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The 2020 Word Was Freedom

joy at work Jan 01, 2021

Written by Roxanne Brown

In January 2020, I chose a word for the year: Freedom. That choice was about freedom from self-doubt, freedom from the noise in my head, and the freedom to choose from more options resulting from the first two. When I think back on that now, I can hear the wish to go back in time. I also think, “how quaint.”

About ten years ago, I experienced freedom from the constant, internal dialogue. I had some life-changing experiences that caused me to question everything I thought I knew about myself and the world. My reaction was to just sit with what was happening and try to learn from it. I adopted a “follow-your-nose” philosophy, which translated meant I was letting the universe speak to me and then responding with what seemed to make sense at the time. I was certainly intentional about the life I wanted to live, but my previous “force-of-will” approach to making my carefully chosen goals happen was no longer my mode of operating.

When I was in this “follow-your-nose” mode, I was braver in my work and work relationships. I trusted my instincts in conversations with the executives I worked with to express a concern about a risk I could see, highlighting the implications and potential remedies while not being too attached to the concern. While this may seem like normal business conversation, the content was about what I perceived people were feeling and how they were reacting to events. This was part of the work I did, but very rarely did I engage in conversations with executives that were this ambiguous and introspective to explore risks and remedies. Interpreting human dynamics is a risky space to engage an executive given their influence. I might inadvertently cause them pain. Leading is very personal. I needed to trust myself to handle the conversation in a real yet highly respectful way. I also needed to trust my judgment about the executive’s intention and how they would act on what we discussed. I approached these conversations with a healthy amount of humility knowing that I could be wrong about the risk. I cannot see the full picture. No one can. My intention was to offer my perspective to see if this triggered something in their perspective that was useful for them and their people. Over and over again this proved to be the right thing to do, the right way to serve. I knew I was on to something with this new philosophy.

In this new mindset, I also did things like letting a book lead me to the next book and the next. I found myself in some unexpected and engrossing places. I noticed I did not let setbacks concern or upset me. I adjusted and tried a different way, often several times, until I reached the intention I had in mind.

The true freedom I experienced was freedom from the near-constant evaluation of myself, others, the situation, the circumstances, etc. I’m sure that evaluation served me in many ways but it also prevented me from living. It prevented me from being open to what the world was saying it needed from me. It prevented me from being present.

Slowly, over time, this self-reflection voice came back in. I think it started when I became a beginner again by leaving my “safe” corporate world and starting a business of my own. I wrestled with so many things when it came to that decision. Every time I turned down a job offer, I knew I was serious. The biggest question I faced was, “Why am I doing this?” I knew in my gut it was the right thing to do but being a beginner in this extremely risky and vulnerable way at the tail end of my career meant I had to ask myself that “why” question a lot. It has governed every decision I’ve made, including where I spend my time and attention, what I grow, what I set aside for now, and how I pivot. Being a business owner will take you to task in ways being an employee cannot, no matter how invested you are. That’s not to say it’s harder to be a business owner than an employee, it’s hard in different ways. Ed (my business partner and the sweetest husband) and I often say, “you gotta want it!” It’s our rallying cry to banish frustration and forge ahead.

When I say my reaction to my choice of 2020 word was, “how quaint,” that’s because my attempt to get back to this feeling I had 10 years ago seems a bit ham-fisted to me now. It’s as if I decided to use a “force-of-will” approach to get back to a “follow-your-nose” philosophy. It’s kind of funny.

Throughout 2020, I made light of my choice of the word freedom. The choice is ironic given how many freedoms we lost, e.g., being together in person, celebration gatherings, hugs. Many times I’ve enjoyed giggling over the choice when I’ve mentioned it to others. At the same time, it’s not that hard to see the goodness in the choice. With no need to travel, I’ve had the freedom to focus. I’ve had the freedom to create the things that were on the back burner. We’ve had the freedom to rethink and reimagine our business for this new, evolving world. Yes, we lost many precious things this year, but this freedom also gave.

For 2021, my word is “listen.” It is the embodiment of the “follow-your-nose” philosophy. I’m grateful to be open to the universe again and excited to see what happens.