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My Word of the Year for 2022
One of my least favorite holidays had always been New Year’s Day. I think it was because the obligatory New Year’s resolutions I created set me up for immediate failure, and I didn’t want my entire year colored by a self-imposed failure. Instead, many years ago, I decided to improve my New Year’s Day experience by substituting my resolutions with a more sustainable practice that would allow me to miss, grow, and adapt. I began choosing a Word of the Year as an aspirational guidepost for myself.
My Word of the Year for 2022 is agape (agápē). While there are numerous definitions, I have chosen to narrow my word to “giving love when unwarranted, being gracious, and intentionally seeking the benefit of those I encounter.” As a leader who aspires to embody the characteristics of servant leadership, as well as fully appreciating my character development (solidly in the Love stage as defined by Terri Jacke in Is This a Lousy Job or Is it Me?), agape fits nicely into my growth goals this year.
I believe that agape brings to life the beautiful concept of serving people and loving them unconditionally. The people we lead place their present circumstances, future aspirations, faith, and trust in our hands. What better way to lead them than by making leadership about THEM and not about us? This is the true essence of agape.
How does my focus on agape look in a day-to-day situation? I recently had an unexpected encounter with someone in my community. This individual sent me a threatening and angry letter impugning my psychology credentials. The letter stated that if I didn’t change the verbiage of my credentials on my professional profiles, he was going to report me to the State of Wisconsin Board of Review.
Of course, after reading the letter, I experienced many emotions, primarily anger, fear, and defensiveness. But after taking a breath, I decided to approach the letter from a very intentional space. When I re-read the letter through the lens of agape, I saw a person who had encountered a plethora of hoops he had to jump through to get his clinical psychology licensure. Wisconsin has one of the hardest processes to become licensed compared with other states, while an Industrial/Organizational psychologist, like myself, does not have to be licensed in the state of Wisconsin. When I reread the letter with unwarranted love and graciousness, I could see that the words he used reflected pride in his profession, and he probably felt that he had to defend that accomplishment against someone who had not followed a similarly perceived process.
Next, I actively sought the benefit of my encounter with this individual. I reached out to work with him on determining an appropriate resolution. I expressed my desire to understand his concerns, and I asked for assistance in learning where I may have been mistaken. My courteous approach seemed to disarm him (an unintended consequence, but welcome nonetheless) so much so that his first comment was, “I feel very stupid. I overreacted and I am embarrassed by my approach and the tone that I used in the letter. I now realize that your profession does not have the same licensure requirements as mine. In fact, it looks like the legislators were deliberately vague.” I continued to extend love and graciousness to this intelligent, humble professional. I thanked him for his concern and his insights. He thanked me for my thoughtful approach to his hostility and the grace that I granted him.
Agape offered my new friend and me a deeper understanding of Wisconsin psychology licensure practices and genuine respect for one another. So far, I am grateful for my 2022 agape practice. I think it will be a challenge to continue incorporating it into my daily life – especially when I am tired, grumpy, or overwhelmed – but initial reviews indicate that there is much positivity to be gained from this mindset!
What is your Word of the Year? If you can’t think of one, consider using agape. It may take your leadership and relationship building practices to wonderful and unexpected places.