The Power of a Single Word

Build: My 2018 Word of the Year


… So what is a “word of the year”, and what are the implications?

The idea behind “word of the year” follows a parallel path to New Year’s Resolutions. It is a way to approach the year ahead with an idea, goal, or concept that you are resolved to pursuing. Typically, New Year’s Resolutions have a very low follow-through rate, meaning, the odds aren’t in your favor for the resolution to bear any semblance of fruit.

  • By the first week, 27% of our resolutions are abandoned and just over half of us make it to the one-month mark (according to Statistic Brain)

  • U.S. News says approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February

  • Stats show that a mere 8% of people are still committed to their resolutions by the end of the year

Resolutions present a dismal reality. The pessimist can easily conclude that any form of a new year’s resolution is pointless and a royal waste of time. I would probably agree with them…

Enter in - Word of the Year

Part of the problem with resolutions is that saying something is much easier than doing it. This lends us to saying much more than we are actually willing (or even capable) of following through with. If we’re all just going to “say” stuff, then why not say we want the whole pie? Sounds great to me… but the problem is, nothing just happens.

One of my favorite quotes of late is from the esteemed Bill Gates, a man who has amassed more than many think is humanly possible. He said:

"Most people overestimate what they can do in one year, and underestimate what they can do in ten”

Well said Bill, well said.

If anyone is guilty of this thought, it would be me. I LOVE all things optimization, and if something can be achieved in five years, why not make it happen in one? This isn’t the worst mindset to have, especially when self-limiting beliefs can often keep us from producing what we are truly capable of. But, the wisdom in the quote is that: we have to create lofty goals to pursue, but then follow up those goals with the patience and persistence needed to see them through.

Baby Steps to Greatness

When I was the Assistant Golf Coach at The Master’s University, one of the players on the team coined the phrase: “baby steps to greatness”. It was used repeatedly throughout the year to describe the process of growth. Honing and developing your skills on the golf course is a painstakingly slow process. Once you reach the upper-tiers of competition, it often feels like you are never actually improving. The fear of plateauing constantly wages war in the mind of all competitive golfers, which is why the phrase “baby steps to greatness” offers such encouragement.

Baby steps are small, they barely get you anywhere. I’d much rather win a race than take a measly baby step. This type of thought-pattern is enforced by the world and society around us. Winners are celebrated and praised above all others (and for good reason). But in order to ever reach the point of being able to win the race, we must begin by taking baby steps. Not only do we begin by taking baby steps, but we also must continue taking those baby steps in every stage of development along the way. The slow rate of growth never ends. In fact, it tends to slow down once you reach the higher levels of proficiency.

This phrase served each one on the team well throughout the season, in reminding each of the players (and me!) that growth is microscopic at times, but that is the path we all must take. It’s not flashy, sexy, or praised; but it’s real.

Back to Bill Gates.

One thing that Bill Gates knows better than most people is how to withstand harmful propensities characteristic of our shared humanity. In order to amass the staggering level of wealth and success he has, you must be ruthless in saying “no" to the carrot-dangling-on-the-stick in front of you. These string of “no’s” eventually, ten years down the road (or twenty, or fifty), lead you to arriving at the field where all the carrots are actually planted.

Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved over night. It is the fruit of taking those baby steps toward greatness, day after day after day.

Replacing New Year’s Resolutions

Instead of creating a new year’s resolution, the past few years I've chosen to adopt a word of the year (inspiration goes to my sister - Court Roberts). This is advantageous for several reasons:

First, choosing a single word is much easier to hold onto throughout the entire year. Resolutions are often wordy and can entail multiple concepts within them. Choosing one word helps reduce what you have to remember and remain resolved to, keeping the idea enclosed in its smallest possible form. This helps stack the deck in your favor, so that you can end the year with the word still intact (and in mind).

Second, it allows for the interpretation of that word to morph as you go through all the experiences and events that a single year holds. A year always contains much more than we can anticipate. It's nearly impossible to predict where we will be, and, more importantly, who we will be after a year has passed. The implications and applications of the word we choose at the beginning of the year will likely experience a major shift by the end of that year. But, the beauty of a single word is that the way it is applied, or even interpreted, allows room for differences between the start and finish of the year. Being vague or less defined can have its advantages.

What “Build" Means to Me

As I approached 2018, I knew it would be a year filled with many changes. I'm in the middle of a major life transition, and with that transition comes the closing of a past chapter and the beginning of new one. Beginning a new chapter means there are blank pages in front of you, and blank pages mean that you have to start creating the content that will go on them. When you pick a plot of land to live on, the next logical step is to build the house for you to live in.

