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The word we’ve chosen for 2024 is powerful.



We’re kicking off a new year, and for Mylene and I, the co-founders of SmallGood, it’s not just time to stock up on office supplies like sticky notes and colorful pens (which frankly, we will use any excuse to do…!)  – it’s also time for our word of the year.

 

This annual practice of choosing a word to help us set an intention for the year ahead feels crucial to us. We’ve been doing it for the past four years now because this process gives us a chance to reflect on the last 12 months - and gives us a touchstone for the next 12.  

 

In case you haven’t been keeping track, for 2020 our word was Antiracism. In 2021: Openness. For 2022 it was Compost. And last year, we chose Unsettled. 

 

The word we’ve chosen for 2024 is powerful. And no, we’re not just saying our word is a powerful one. Though it is that - it's actually powerful. That’s our word.


When we started talking about powerful as our word for 2024, some mixed feelings came up about it.  

 

For one thing, we are very aware that having power isn’t always a good thing. People, organizations, and countries can use their power to hurt and oppress, to shame and exclude, to diminish and destroy – we all have seen plenty of examples of that.

 

It also felt a little at odds with what we’ve been feeling personally. Given the current state of the world, we’ve often found ourselves feeling pretty powerless.

 

We’ve felt powerless as we’ve watched the death toll in Palestine and Israel rise, the victims disproportionally children, as well as the escalation of the war in Ukraine.



We've felt powerless as we've heard the warnings that unless we act now, climate change will continue to bring extreme heat and extreme floods, destroy plants, decimate animals’ habitats, and cause a global freshwater shortage by 2040.

 

We've felt powerless when we learned that more than 40,000 people were killed by gun violence in the U.S. in 2023. 40,000.


We've felt powerless in the wake of the anti-LGBTQ legislation passed this year.


We’ve felt powerless in the face of our country’s continued systemic racism and inequity.

 

And we’ve asked ourselves, how do we even make a dent?


Sometimes we just want to throw our hands in the air, curl up on the couch, and binge watch “The Bear.” Again. And yes, Sydney, we see you holding it all together - you are our hero.

 


The truth is we live in a world we didn’t create and can’t control. We are not all POWERFUL. As much as we’d like to be.

 

But we do have power. Power and powers that we may not immediately see or even realize we have. You could even call these “hidden powers,” kind of like those superheroes before they discover what they can do. And one thing we want to remember this coming year is something it’s too easy to forget:

 

Embracing the power we have can make a difference. It may not seem like it does in the moment. But it can. And it does.


So, what kind of powers do we have (and by we, we mean you, as well)?  Here are a few we came up with.  




1.   The power to learn from our mistakes.

 

One of the things we love most about SmallGood is that it keeps us on our toes. It pushes us, challenges us, and keeps us learning and growing - from our partners, designers, writers, strategists, and our clients. And one of the ways we learn the most is from our mistakes.


Just one example: this past year we were hired by Aspen Digital, a part of the Aspen Institute. We were brought on to help launch a new initiative they were incubating, one created to help hold the tech industry accountable for real and measurable diversity, equity, and inclusion.


In the process of working on this project (we helped them develop their name, Tech Accountability Coalition, and their brand identity and messaging) we found ourselves learning so much more about what it means to be genuinely diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Now, one of the reasons Aspen Digital hired us is because we’re a woman-owned and woman-led business and we’re already familiar with the DEI space. And we went into this project knowing a lot – and thinking we knew a lot.


But along the way, we had our eyes opened wider. One of the ways that happened was because of one of the writers who worked with us on the project.

 

At SmallGood we always try to put together the right creative and strategic team for every project – one of the advantages of our distributed model versus having a lot of full-time staff. For this project, we brought on a 30-something black woman writer whom we’d worked with before, whose perspective and creativity we’d always appreciated. Someone we trusted to see things we couldn’t see, and bring things to the table we probably wouldn’t.

 

And she called us out.


I came of age in the 70s and have been a feminist longer than many reading this have been alive. I also grew up in the north, where we use the word "guys" to refer to... well... everyone. Same for Mylene. And we had never really given that much thought.

 

Until this writer emailed me after a client meeting and gently pointed out that our use of the word “guys” might leave some people feeling excluded. When she mentioned it, I said, “Oh, it’s just a northern thing…I doubt anyone took offense.” In truth, I was a little annoyed with her for bringing it up. But I thought about it and realized she was right - even though I never meant it, the word” guys” does exclude women and says that “guy” is the standard. And it dawned on me: I would never address a mixed-gender group of people as “gals…” So yeah. And…Ouch. 


But as painful as it was, it was exactly why we’d hired her - not to see things just like we did, not to rubber stamp us. 

 


In the culture Mylene and I grew up in, and in the culture of the big ad agencies we have worked in, making a mistake was never seen as a good thing. Thanks to the pervasiveness of white supremacy cultural values, perfectionism was honored, and mistakes were personal and reflected badly on the person who made them.


