Concurrents: Navigating 2024 with a Word of Purpose

Maria VanDeman

2024 brings with it a wealth of new opportunities. For many, this is a time for resolutions or “let’s try this again” promises to oneself, promises to friends or family, and the setting of lofty goals.  I myself am not a big fan of resolutions or far-reaching goals, but not for the reasons you might think.  Setting concrete, fixed landmarks feels very restrictive to me (and based on the 80% of people who open new January gym memberships only to cancel within five months, resolutions often prove unsustainable).  Instead, I like to focus on thoughtful progress along the journey as well as the destination.   

Renowned author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, advocates a similar perspective, asserting, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”  This means that while setting goals is all well and good, there’s more work to do if we want to light the path towards success.  We must examine the steps and the systems that propel us along the ride to a hopeful destination.  When we focus on the how as well as the what, we have more chance of finding success.

One of the ways that I leave myself space to examine the “how” is by adopting my very own “word of the year.”  And I’m not the only one.  Miriam Webster selected the word “authentic” for 2023, which really resonated at a time of so much fast-paced change in our world.  My own word for 2023 was “firmly rooted.”  And yes, I know that’s two words.  In the beautifully chaotic blur of life, family, career, personal responsibilities, and challenges, I strive to remain “firmly rooted” in who I am – physically, emotionally, professionally, and spiritually.     

Choosing a guiding word (or words) is an approach that is both actionable and vague- providing creativity and vision while avoiding the confines of rigid, immovable goals. It helps me to examine the path, and pivot where necessary to stay on course.  My 2024 “word of the year”  (which I’d be happy to tell you some day) builds upon my previous annual words and encapsulates my aspirations and values for the coming 12 months.  For further insight, I’ll be adding Jon Gordon’s book, One Word that will Change Your Life, to my audiobook list. 

Maybe for you, the word could function as a compass, providing a much-needed tool to help navigate the ups and downs of life and the year ahead.   It could function as a reminder- a reminder to stay true to yourself, live intentionally, and manifest the year you desire.  It could function as a new lens to view design, the industry, and our careers as a catalyst for change and innovation.  What I’m trying to say is that a “word of the year” can be used however you want it to be used. After all, it’s your journey!  

Ryan Menke, Chief Revenue Officer at OFS, echoes the sentiment of intentional living and habit creation. He advocates for habits that are “flexible enough to personalize, but uncomfortable enough to realize growth.” The idea of “uncomfortable growth” is one that really resonates with me too- the idea that growth occurs when we push ourselves beyond familiar boundaries and into spaces that might make us a bit uncomfortable.  Ryan’s approach to spurring this kind of growth at OFS includes a monthly fitness and wellness challenge, which helps employees to create intentional habits through short term goals, camaraderie, and philanthropy.  Not only do these challenges enhance individual well-being, but positive habits also contribute to the betterment of our work, families, and the world around us. 

As we step into 2024, let’s not start the year with the enthusiasm of a (metaphorical) new gym membership only to cancel after a few months. Without a proper strategy, most of us will fall victim to our lack of systems.  Instead, let’s focus on being members of the process and the incremental steps (both forward and backward) toward progress, not the goal.  Guided by a unique “word of the year,” our personal and professional journey is destined for learning, growth, and evolution – and fortunately, no gym memberships are required! 

Maria VanDeman, NCIDQ, IIDA, is an accomplished workplace advisor at OFS, interior designer, published children’s book author and advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.  With a passion for helping people and designing for human needs, Maria strives to make a positive impact on the world through her work and mentorship.  Connect with Maria on LinkedIn: