Yearly Themes | #9

In this week’s episode, we’ll talk about yearly themes – what are they, do you need one, and how I’ve used over the last two years, and my theme for 2020. In this episode:

  • What’s a yearly theme?
  • Do you need a yearly theme?
  • My themes in 2018 and 2019, and my upcoming theme for 2020
  • The story shared in this episode: how yearly themes have helped me focus, grow, accept myself, and push me in the right direction

"The yearly themes I’ve used have helped transform my life. They’ve helped me to focus, to grow and accept myself, and have even helped heal me physically, emotionally, mentally, and even creatively.”

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How to Use and Create a Yearly Theme
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You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Soundcloud, and more. Find links to all the apps here. If you like listening to the audio on video, you can also watch via my YouTube channel, or just read the transcript for the episode, too (you'll find it at the bottom of the page). You can also support the podcast (and me!) on Patreon

After you listen, join our podcast community on Facebook or comment below and let me know: Have you tried yearly themes before? Will you try a yearly theme for 2020? 

As with many of my podcast episodes, I have a FREE resource to help you - just enter your info below to get a FREE worksheet to help you define your yearly theme.

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[00:00:00] In this week's episode, we'll talk about yearly themes. What are they? Do you need one? And how I've used them over the last two years, plus my theme for 2020. If this sounds like something you're interested in, please keep listening.

[00:00:13] You may write alone, but you are not alone. Inside the Writer's Soul focuses on how personal experiences can inform your writing and help you speak from the soul to really connect with readers and other authors as well. Your writer's soul doesn't need to take the writing and publishing journey alone. Join me, your host M. Khan, and let's move forward together.

[00:00:39] Hello and welcome to another episode! Today I'm talking about yearly themes. I first discovered yearly themes as part of the planer community, which is just exactly what it sounds like. A community of people who enjoy using planners, typically paper planners like a traveler's notebook or brands like Blue Sky or Day Designer or something similar. I'm a very organized person and I used a planner for many years until around 2013 when I just didn't really need it anymore, not even for my day job. When I switched jobs a few years later, that's when I decided to start using one again, and that's when I stumbled upon the idea of a yearly theme after I heard someone in the community speaking about it.

[00:01:23] A yearly theme is a theme that you set for your life for a particular year. This theme can take any number of different variations. For me, it's usually a succinct concept that I want to follow for the year. It can even be a quote that motivates you. It can be an idea that motivates you for the year. So there are lots of different things that can become your theme. The yearly themes I've used have helped transform my life, they've helped me to focus, to grow and accept myself and have even helped heal me physically, emotionally, mentally, and even creatively.

[00:01:59] Now, there is also something called a word of the year that can also help motivate and inspire you and I'm actually going to talk about that in the next episode of the podcast, because that can be a little bit different. For now, let me give you some examples of what a yearly theme might look like by sharing how I've used them over the past two years.

[00:02:19] The first time I used a yearly theme was in 2018. I had just read Shonda Rhimes' book, "The Year of Yes", and that is what inspired my theme for that year. For those who have not read the book, I do recommend it. In the book, Shonda Rhimes talks about saying yes to things that she would not ordinarily have said yes to right away. Whether that was something simple, like spending time playing with her child in the morning instead of rushing off to work, or saying yes to different opportunities that would come her way. I decided to use the flip side of that idea for my theme. So my 2018 theme was "My Year of No". That's right. N-O. I've shared on the podcast before that 2017 was a really rough year for me because it was the first year since I started self-publishing that I did not publish a single book for a variety of reasons, and I was feeling very dejected and worn down and just really unaccomplished at the end of that year. So when I decided to pick a theme, I wanted something that would help motivate me and inspire me to change my life in the right direction.

[00:03:26] The idea of a yearly theme felt like it was something simple enough that I could easily wrap my head around it, and it was something I could incorporate into my daily life without too much fuss. So for me, my year of no meant that I was saying no to those people who were not there for me. Usually people would say jump, and I would not even wait to ask how high because I would just start jumping even if I had a broken foot. I was constantly doing things for other people, giving and giving and giving to them, but they were just taking in return and weren't giving anything back. And I decided that I couldn't keep saying yes to people and to situations and to other things that were making me unsafe, whether that was physically, emotionally, mentally or even creatively. My year of no was saying no to a lot of the people in my life, and it was hard. It was really, really fucking hard. When I first started to say no to people, they didn't want to accept it. They would try to pressure me, they would try to bully me, and they would passively-aggressively try to push me into doing what they wanted me to do.

