Back In 2019, I gave my first TEDx talk. And if you watch that recording today, what you’ll see is a guy talking pretty confidently about something he is not 100% sure works yet.
I had a hunch it did, I was pretty convinced.
But giving that talk — in so many ways — was my way of telling myself, “Well, Joe, there’s no going back now. We’re gonna find out if this thing is for real.”
Four years later, I can say with the utmost confidence — it is.
Naming Your Years In Advance
During that TEDx talk, I shared my practice of naming my years in advance. I’d been doing it for a few years leading up to that talk, and have done it every year since. It started as a way to set an intention — not only for the year to come, but really a purpose for how I wanted to talk one day about the life I’d led.
It starts with imagining every year of your life as the chapters of a book. What names would you give those chapters?
“Bad at Basketball”
“Falling In Love, Twice”
“Started a Business”
“The Year They Left.”
“Finally All Grown Up”
This is how most of us would chapter our books — looking back.
But the way I began to get the most out of my life, and the years in them, was by looking ahead.
As far as I could tell, it was the closest thing to actual time travel. Going into the future, finding a word or name that captures the year I’d had, and bringing it back to this moment, here, in the present, before I’d lived a minute of it.
Not a goal, not a theme, and certainly not a resolution. This is a word that captured what I’d done, not what I hoped for.
But where to begin finding such a word or an idea?
Making an “It Would Be Cool To” list.
Realizing at some point that my life was full of big goals and aspirations, I knew I needed a way to make what I wanted out of life more specific and granular. How else would I know how to name my year in advance? So I started to keep a running list of things that would simply make me happy. An “It Would Be Cool To…” list.
Some of the items on my list this year have included:
It’s not a bucket list, laced with an air of finality and “last chance” mentality. It’s a living, shifting thing, subject to updates and tinkering as my desires, circumstances, and possibilities change.
The best part? There’s no pressure to accomplish anything on this list — it’s not a set of goals that need to be achieved. But if I manage to cross off an item here and there, I’ll be able to look back and say “that was pretty cool.”
Use your list to name your year
Once you’ve got a decent working list of things that would be cool to do next year, you’re ready to name that year.
In July of last year, I named my 2023 “Ukiyo”, a Japanese phrase that translates to “The Floating World.” And this year, 2023 — the year of Ukiyo, I’ve seen that name blossom and come to fruition.
I’m currently writing this while on a boat, floating through Japan. Pretty cool.
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This experience helped me realize that what’s often missing from our lives is a little intention, and a bit of declaration. It isn’t magic, not supernatural. It’s opportunity, set loose by our willingness to say, “I’m not sure if this works or not, but I’m willing to take a chance.”
Naming your years in advance gives you clarity.
When I first started naming my years I felt a profound sense of unknown and doubt. What if this doesn’t go the way I said it would, does it mean I was wrong? Will the year be ruined?
But what I’ve discovered over the years is that naming your year gives you a framing device with which to make decisions. Clarity, to know whether something you’re about to do aligns with the intention you’ve set for your year. It’s way to focus on what brings you closer to happiness.
I know it’s saying a lot, but I truly believe this practice brings a sense of purpose and direction to a life, helping it move in an interactive an fluid way through our hands. It’s an opportunity to periodically stop and measure our success. To recalibrate. Realign. At the end of the year, you can look back at all these things you’ve done that brought joy and intention into your life. You can see the happiness that played out.
And hopefully, by 11:59pm on Dec 31st, you’ll hold your glass high and say, “That was a pretty cool year” while a new one rolls in.
Joe Martin is a Chicago-based business growth consultant and author. He has built and exited two companies, while his innovative ideas around work-life balance have been featured on WGN, FOX, and the TEDx stage.