Part of the anti-racism work we’ve been doing has been reframing our view and seeing that we have the power to see mistakes as just mistakes. That gives us the power to learn from our mistakes - when we admit them and normalize them, we grow and change.


And that’s good for everyone.




2.   The power to tell a different story.

 

I’ve been listening to a new podcast this year, called Wiser Than Me,” in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus sits down and chats with older women like Jane Fonda, Carol Burnett, and Isabel Allende “to get schooled in how to live a full and meaningful life.” I highly recommend it.

 

We live in a society in which growing old is often portrayed as a devastating decline, as a sad inevitable slide into ineptitude and worthlessness. And for older women, it’s even worse. Starting as early as 50, women are (consciously and unconsciously) all too frequently painted as inconsequential and rendered invisible.

 

But none of the women interviewed in “Wiser Than Me” have been letting others tell that story about them. They are each, in their own way, shaping and telling their own stories.

 

I recently came across this quote from Jane Fonda that I really appreciate,


“I spent a lot of time like a canoe with no paddle being carried in the current. As I got older, I learned I’m going to put an oar in the water and steer.”

 

Yes, there is a lot we don’t have power over in the world. But our own story doesn’t have to be one of them.  Uncovering our best story, claiming that story, telling it, and living it, is one of the ways we can put our oars in the water and steer.

 

In SmallGood, one of the clients we’ve been working with this year on owning their narrative is the Jacobs Institute. A world-renowned leader in the treatment of vascular and neurological disease, led by brilliant neurosurgeons, their unique approach to collaborative innovation helps reduce the time it takes to identify, create, and nurture the best ideas into usable technology to fight vascular disease.

 

They are kind of like the Tesla of vascular medicine.


The Jacobs Institute


However, though they have been around for many years, very few people have ever heard of them, or have any idea what they do, or how important their work is.

 

So, the JI brought us on to help them change that by changing their narrative and helping them change the way they tell their story. Rather than just complaining, “Why don’t people get what we do - It’s not brain surgery….!” they decided to look with fresh eyes at the story they’d been sharing and let it go – so they could tell a better one.  

 

It was a powerful move on their part because it's going to help people better understand who they are and what they do. Who knows, it may also change them because as psychotherapist and advice columnist Lori Gottlieb said in her Ted Talk:

 

“The way we narrate our lives shapes what they become. That's the danger of our stories because they can mess us up, but it's also their power. It means if we can change our stories, then we can change our lives.”




3.   The power to choose who and what we listen to.

 

There are a lot of voices out there telling us what to believe and how to feel. Some speak louder than others. Many of them have a very dismal view of humanity and are quite good at driving people apart versus bringing them together. Some of them make the problems in our world seem unsolvable – which often breeds the reaction of “So why even try?”

 

But there are other voices we can hear, if we listen well, that tell a more positive story.

 

We felt so grateful for the positive outlook of the family foundation, Alta Futures, who we created branding, messaging, and a website for this year. Their founders are infectiously optimistic and believe the solutions to the world’s problems are already out there. They believe innovators are working right now on sustainable ways to make the future better. And Alta Futures is committed to seeking out and funding those people and projects. One of the quotes they found inspiring – as do we – is this one from Nigel Topping:

 

“We have to seek out positive examples of change and share them widely because the stories we tell most often are the ones that will come true.”


Mylene and I both separately came upon some pretty powerful soundtracks to this more hopeful and positive outlook on life, this year. One of my favorite singer/songwriter discoveries of the year was Joy Oladokun, who doesn’t gloss over the struggles she has had and continues to have in her life, but also doesn’t let them have the final say. As her song “Look Up” tells us: “You know trouble’s always gonna be there, don’t let it bring you to your knees, look up.”

 

One of Mylene’s musical discoveries of the year was Michael Franti. He has a song that begins with this acknowledgment, "Nobody gets out pain-free...Nobody doesn't get lonely... And nobody doesn't need a brand-new start. That's how life reminds us we're alive."

 

These artists have helped us remember that just because so much in the world is broken, it isn’t irreparable. Their positive voices have shown us the power of “switching the station.”Instead of just listening to the voices of doom and gloom, we have the power to tune in to something different. We can choose to believe all is not lost and keep taking the next step forward and the next.

 

-----

 

So yeah, Powerful is our word for 2024.

 

It’s our antidote to powerlessness.

 

A word to remind us there is power in learning, power in narratives, and power in what we focus on.


A word to help us remember that although we aren’t all-powerful, we often have more power than we sometimes feel we do.

A word to remind us that even though we aren’t all-powerful, we have enough power to do good (however small) in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of situations.

 

Maybe it will encourage you to claim some of your hidden powers this year as well. (And if you do that, please get in touch and tell us about it – we’d love to hear from you.)

 

Wishing you a wonderful - and powerful - 2024!

 



 

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