My Word for 2019

I love this idea of picking your Word for the Year. A talisman. A reminder. At the very least, a Facebook post.

And I’ve been so inspired by my friends who are picking things like “courage” and “kindness” and “confidence.” Those things have been on my list lately, too, and I could easily have chosen any of them.

Rollercoaster silhouetted in the background with the text "Word for 2019: Exhilaration"
You make my heart beat faster…

But I picked “Exhilaration.” Which is pretty funny because I had to look up how to spell it. And… honestly? it’s not the most New Yearsy word.

Exhilaration is a temporary feeling of joy or elation, a momentary thrill. Which is not what I’m supposed to be thinking about in January. I’m supposed to be thinking about PASSING UP the momentary thrill of eating carbs, end enjoying the deeper, long-term joys of lean protein. And, I am. Thinking about it. 😉

Whenever I set out on a journey of self-improvement — in January, say, or every single Monday — that journey always seems to start with where I’m falling short. I want to be courageous this year, and stand up for myself and others more than I did last year. I want to be brave and take risks, and for that I will need things like courage and confidence. And kindness. More of that is always good.

Today marks a solid week on my couch, where I’m writing this post-ankle-surgery. I’ve been doing some reading and a little writing (though with pain and painkillers the latter has been tough), and I’ve certainly caught up on some guilty pleasure television. [Can we talk about Dirty John? And the new Sabrina? And always, Outlander?!?!?] I’ve also done some meaningless navel-gazing and mentally re-decorated our keeping room about 40 times. There are some knick-knacks that are not going to survive this surgery, let me tell you.

Most importantly, I’ve been reminded of how many kind and loving people I have in my life–who’ve texted to see how I’m doing and kept me entertained and made sure we’ve had dinners and breakfast and (hello) wine. These are the treasures. This is the good stuff.

I’m not going to lie, 2018 had me on my back foot, so to speak. I tried lots of things and had many, many setbacks. We’ve had some financial and health challenges. I got hit by a careless driver and have been dealing with chronic pain, insurance companies and lawyers ever since. “Friends” who’ve said hurtful and discouraging things about my life and career. There are still people in my life, people I care about, who are willing to hand me their unhappiness and expect me to take responsibility for it, or punish me when I don’t. This year, despite the benefit of both professional training and hard-won experience, I struggled with not letting those people into the soft places in my heart.

There have also been countless blessings, wonderful opportunities and positive voices this year. This includes all my most important people, and I’m doing all I can to listen to them, and to see the good even when I feel frustrated or worn down.

As I lay down on this couch a week ago to heal, contemplate the future and stare at the walls — seriously, did I even buy that painting? Did it, like, come with the house?? — my original thoughts were mostly along the lines of: come back fighting. Heal your body, heal your spirit, find your confidence and courage. And that is what I intend to do.

But I’ve realized some other important things in the intervening week:

  1. I should never buy wall-hangings unattended.
  2. Eric Bana is equal parts attractive and terrifying.
  3. My courage and confidence need FUEL.
  4. When I’ve been brave and ballsy and proud of myself in the past, that fuel was always exhilaration.

Admittedly, I long for the days when people would describe me as “outspoken” and I took it as an unequivocal compliment. When I drove a stick shift coupe with a sunroof, and the open road was the answer to just about every question. I could cure the blues by driving around with the windows down and the Indigo Girls blaring, not worrying that I was wasting precious time when I should be productive. Or that every car coming up behind me was bringing pain and hassle and a zillion phone calls. Or that I was unknowingly contributing to global warming with all those greenhouse gasses…

I miss the elation of being halfway into writing a story and crying — not because I was worried about the sales or the reviews or whether people would see me as “a real author,” whatever that means — but because I was moved by the way the story played out in my head. The thrill of writing limitless first kisses. The joy of making words my emotional playground… and knowing that others would find joy in what I built there, too.

The unbridled thrill of setting out in a new career or business without fear that I’d be disappointing my family or harming my reputation if I failed. Knowing I had my whole life ahead of me to get it right, but that for now, I just need to go for it.

Truth be told, exhilaration has always been my drug of choice. It’s why I used to refer to myself as an “experience junkie.” It’s why I spent six months backpacking through Europe after college. Why I love rollercoasters (or did, until I got on one two years ago and discovered my body is not so keen anymore – *barf emoji*). It’s why I have started and let go of more books, businesses, jobs and relationships that I can count.

That search for exhilaration didn’t always end well for me. I’ve hurt and been hurt, and there are about a zillion things I’d do differently if I could. But as I’ve become more and more sensible in my choices — a functioning marriage and parenting are obviously huge drivers towards thinking of outcomes rather than just impulses — maybe I’ve allowed fear, anxiety and self-doubt to surround me with too many invisible walls.

Perhaps I’ve let my world get smaller, and taught myself that exhilaration isn’t necessary anymore. Who needs their heart to beat faster when they’re worrying about palpitations? Responsible adults don’t need exhilaration. We need babysitters and fiber and good tax accountants.

Except… we do.

Or, at the very least: I do.

The thing is, I am more responsible and sensible than I used to be, and that’s not a bad thing. I’ve learned from my mistakes and the mistakes of others. I have learned from pain, and that pain is etched on my face and my heart. I can adult with the adultiest of them.

But that doesn’t change who I am. At my core, I am someone who can be brave and confident and speak her mind and love without reservation because it fuels me. Sometimes when you try to reduce the risk, you unknowingly siphon away some of what keeps you going.

So yeah. I want to be brave and confident and healthy this year. But I’m going to commit to getting there by looking for things that exhilarate me. Books, ideas, people, work… I’m looking for the stuff that makes me feel excited, elated and joyful. I’m going to be thrill-seeking this year. In the moment, yes, but with an eye to the bigger rewards.

This year, I’m looking for fuel.

Don’t let me ride this roller coaster alone. What’s your Word for 2019?? Leave it in the comments!

MJ Pullen

M.J. Pullen is a distracted writer and the mom of two boys in Roswell, Georgia, where she is absolutely late for something important right now. Her books include quirky romantic comedies and playful women's fiction. She blogs erratically with writing advice, random observations, and reflections on raising very loud kids and dogs. Join her Distracted Readers newsletter list for updates, free content, giveaways and more.

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