I consume a lot of podcast content, listening as I commute to and from work each day. It was the end of 2019, and the hosts of a new podcast were discussing goal setting for 2020. They recommended selecting a single word to help maintain focus on the goals during the year. I thought this sounded great! I wrote down a bunch of words that inspired me. I picked one for my “Word of the Year” for 2020: “Creativity”. I set some goals, and I was ready.

Then 2020 happened, COVID happened, my goals were derailed, and my “Word of the Year”  no longer resonated with me. Every day became an exercise in surviving uncertainty. I changed my word a few times, finally settling on “Flexibility.” That helped me stay focused on keeping our pediatric office functioning and keeping myself sleeping through the night.

Each year since, I have picked a new “Word of the Year.” In 2022, my word was “Curiosity.” It sounded exciting to explore ways to be curious in my life. However, my brain, who is a big fan of the status quo, quickly resisted this idea. Being curious sounded so simple, but I struggled all year, trying to practice an open mindset.  I had a lot of goals, but my perfectionist self resisted starting something new until I was certain it would be perfect at the end. The year of 2022 continued to hurl uncertainty at me. By November, I finally admitted to myself I was not going to get good at being curious this year. I did, however, realize that I would have to let go of the need for certainty first, before I could begin to cultivate meaningful curiosity. This awareness was a breakthrough for me, an important lesson that personal change is hard and that this work takes time. 

After the past tough couple of years, I was tired and wanted a break. I decided to pick an easy word for 2023. I chose “Kindness”. I am a pediatrician, and have been for 20 years. Being kind to parents and children is what I do all day long, right? But I wondered, how can I possibly deepen my practice of kindness? What does kindness really mean (other than be nice, don’t be mean)?

Recently, I listened to a podcast about compassion. The podcast guest mentioned loving-kindness as one of the four heart qualities in the Buddhist tradition. This made me pause. I had seen this in my meditation app, and I knew then this would become part of my daily meditation practice.  The guest went on to describe how kindness can be a response when we see someone suffering. However, he cautioned against responding with pity instead of kindness. This was another subtle shift in thinking, and I plan to work on being compassionate towards, rather than “feeling sorry” for others. I realized that many times I could also be kind and compassionate towards myself, too.

Suddenly, “Kindness” does not seem quite so easy anymore. But as a guiding word, a word to steady me on the hard days, it is a very worthwhile word to have. I still have lots of ideas and goals for 2023. As I work on my goals, I will also practice self compassion. I hope to be mindful of speaking kindly to myself as well as my family, my coworkers, and my patients. I expect that some days kindness will be easy, and some days it will probably be hard. 2023 is still unwritten. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that I will circle back to my struggle with uncertainty, even as I work on deepening my practice of kindness.

Blog submitted by: Sheryl Leidecker, MD, FAAP