The Transformative Nature of Words: Personal and Professional Growth Through a Word of the Year

I recently read that Merrian-Webster chose the word “authentic” as its word for 2023. First of all, I had no idea a dictionary company would do something like this. It came as quite a surprise. Once I got over the shock, I decided to dig in deeper, asking questions. Why did they do this? How did they determine the word of the year? How long have they been doing this?
According to Merrian Webster, their choice of “authentic” underscores the need for honesty, transparency, and realness in our interactions, especially as technology blurs the lines between reality and deception. It also highlights the growing importance of genuine, truthful, and unadulterated communication.
The Merriam-Webster website states their Word of the Year is determined by popular usage and must meet two criteria: the word must have been a top online lookup at over the past 12 months, and it must have seen a significant increase in lookups over the previous year — meaning it had to have been on the dictionary’s radar the year before.
Authentic has a number of meanings including “not false or imitation,” a synonym of real and actual; and also “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” Although clearly a desirable quality, authentic is hard to define and subject to debate—two reasons it sends many people to the dictionary.
The word of the year has been around since 1990 when a group of men collaborated at the Barclay Hotel in Chicago. They were discussing TIME Magazines person of the year and felt that word of the year would be a reflection of what was important in our language. Merrian-Webster jumped on the bandwagon in 2003 and Oxford University Press in 2004.
My son died by suicide in 2018 and “authentic” organically became my word. I shared my grief journey on Facebook, the ugly, the deep hurt, the anger, despair, the sadness. I was honest, open, and vulnerable. It was my release and part of the healing process to share my journey. All this resulted in my friends, family and followers encouraging me to write a book. Around the third month, my posts took a turn in their outlook. Not only was I posting about the trauma and tragedy, but I was also including the things I was doing to work through my loss. My renewed perspective was inspiring others who were dealing with grief, loss of a loved one, relationships, and careers.

Why do we as individuals choose a word of the year?

To focus on change
  • Awareness
  • Acceptance
  • Progress
  • Transformation
  • Development
To focus on growth
  • Evolution
  • Maturation
  • Expansion
  • Emergence
  • Betterment

How a word of the year can help you change and grow.

I have had a word of the year for many years. I have used it on vision boards to keep me focused on my goals. In previous years, my words have been courage, faith, growth, and family.
Having a word of the year can be the bull’s eye of change and growth. Everything you do will be centered on the word. Often times, my words are a personal virtue, moral or trait that I want to improve. Choosing a word of the year can be a guide for decisions, a guidepost to achieve short-term and long-term goals. It can be a gentle reminder to stay on course.
A carefully chosen word is a type of mental mentor – something that helps you stay focused and motivated as you move towards your goals. A well-chosen word will align with your values. Values are ongoing targets and ones to continuously work on.
You can have a word of the year for both personal and professional goals, as long as they do not conflict in creating who you want to be.

How to choose your word of the year.

  • Reflect on who you want to become. What personal or professional values do you want to improve?
  • Make a list of words that describe your ideal self, based on your values.
  • Select a word that aligns with your goals.
  • Use your intuition to guide your decision.
  • Commit to living by that word throughout the year. Let it be the beacon in decisions, relationships, and thoughts.
In 2018 and 2019, being authentic kept me afloat. I held onto it. I knew that if I was inauthentic, hid my pain and stuffed my grief, I would not survive my son’s suicide and never would have been encouraged to step out of my comfort zone and write two books. Two books that help others through grief and loss. A word of the year can be extremely powerful. It was for me.
What do you want to focus on for 2024? Spend some time choosing your word. It will guide you for the next 12 months.
Share This :