening in my life. I am grateful that I am self-employed, it does not require me to go to an office, and I get to help people. I am grateful our home has the space and technology where my Husband, Daughter and I have the tools we need to do our jobs. I am grateful that I have had two years to define myself beyond my job and get used to a different financial reality. I am grateful my Husband and I are already used to working with one another out of the home. I am grateful that our summer travel plans are a road trip to Wyoming, not Europe. I am grateful that I have constant text dialog with my friends. I am physically isolated but more connected and present than I have been in a long time. I hope this a habit that continues long after this over.
Here are some ideas I wanted to share with you to keep you on your “Sanguine” path.
At the highest level, stay focused on the things you can control like your reactions, your responsibilities, your family, and your attitude. The things you can influence like reaching out to friends and family, and coworkers. I can’t control others. I can’t allow myself to be stressed when others make what I view as incorrect choices. I am frustrated that I can’t serve my community in the same way I did before, but I can do many other things. I am still serving but it looks a little different today and that is okay.
Here are the 6 things you can control.
1) “Limit your news”. We live in Texas, but we have some family in Italy and a lot of folks in the NY Tri-State area. We have been pretty much self-quarantined since Spring Break. Unbeknownst to us, our Spring Break destination of New Orleans would eventually be a major outbreak epicenter. Before we left, we had decided that since we were coming back from a major city, we would voluntarily quarantine. We understood how serious the pandemic was early on, thanks to news sources. A good rule of thumb with the news is, “it should be checked, not watched.” At this point anything beyond 30 – 45 minutes, does nothing to help our mental state. At first, I started watching too many news conferences and it really did not serve me well. There is a fine line between being aware and going down the rabbit hole. Do not allow your mood or well-being to be based on the performance of the stock market or the lack of supplies. It is important to know that you can control your response, and the less bad news coming at you, the better.
2) “Curate your day”. I am intentionally not using the word “Plan” as, I do want to leave margin and flexibility in my day. Prioritize how you spend your time. it is still okay to say no, set boundaries and self-manage. Connect a little with social media, and learn & leverage your technology resources. I have a long project list and it seems everyday there is an on-line course, Zoom meeting, dance party, or house project I could go after. I’m asking myself questions like, “should I take the Yale class on happiness? Debbie Allen’s Dance Class? A virtual tour of the Louvre? D-Nice Dance Party? Chalk Paint another piece of furniture? Organize the pantry?” I Do what I can when I curate my day. I am not as productive as I was before this all happened. And that is perfectly fine. If there are things you need to accomplish, reward yourself with something fun. You are going to get interrupted. Try to enjoy the interruptions.
3) “Start each day with a grateful heart” – I identify three things that I am grateful for each morning. I actually write it down. If I find myself focusing on what I can’t do or what I have lost, I try to quickly redirect my thoughts to something I can actually control.
4) “Get some sort of exercise every day”. There is so much available on line for free and that does not require any equipment.
5) “End each day with three things I have accomplished” Remember to be kind to yourself. I am not always going to be the perfect friend, mom, worker, or student. Something I accomplished could be, having a great walk and conversations with my Daughter or Husband. Calming a friend down. Cleaning out a pantry or writing. Be extra generous to yourself.
6) “Spend time praying or mediating”. For me, spending time in God’s word and having an ongoing dialog, helps me stay centered and gives me perspective and peace.
My goals for this year were and are to be Sanguine, flexible, present, adventurous and to take time to celebrate little things. I’m getting plenty of practice already.. Since it looks like I am going to be an over achiever, this year perhaps I will skip having a word of the year in 2021.
Michelle is a former retail executive, the founder of True North Solutions LLC, and current consultant, executive coach with ExecuInsight, LLC.