Let’s do something different. When I started posting about Word of the Year, not a lot of people were doing it. (The idea originated with someone else.) We had fun for almost a decade, choosing different words, checking in with them during the year. One year, we checked in every month. Another, I suggested using the day of the month your birthday falls on to see how the word has developed in your life. It was engaging.
Now it’s time for something new.
As a creativity coach, I work with a lot of people who have inner critics. Whole collections of inner critics: soul-suckers, tyrants, perfectionists, idea crushers, over-achievers, frauds, fake-idea promoters (“Do the laundry instead of working in the studio, because your house is a mess.”) Without fail, every client who has inner critic problems also has a great solution. They can’t see it because their soul is being crushed or sucked dry, but it’s there.
Most people agree that 2016 has been a tough year. We’ve lost a lot of musicians, actors, writers, friends, and teachers who encouraged us and created the musical score or mural for our formative years. We had a tumultuous election, and it was at the intersection of those two events that made an idea ask for an appointment with my creative heart. I invited the idea in and asked it questions.
You already have a skill that helps you maneuver around, over, and through your inner critic. It’s usually a survival skill you developed in childhood. You might have forgotten about it, you might need to upgrade it to an adult version, but you have a powerful, personal skill that is part of your DNA.
Maybe you are naturally optimistic. Maybe you are a witness for other people’s stories. Maybe you are compassionate or forgiving, or kind to strangers. You have a specific goodness within you that has seen you through hard times. Maybe you are persistent (your inner critic calls it stubborn.) Maybe you are generous (your inner critic labels it “pushover.”) But you have power, largely untapped. (Maybe you don’t want to admit it because that makes you responsible for it.) Your power is part of your identity. You use it in many different ways, but you reach for it much more often than you think.
It’s time to step into 2017 with your identity power–your magic identity.
- Find it.
- Give it a good name, one you like. (As in, “my secret identity,” or “my secret survival skill” or even “my magic power.”
- Decide how you will use your power in 2017, first with yourself, then with your world.
- Get started a little early. Practice using your magic identity now.
Here’s an example
I work with words all day long. Over the years, through listening, reading, paying attention, I’ve come to love words, and how using them in different ways makes life shift in different ways.
Find it: No surprise that I teach business writing, fluff-stripping and jargon-hunting. Even less surprising is that I am studying to be a healer who uses poetry as a healing medium.
Name it: The Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year is post truth, as in “facts no longer matter in the post-truth world.” Merriam Webster says it is surreal. NPR says it is normal, as in “X is the new normal.” One of the shifts already moving under our feet is the normalization of hateful words. Sometimes we slipcover the harsh word with a much nicer-sounding, acceptable word. “Neo-Nazi” and “White Supremacy” is now “Alt-Right.” Sounds like a clever app. Sounds harmless, even light-hearted. It is not. It is a cover for hate.
And many of us like to use new words. Fads of any kind can be cool. Didn’t we flirt with on fleek? Didn’t we push awesome from a serious word, indicating deep spiritual emotion, to a filler word we use to describe a joke as well as a medical miracle?
This word shift did not start this year. It’s been around for a long time. As the daughter of immigrants, I cringed when Seinfeld normalized the word Nazi in the soup-Nazi scripts. When I said it was not funny, people piled on, accusing me of lacking a sense of humor. I caved before I realized that accusing someone of lack of humor is a favorite tactic of bullies. Now I’m sorry I caved. My childhood skill of recognizing bullies and speaking to them instead of fighting them had been left behind. It needed resuscitation and renewal.
The Seinfeld episodes led to a rise in Nazi-chic. “Grammar Nazi,” “Control Nazi,” even “Fashion Nazi,” after fashion police got worn out. If you are shrugging and saying, “that’s not so bad,” you have fallen victim to normalizing. We quit caring about meaning. Or how others, who are not like us, feel.
It’s a type of peer pressure to cave to bullies, not meet their eyes, apologize for being the one not to fit in. I don’t want to be that person. I want to use my secret survival skill of asking questions that engage people, even angry people.
Use it: My identity is wrapped around using words to heal and grow, not to crush and suppress. I am going to focus on calling out words that are hateful thoughts hiding as “the new normal.” This has nothing to do with political correctness. This has to do with the power of words to change minds, to wound, to maim, to scar. Words can also elevate, define, and polish clarity. Words are part of my DNA, my identity. I certainly can’t stop everyone in the world from misusing words. I can start with myself.
Just like real life, I can stop myself from being careless with words. I can use accurate words. I teach. I can explain the normalization of hate speech to classes. I can wake up people around me. Small steps, but positive ones.
What’s your magic identity power that you are ready to use in 2017? How will you use it?
—Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. And she is a healer who uses poetry to change lives.