[00:04:34] Sometimes it was something simple, like they wanted me to come to their house for dinner, and you might think, well, that seems innocuous enough. Why would you say no to that? Well, what if I told you that their house was a little bit of a drive, which could mean a few hours or even 30 minutes in really rough traffic, which meant driving there on my own, then driving back really late at night, even on the interstate, on my own in an older car that's still good, but is not great and has broken down. And while I was there for dinner, I would be surrounded by several people who would try to make me feel bad in a variety of ways. They would make passive-aggressive comments all night about my lack of a husband or about my choice of career or about my looks. The comments about my looks were the worst. They comment on my glasses, or my hair, my clothes, or my crooked teeth, and basically anything they could think of. I would walk away from dinner feeling emotionally drained and exhausted and depressed and feeling like I wasn't good enough, and those were situations I wanted to avoid. So I started to say no.

[00:05:39] When you first start to change yourself, when you first start to take steps in the right direction, even if that direction is away from someone who you've known for a long time, you will get backlash from it. You will get people saying things to you, doing things to you, and making you feel like your choice is the wrong one. But I was in a space at that point physically and mentally and emotionally and creatively that I needed to keep saying no, regardless of how much other people lashed out against me. I had to keep saying no to those wrong opportunities. Those dinners weren't moving me in the right direction in life. They kept me from moving forward and I was sick of standing still or walking backwards.

[00:06:22] It took about six months of saying no before people stop lashing out so much. They didn't necessarily accept that. I was saying no, but they were at least less awful to me about it. That's not saying much because there are some people who still to this day are awful to me when I say no to things, but now I just roll my eyes and then roll on with my life.

[00:06:43] By the end of 2018, I felt so much better and so much more in control of my life. I started to recover from my really rough previous year. I'd even managed to publish some books and get back on a writing track, and I finally started to ease back into a healthy space for myself. And that was what my first yearly theme did for me.

[00:07:06] When I was thinking about a theme for 2019, I decided to keep going. Just because the year ended didn't mean I stopped saying no to things that were unhealthy for me. I still kept doing that, but I picked a new theme to sort of build on that and take the next steps that I needed to take. So my theme for this year has been to "Love My Life". I have spent a lot of time over the previous decades of my life listening to people who have told me that my life is wrong in a number of different ways. I hear from people who say I'm wrong because of my faith, because of the color of my skin. I hear people say I am wrong because of the fact that I am unmarried at "my age" and that I don't have kids, and on and on and on for so many years. I had internalized their thoughts and begun to dislike myself and my own life.

[00:07:55] Now there are definitely things in my life that need improvement. Absolutely. But loving my life does not mean I ignore the less happy parts of it. You can still love your life even when parts of it are really shitty. Loving your life is not an all or nothing scenario. I'm going to be honest and say that I have a lot of debt. It's not something I ever wanted to have, but it's the reality I face. It is really hard to talk about because there is so much debt-shaming in the world today, and so much debt shaming even in the Muslim community that I never talk about it.

[00:08:28] But loving my life doesn't mean that I'm not working to make things better. It just means I need to love and be grateful for the things that I do have, and love the progress that I'm making towards paying off those debts. For me, loving my life means loving where I live. It means loving what I eat. It means loving myself and my body, because the body dysmorphia that I have is also something that needs to be overcome and addressed because I've been shamed for my body a lot. I've been called too tall, even too short, too fat, or even too thin. My hair is too curly, or if I straighten it, then it's too straight. People will always find something wrong with you. And I internalized all of those things and I didn't love myself at all. Not really. I didn't even look at myself in the mirror anymore. Sure, I would check to make sure that I didn't have something on my face or in my teeth, but I never really looked at myself. So part of this year has been to accept myself more. I wanted to love the different parts of my body that other people had hated for so long.

[00:09:29] I wanted to love the different parts of my life that people had said were shameful, or were wrong for whatever bullshit thing that they thought of, and so that's what I've been doing this entire year, and it has made such a difference to my life. It doesn't mean I don't get stressed or frustrated or anything else when dealing with those shitty your parts of my life, but you could still love the shitty parts of your life even while you work to improve them. I can still love who I am and the things that I like and be proud of myself and what I've accomplished in my life this far.

