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.