What’s your 2020 word?

Kathryn Crawford Saxer A Little Kindness

As 2019 comes to a close, have you decided on your Word of the Year for 2020?

Instead of a New Year’s resolution (which is generally a setup for failure), I like to ask my career coaching clients to think about a single word that will guide the upcoming year.

My 2019 word was “relax.” In 2018, it was “rest.” See? Much nicer than a New Year’s resolution to lose 20 pounds.

For 2020, I choose “learn.”

I stumbled across the benefits of taking classes quite by accident when I took a weekslong series of ski lessons and, incredibly, transformed into a different skier. After ski season, I took a 100-level and then a 200-level improvisation classes because it was the scariest thing I could think of. And then I took a woodworking class, despite a rational fear of power tools, and made a cutting board from dusty scraps of wood.

“That’s an heirloom piece,” one of the other woodworking students told me. “Your children will hand it down to their children.”

“Learn,” my 2020 word, is about stepping into a “beginner’s mind.” According to Wikipedia, “beginner’s mind” is a Zen Buddhist concept referring “to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.”

I certainly agree, but for me, taking a class, being a student, being a beginner, is about putting down the leadership mantle. Not being in charge opens up a lot of brain space. Letting someone else manage the group vision, planning and details for a while lets me just — be. And focus on building a beautiful cutting board.

The word “learn” plays a big role in my career coaching practice. “What did you learn?” is one of my favorite coaching questions. Realizing that you’ve learned something can reframe a devastating mistake or setback into constructive and useful, if painful, growth and development.

I have a working theory that putting yourself in situations where you’re a beginner is very, very healthy for our aging brains (and yes, your brain is aging as you read this, you young whippersnapper). In fact, learning a new skill slows cognitive aging, according to a Harvard Medical School blog post.

“New brain cell growth can happen even late into adulthood,” according to Dr. Ipsit Vahia, director of geriatric outpatient services for Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. “The process of learning and acquiring new information and experiences, like through structured classes, can stimulate that process.”

Who doesn’t want lots of new brain cell growth?

So back to your word for 2020. As I wrote in this column a year ago, “a single word can act as a guiding principle as you make decisions and choices in your day-to-day work.”

What is your guiding principle for 2020?

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.