I chose the word “build” because that is what this year is all about - building into the future career-path that God has called me to. Obviously, our future-vision is never 20-20, let alone vaguely discernible. But that’s not necessarily important. As long as we have the goal for what we are building - the purpose - we don’t have to know the exact picture of where we will be or what it will look like when we’re finished.

The other aspect of “build" is that it narrows the field of vision for your life. When you are building a house, you are focused on that project since it is the place you are going to live and until you finish building it, you won’t have a place to live (theoretically). This narrowing of priorities helps you be steadfast in pursuing the task at hand, the work that is before you, bridging the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

This has already been helpful for me in saying “no” to distractions, and saying “yes” to what’s most important. This doesn’t mean I’m so focused on the task at hand that I completely ignore all the other beautiful parts of life - especially the other humans I live and interact with. But, it does mean that when I am working, I am fiercely committed to the work in front of me - what I feel called to build and the goals I am building toward.

This takes saying no a lot more than saying yes. But it’s not simply saying no to other opportunities or activities that may come my way, it’s saying no to the inward desires I may have that aren’t conducive to the greater goal of “building”. Oftentimes, saying no to external things is the easy part. The rubber really meets the road when your “inner-procrastinator” tries to convince you that YouTube videos are really more important than time spent building for the future.

How It Morphs

As I mentioned earlier, choosing a word in place of full-scale resolutions is helpful in allowing room for change throughout the year. Even though I am only a few months in, the meaning and application of “Build” has already experienced a shift. And, in reflection, a common shift at that.

The beginning of new projects carry with them an excitement stemming from the newness of the journey. This is known as: novelty. When something is novel, it automatically has a greater enticement to us than something that is boring and familiar. But novelty is like sugar, it is a very inefficient and ineffective fuel. The more you have it, the more you need to keep supplying it in order to maintain energy and movement. As C.S. Lewis aptly stated:

“The pleasure of novelty is by its very nature more subject than any other to the law of diminishing returns.”

At the start of the year I was filled with excitement as I launched into 2018 - my year of “building”. The work felt easy and fluid, and I had ample motivation to keep my nose to the grindstone. This is the power of novelty at work.

A month goes by, and then another, and then, here I am three-plus months in and seemingly no closer to the end goal than when I started. What happened to the stars aligning? What happened to the Cinderella story? What happened to reaping the fruit of my labor?

This is when the true colors of what the word “build” begin to be seen. The reality of “building” means: a prolonged persistence. It means continual and consistent effort in one direction. It means sometimes boring and many times unfulfilling work. It means maintaining a disciplined commitment to what you started, with an unwavering resolve to see it through to completion.

And it always takes longer than you think.

A Lengthy Endeavor

What can be built in a day? A sandwich, an essay, a workout, a picture frame, a cup of coffee, and maybe even a new friendship.

What can be built in a week? A resume, a social-media platform, a new song, a research paper, a book report, a true friendship.

What can be built in a month? A small following, a new business, a portfolio, an initial network, a base-level of knowledge in a given subject, skill development, maybe even the six-pack of abs you always wanted.

What can be built in a year? A house, an established business, a family, deep and meaningful relationships, a new lifestyle, building a community, writing a book.

What’s more valuable - a sandwich or a new lifestyle? Depends on your perspective, but I think we can all agree we would rather have that new lifestyle, if all things were equal. But all things aren’t equal, and getting the new lifestyle takes a prolonged period of time dedicated to building it.

When all is said and done, building anything of value will take time… and lots of it. If it were easy then it wouldn’t have the same worth. Scarcity adds value, and things that take a long time to build are worth a lot more because most people aren’t willing or able to be committed long enough to see it through to fruition.

With added time comes added doubts and fears. With more and more time committed to an end goal, there comes more and more fear telling you that if you fail, you will have wasted all this precious time for nothing. Even if this is a lie, it is a compelling one.

Which leads me to the newest component of my word of the year… faith. Building takes faith. To build something means you are committed to taking baby steps, day by day, in the long crawl towards the end vision of the goal you have set before you. It takes faith to believe that it will amount to something, whether or not it is the thing you initially planned for, and most of the time it won’t be. As the book of Hebrews (in the Bible) states so well - “faith is assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. The end-goal is never guaranteed, yet the work that lies before you almost assuredly is.

May we all commit to being builders, patiently persisting in the work in front of us, with full faith and assurance that we will benefit from the labor, whether or not it reaches to the heights of our hopes and dreams.

That’s my word of the year; what’s yours?