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John O’Leary shares how to set yourself up for success by picking your one word for 2021.

“The grass is always greener…
on the side you water.”

My favorite aspect of speaking is not the time on stage, the bright lights or the buzz of a packed arena. It’s the authentic connection and interactions with individuals afterward.

What I miss most in the 300 days since my last “normal” live presentation is hugging new friends, signing their books and hearing their stories. In a profoundly disruptive year, direct human connection with others is just one of so many things we’ve lost.

Yet, I have been reminded and shown again and again the many advantages to virtual meetings, too. One of my favorite aspects of virtual meetings is the ability to connect and correspond with participants in real time.

Technology has afforded the opportunity to both speak with audiences around the world during the pandemic and have real-time conversations with individuals in the audience like never before. If they have access to a keyboard, they can answer my questions, ask theirs and share feedback immediately.

Frequently I’ll begin a virtual presentation by inviting the online audience to share the one word that best summarizes their experiences in 2020.

What “dumpster fire” “unity” and “2020” have in common.

I’ve received thousands of responses from participants and the most common responses include: Exhausted. Chaotic. Unprecedented. Surreal. Dumpster-Fire. Painful. Challenging. Nightmare. Isolating. Miserable. Sad. The Worst.

Whoa! Clearly, 2020 is a year many of us can’t wait to end.

And yet.

There are, at every presentation, a spattering of positive words that are shared, too: Family. Faith. Togetherness. Unity. Reset. Pivot. Opportunity. Life. Creativity. Gratitude. Hope.

My friend, rather than answering what word best describes 2020 for you, today I invite you to consider instead what word will describe your year to come.

This was an exercise that Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff guided their team to consider as they embarked on a New Year.

The previous year had been packed with disappointments, injuries and let downs. Coach Swinney acknowledged that things had been difficult, but wanted to unify his team, galvanize their will and ensure their success looking forward.

What one word would take a group of 105 unique young men and transform them into a team that could go 15-0, steamroll their competition and win a national championship?

Was it fight or outwork or destroy or kill?


The word was seemingly more gentile, but undoubtedly more transformative. The word was joy.


Joy often gets confused with happy. Happy is a fleeting, shifting emotion. It’s dependent upon things going our way. Joy, on the other hand, is a state of mind. It is not easy, it is not common. But joy leads to a mindset of resiliency, of hope and of possibility.

Joy unified a bunch of college boys into an undefeated season.  Joy inspired them to play, work, smile, fight, learn, and win together. Joy didn’t make the journey easy, but did make the victory possible.

My friends, as you pivot away from 2020, and as you turn the page on whatever word you might use to describe it, I am confident that the decision to pursue joy will elevate your game in 2021, too.

Thanks for being part of our Live Inspired community.

Thanks for believing in the immense power within the present and embracing the unbridled hope for the future.

And thanks for believing that in spite of significant challenges and massive divisiveness, that the foundation remains firm, we are far better together, and our best days remain ahead.
Today is your day. Live Inspired.
John O’Leary

2 replies on “What’s Your One Word?”

So grateful that I chose to open your e-mail first, John! The first email of the new year from my workplace computer. Thinking about my word for 2021 and the power that I have to set the stage for the next 364 days.

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