3 ways to start the year with intention

EXHALE! We made it through 2020. Maybe much hasn’t changed since the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2021, but the New Year brings with it a sense of hope, newness and the inspiration to be intentional. I, like everyone else, was ready to jump into 2021. The way 2020 was going, I wasn’t sure if maybe something would glitch and we would be held hostage in 2020 for yet another year, but we made it. 2020 will be a year that goes down in history.

I went through the last nine months as I did on my first tour to Iraq, telling myself, “I can do hard things.” My unit deployed to Kuwait for about two months. Then suddenly, we were packing our gear and headed to Iraq. It was surreal, confusing and scary. I felt the same way when my children’s school closed, grocery stores were barren and the world was locked down. I would repeat my famous phrase, “I can do hard things.” Iraq was tough and so is a global pandemic. In the middle of both, I learned a couple of lessons.  

  1. Be grateful 
  2. Make an impact where you are 
  3. Set small goals


On a 5-day convoy from a Forward Operating Base in Kuwait to Iraq, I could barely sleep. I was uncomfortable and it was cramped inside the truck transporting us. Not to mention, I missed home. As soldiers, you spend so much time together that you become family. I think at this point of the trip, everyone was a little delirious. But I remember someone told a joke, and the truck filled with laughter. That was the moment I understood gratitude. I was grateful for that moment. Amid roadside bombs and uncertainty, I found gratitude.

  • Gratitude changes the lens by which we see ourselves, our situations and the world around us. 
  • When we show up with intentional gratitude, it shifts our perception from external to internal. We can’t change external factors, but we become aware of how we want to show up.
  • Gratitude is our reminder to accept the things we can’t change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.
  • When we develop a discipline of gratitude, there is a ripple effect in our organizations, departments, communities and families.

Make an impact where you are

In the middle of the desert, I was in a postal unit. We sorted mail day in and day out. It was second nature to work a 16-hour day and still be on rotation during the night to stand guard. Every day, I also had the privilege of serving soldiers across Iraq by making sure they received their mail. Mail was the only consistent contact with the outside world. The excitement a deployed soldier gets when they receive mail is like a child trying to catch Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. I was making an impact; my team was making an impact. Making an impact happens one day, one step and one person at a time.

During the height of the pandemic, New Yorkers took to their windows to applaud, clap, blow their horns, and shout in support of health care workers. They used what they had to make an impact. Start where you are with what you have.

  • Your idea, process, skill, department or organization is the answer to someone’s problem. Start there.
  • Check on your employees, teammate and executives, especially the people we think are the “strong” ones because they are often forgotten.
  • Let people know that they are important and they matter.
  • Do something kind for someone without the expectation of reciprocity.
  • I make this question an all-day event on my calendar. Who can I impact today?

Set small goals

How do you eat an elephant? I’m not sure who eats elephants, but you would eat it one bite at a time if you did. Our teams, customers and communities are still feeling the effects of the pandemic. Businesses are trying to recover, reopen and rebound. Many of us are juggling work, life and homeschool. It is difficult for some people to plan out the next month, much less the year when the overwhelm of last year is still lurking.

  • Setting small achievable goals creates momentum for our teams
  • Present large goals in bite-sized pieces, so it’s easier to digest.
  • Look at goals that you can achieve with the least amount of effort but create high value.
  • Use daily stand-up or check-in meetings to ask how your team is doing and gauge morale.
  • Celebrate the small wins.

The treasure isn’t in the destination; it’s found along the journey. Live that journey intentionally.  

Voya is collaborating with Portia Scott through the Voya Just Right Advantage™ program to deliver value-add education to minority, women, veteran, disability and LGBTQ-owned small businesses and not-for-profits. These communities have felt a disproportionate impact from the pandemic, and Voya is providing extra support and help.

Portia is the host of the Wake Up & Show Up podcast, speaker and vision execution partner on a mission to inspire and empower individuals with the tools they need to make their goals clear and plan of action clearer.