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A Word of the Year as a Guiding Light

The idea of having a word of the year came to me from my dear friend and Yes, And…exercise! (YAX) co-founder, Susan Scarlett. She first offered it to me as a concept early in 2021 when I was struggling with my PhD program. She reminded me of both the meaning and value of joy. I was surprised to find it came down to a worth issue for me - as in, was I worthy of having joy? The answer is obviously yes now, but at the time, in the throes of insecurity with poor mentorship in my doctoral program, I doubted myself. Flash forward to the Jam for Joy being a cornerstone of YAX to demonstrate the power of sitting with a word for a year. It’s not just choosing or accepting a word - it’s playing with it, seeing what it looks and feels like in a variety of situations, test driving it with friends, stressful situations and in quiet mediation. It can serve as a guiding light in dark times. Holding it as an orientation device allows us to stay in positive motion rather than focus on a destination or goal. Language is far more flexible, resilient, and meaningful than we give it credit for if we only observe or offer it on a surface level. 



In December 2023, freshly graduated from my PhD program, I chose two words for 2023: freedom and curiosity. They inspired thought and opportunity as I launched YAX as a full time nonprofit venture. It was scary not knowing what would happen with the company. As so much of what I teach is to trust the unknown, it was my job to take the same elixir I was offering to others. Curiosity was the perfect partner in that dance. Take each moment, challenge, opportunity, success and “failure” and observe it with curiosity. Examine it. Play with it. See what it has to say or show me. This process was foundational for the transformation of the Day One program. We ran it twice during my PhD studies as a pilot program, backed by Parkinson’s foundation community grants. The results were very encouraging, but something came up in the data that made me curious: participants continually reported feeling imprisoned by their symptoms. This idea of being trapped due to PD fits Muhammad Ali’s quote: “I’m a prisoner in my own body”



I turned back to the Day One program, exploring how I could theme the program around freedom and curiosity. The hero’s journey is the foundation. In the first two rounds, it was explained and demonstrated weekly with Star Wars: A New Hope. As great of a film as it is, participants did not relate to it as intimately as I hoped. The galaxy seemed just a bit too far, far away. I chose The Shawshank Redemption, dubbing the program The Parkinson’s Prison and the Hero’s Journey to Escape. The new theme has been a runaway success, with a program running from May through August and another from August through November. Participants' stories and reviews can be seen on our site. We know it works, and we hope you’ll join us in 2024.


Which leads me to my word for 2024: Cocreate. The Merriam-Webster defines it as: “to create (something) by working with one or more others”. I am thrilled to have landed on this word because it takes so much off of me and invites so many of you. As much as I would like to cure PD on my own, I can’t. I have worked on this for over 22 years since my dad’s diagnosis in 2001. I earned a PhD to test and try to find a new way of improving quality of life. With the cocreation of Day One, we’ve done even more: we’ve built a space where your stories can be the data that leads the charge for change. Researchers, politicians and foundations are all calling for our stories, but in order to make an impact, they must dig beneath the surface.  



Previous participants nicknamed me Sherpa as I am here to guide, provide parameters, and a safe and brave space to be curious, discover and share your story. But, ultimately, this journey, just like your relationship with PD, is yours. How we draw lines to find new ways to work together is ours. Can we cocreate a cure for PD? I hope and believe so. Please join us and share this opportunity for a Happy New Year in 2024.

 

Tell us your word for the year in 2024 in the comments below. 


  1. Reflect on the past year

  2. Think about your values, intentions and goals for 2024

  3. Brainstorm

  4. Make a vision board

  5. Live your word


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