2017 Word of the Year: Joyful Responsibility
In 2015, I chose: Integrate
In 2016, it was: Full
And in 2017, I’m going with: Joyful Responsibility
Technically, that’s two words. I tried to find just one word that sums up the idea of stewardship and service fueled by the joy and satisfaction of choosing to give, to connect, do meaningful work, and care for myself and the world…but no dice.
I’ve heard that the activist Julia Butterfly-Hill coined the phrase Joyful Responsibility about our commitment to being stewards of the earth and it’s in that spirit that I’m choosing this little phrase to guide me through 2017. I want to feel more joy when I engage in my responsibilities at home, my work, and the world.
The two words – joyful and responsibility – don’t go together easily in my mind. There is so much to be done, both as an interconnected caretaker of this world and as the sole navigator of my one life. It’s easy for me to feel dragged down, overwhelmed, and even defeated by responsibilities.
Sometimes I’m immobilized by the sheer scope of it all and unable to do much of anything except watch an entire season of Insecure while petting my dogs’ ears.
But more often than not, when the world is spinning, I feel much better when I take action. The more I do, the better I feel.
“Action absorbs anxiety.” – Angeles Arrien
The dark side of action, for me at least, is burnout or compassion fatigue.
I’ll start out with good intentions and lots of energy. I have a lot of fun! And then a few months or years down the road, I’ll find myself exhausted and resentful, possibly wearing jeans with the inner thighs rubbed clean apart and a sweatshirt with pizza sauce on it. And I’ll see my responsibilities through a lens clouded by guilt, anger, obligation, and negativity.
This is a pattern I’ve lived over and over again in my life. Each year I get better and better about changing this – it’s a process of setting limits and getting to know and attend to my own needs. But with so much work to do in 2017, I want to be intentional about how I engage going forward. Hence: Joyful Responsibility.
I’ve spent some time thinking about how I want to feel while I attend to the responsibilities of my home, community, and country in this coming year(s):
How will I keep my hope and compassion alive, even when faced with cruelty and darkness? How will I give my time and energy in a way that helps others, without causing harm to myself? How will I stay grounded in equanimity – the wisdom to understand and accept that many things might not turn out the way I want them to – and keep doing the work, regardless of the outcome?
How will I focus less on the end results and more on the process? How will I shift my attention and energy away from relentlessly working towards a (mythical) finish line and more on the quality of my daily experiences of being a caretaker of my life and corner of the planet?
I’m committed to considering these questions over and over in 2017, to keep myself connected to my intention of experiencing more Joyful Responsibility.
Doing this is a way to keep myself clear on this truth: There will never be (and never was) a time when there are no more problems, injustices, cruelty, crimes, or heartaches that need to be fixed, attended to, fought, understood, or accepted.
I can push against this truth and be miserable as I try to get to the “end” of the hard stuff or I can accept that the responsibilities are always ongoing and change my perspective, so I can enjoy and pace myself more along the way.
This is not my unique struggle. Being good stewards of our world and of ourselves, especially in difficult times, is the complicated work of being a human. Our responsibilities as caretakers aren’t something we’ll ever permanently get around.
So, the main question I’m going to ask myself throughout in 2017 is, “How will I engage with my responsibilities in ways that I feel more freedom, satisfaction, and joy?”
A few things I’m leaving behind in 2016 to create space for Joyful Responsibility:
Confusing martyrdom with compassion
Wanting to have all the answers
Thinking I’m responsible for everything
All or nothing thinking
Cynicism as a world view
Productivity as a way to earn my place on the planet
Busyness as a measure of my value
Exhaustion as a badge of honor
Dieting. Really. I’m done.
Feeling like I’m not enough
Feeling like I’m too much
Not honoring my boundaries to gain the approval of others
Complaining (less at least!)
Apologizing for who I am
A few things I’m welcoming in 2017 to create the conditions for more Joyful Responsibility:
Enjoying being of service, because I do enjoy it!
Accepting and asking for help
Not knowing the answers
Saying no, honoring boundaries, respecting my limits
Hopefulness as a world view
Savoring small pleasures
Engaging in meaningful action, regardless of outcome
Laughter with others while we do hard things
Allowing myself to do something small, instead of nothing or everything
Pausing. Just pausing as much as possible – in speech, in action, for hugs, to take it all in – pausing in every way
Not taking other people’s behavior personally
Letting go of what I can’t control (over and over and over again)
Creating new connections with others who inspire me through their compassionate badassery
Re-investing in old friendships
Feeling good enough
Mindful eating (less sauce on my hoodie, more delight in my mouth)
Self-care, early and often, duh
Celebrating anniversaries, graduations, birthdays
Acknowledging my achievements and hard work instead of brushing it off
Cultivating awareness and gratitude of what I am doing and what I have in the present moment, so that I don’t miss out on appreciating my own life and the opportunities I have to help and be helped.
What about you? Do you have a word for 2017? What does Joyful Responsibility mean to you? What do you want to leave behind or welcome this year?
p.s. Want to learn more about Joyful Responsibility? I found this lovely sermon from the UU church in Portland, ME about this very topic. It spoke right to me.
Happy New Year Friends!