My OLW for 2023

I’ve been toying around with choosing One Little Word (OLW) for a while now. As best as my speedy, somewhat superficial Google search could find, this practice was started by Ali Edwards as a creative project. She wrote, “In 2006 I began a tradition of choosing one word for myself each January—a word to focus on, to live with, to investigate, to write about, to craft with, and to reflect upon as I go about my daily life.” This is a practice that’s always intrigued me, but I’ve only joined in twice before. This year, however, without any conscious intention, I found myself contemplating potential word candidates early in December. Apparently, I was once again drawn to the idea of having a word as a sort of guide, or touchstone, to come back to again and again throughout the year.

Over the past weeks, I’ve considered a few words. At first I thought, “Hmmm….How about “Choose” for a OLW? That could be a good word.” And it could be. But then I remembered that “Choose” had been my word in 2016. Oops. I’m not sure exactly what that says about me, but my first thought was…stagnation.

Back to the drawing board.

I thought of “Grow” next. I liked the gardening connection and the idea of metaphorically tending the soil, pulling out weeds, nourishing new growth. I’d like to grow and push myself into new areas of challenge this year. Still, it felt a bit too passive and didn’t fully resonate. On multiple layers I also didn’t love the definition’s big emphasis on simply getting larger.

“Begin?” I considered that for a while. I liked the push toward starting something, toward moving forward. It felt simple but potentially powerful. Still, it didn’t feel quite right.

Then, another word came to me: “Cultivate.” It’s akin to grow, but implies more deliberate, active choice.

I repeated the word out loud several times. I liked that it was a verb. I even liked the way it felt in my mouth when I said it. I looked it up. (Sometimes a word has meanings that you haven’t considered, and I wanted to cover my bases.) With cultivate, there’s the obvious definition of preparing for and growing crops, but there’s a lot of interesting nuance, too. Merriam-Webster includes these definitions: “to foster the growth of”, “to improve by labor, care, or study : refine”, and to “further or encourage.” The Cambridge Dictionary includes “to try to develop and improve something” and to create a new condition by directed effort”.

I can think of so many things I want to cultivate within myself and within my immediate environment–relationships, curiosity, creativity, gratitude, a growth mindset, and on and on and on. It feels like a good fit. It combines aspects of choice, grow and begin in one dynamic and purposeful word.

So, there it is. I’m in. I’m tilling the soil and planting the fertilizer. My OLW for 2023: Cultivate.

30 thoughts on “My OLW for 2023

  1. I so enjoyed your thought processes as you came to this years one little word. I agree with referencing dictionary. It’s the lessen known meanings that can make a word be “it”. I think cultivate will serve you well!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooooh, I love this word! Nurturing the conditions to grow and bloom is a beautiful way to anticipate the opening of new petals! Perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. humbleswede says:

    Cultivate is a word to live by…and grow with, though it also implies only growing the things you really want to grow. That seems like a sizable and significant difference. I look forward to reading the words and images of what you’ve sown and nurtured.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. margaretsmn says:

    I enjoyed reading about your process and such intentional thinking around your OLW. Cultivate is a lovely word and fits you well as you continue to “cultivate” a life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. maryleehahn says:


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tabatha says:

    Nice! Good pick.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Glenda Funk says:

    You’ve chosen an excellent word. It’s a word I’ve considered often since reading “Cultivating Genius.” I have a feeling the word will be on your mind daily s d serve you well in 2023z

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Debbie Lynn says:

    I love how you explained your thoughts on various words that popped into your mind. Cultivate sounds like a perfect OLW-especially with that last definition. It will be fun to hear how this words encourages throughout the year. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. gailaldousmsncom says:

    Molly, I enjoyed your process. I like to compare definitions in different dictionaries, also. Cultivate does sound good when you say it aloud. Cultivate with all those possibilities is a great keeper OLW.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Molly, I like your word cultivate. It appeals to my sense as a gardener and also as a lifelong learner. I picked my word in December but have not shared it with anyone as of yet. Instead of being deliberate this year about a word (I haven’t always been a fan of this trend), I think my word found me instead of my finding it! Perhaps I’ll share in the coming weeks. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      I like the idea of your word finding you and suspect that’s the best way, all around. Here’s hoping you and your word have a lovely relationship this year, whether or not you choose to reveal it to the larger world.


  11. Terje says:

    Congratulations on finding your word. May it guide you well!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Cultivate is a great word, Molly! I’m sure it’ll serve you well this year.

    Something awful happened to me on Sunday concerning the book I’m working on. I keep returning to my one little word, which is ONWARD, to help me charter a path forward. OLWs are pretty powerful.

    Enjoy cultivating this year!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. amyilene says:

    It really is perfect….and I loved following your journey to discovery

    Liked by 1 person

  14. heidimordhorst says:

    May your kneeling in the soil of cultivation bring you to the flow of growth!


  15. Your post was a good reminder for Hannah and our son Will, both of whom I sent the post to. A year ago they had the tradition of picking a monthly word. They now plan to restart that tradition. Thanks. Stay warm!


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