[00:10:00] Maybe the reason I have found someone yet is because I need someone who's gonna really love me. And in order for someone to love me, I really have to love myself first, and I didn't do that for a really long time. Even now, it's something I'm still learning to do. I look back and I'm amazed at how far I've come in these past two years. If I had not chosen a theme in 2018 and 2019, I don't know that I would have started this podcast. I don't know that I would have taken the step to put myself out there as I have through this podcast or my blog or other spaces, because for so long I was afraid to put myself out there. So many people had rejected me in different ways, and I just didn't want to be rejected again.

[00:10:42] That is what having a yearly theme has really done for me. It has helped to push me forward and to accept myself and to love myself and help me say no to those people and situations that I don't need to be in and that make me feel unsafe. It has given me confidence and it's given me focus and it's given me such an ability to just really love myself and who I am, and I'm so thankful for it.

[00:11:07] So what does that mean for 2020? My theme for next year will be "Healthy Me, & Fuck You". I'm actually really proud of that theme. Just like with my 2018 theme, My Year of No, and my 2019 theme of Loving My Life, both of those are things I will continue to do into next year. But even as I continue the work under those themes, there are also other things I still want to change or improve. I want to get out of debt for once and for all. I want to become completely healthy and stop ignoring signs my body's giving me and find a doctor who will listen. So my 2020 is not just about being healthy physically, but also financially and creatively too. I'm going to prioritize becoming healthy in different areas of my life, and saying no or fuck no to things that don't make me healthy or to people who don't take my health seriously. For 2020, I really want to reset my health in a way. I want to reset my finances, and I want to continue to become better.

[00:12:09] People are always changing. Even when we think we're not changing, we are. For many years, the problem was that I kept changing backwards or I would move left or right, but not forward. The more people told me that I wasn't worth anything, the more people who tried to shame me or tell me that I wasn't a good person because I didn't fit their idea of what a woman or a Muslim woman or a woman of color should be at "my age", the more I internalized it, the more I buried myself in that filth that they were telling me. That's something that will take a long time to change. Decades of listening to people who tell you that you are less is not going to be reversed overnight or even in a year. It's something that I need to keep working at. I need to keep loving myself and my life and who I am and what I'm doing. I need to accept myself and be proud of who I've become.

[00:13:01] Now, I chose very personal yearly themes, but these themes also helped me with my writing. By saying no in 2018 to situations and people that did not help me, I had less stress and anxiety which helped me write and helped me recover from my rough previous year. By loving myself and loving my life in 2019, part of that was also loving my books. I've heard from people that tell me maybe I should change my books this way or change something about it that way. Maybe I should just rewrite the entire first book in a series or change its title or do something to it. Marketing tactics aside, essentially I kept hearing people tell me that they didn't like my books in a variety of different ways, but my books aren't bad and I'm really proud of them. So when I decided to start loving my life, I also started really loving my books, too, just as they were and being proud of the work I'd done because a lot of people loved them too. We tend to focus on the negative comments. We internalize those negative comments, which I talked a little bit about in last week's episode. But they're really good and I shouldn't be ashamed to say that I'm proud of my books as they are. So that is a glimpse into what yearly themes have meant to me, how they have helped me and how I'm going to be using my yearly theme for 2020.

[00:14:21] In next week's episode, I'll talk about words of the year and how they can also be used similarly to help motivate or inspire or encourage you. For now, I want to hear from you. Have you tried yearly themes before? Will you try a yearly theme for 2020? Head to the blog now and leave a comment or join our podcast community on Facebook. As with many podcasts, I have a resource to help you. Head to the blog now to download a set of free worksheets to help you decide on a yearly theme. The link's in the show notes. I'd also be very grateful if you could leave a review for this podcast wherever you like to listen. Thank you.

[00:15:00] Thank you for listening to this episode. Check out the show notes for links to my blog and our community where you can get involved in the discussion and support others. While you're there, don't forget to sign up for my newsletter to get to free and powerful tools to help you. One: access to my growing library of free resources for authors; and Two: you'll also get access to my exclusive writing challenge "How to Write Faster in 14 Days" where I share all my tips and techniques that helped me finish over 20 works in five years. Check out the show notes for all the links and thanks again for being part of this community.

M. Khan

M. Khan has authored over 20 novels/novellas/short stories under a pen name, and is now working on a fantasy series under her own name. She teaches others how to plan holistically to get all the things done, and provides guidance and coaching to fellow authors.
How to Use and Create a Yearly Theme
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