My Theme for 2017 – Choosing Honey over Vinegar (And Why 2016 Was Actually A Pretty Great Year)


honey over vinegar
Scrolling through my Facebook news feed over the last week, I saw a ton of people complaining about how crappy this year was. Every single one of them cite the crazy political environment and all the celebrity deaths.

Everything points back to news articles and blog posts. The great irony is some of these posts they are linking to aren’t even real. #FakeNewsProbs. But, all of them are negative and pessimistic in tone and style.

It was bothering me especially since every single person complaining is being influenced (often times subconsciously) by the media. How do I know this?

Because up until about 7 years ago, I was a part of the problem. There’s a lot of things I love about journalism, but the one thing that I can’t stand is that – If it bleeds, it leads – is very real in the media industry. Every single journalist can tell you this. If they say otherwise, they are lying or in denial. Media views and ratings go way up when they report on negative, fear-inducing events.

I knew deep down it was a real problem when I was working the assignment desk one weekend almost 7 years ago and I got giddy when there was a plane crash. I ended up breaking the lead story that weekend as a newbie 22-year-old journalist. It even got featured on CNN and was picked up by the Breaking News Twitter account.

I didn’t stop to realize until later on that I broke this story, but it only happened because another family lost a loved one that day when he lost control of his plane and it crashed into a field. I was so preoccupied with celebrating my big career moment that I lost sight of the fact that my big moment came at the expense of someone else dying. That’s fucked up at the highest level.

Don’t get me wrong- reporting on the not-so-good stuff is important, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of all the positive stuff not being reported or getting buried day after the day.

Most of us don’t stop to think about how the content we take in impacts us. If all you are reading are CNN articles – which might as well be renamed – “OMG THE WORLD IS GOING TO END TOMORROW (ALL CAPS NECESSARY)”- and Buzzfeed listicles, then of course you are going to feel like crap and think the year was terrible.

I’m saying all of this because I thought this year was not particularly great too until I stopped and really evaluated how my year actually was (and not just what the news was telling me).

On a whim, I posted this update on Facebook curious to hear more about the best things that happened to all of my friends in 2016.


The responses I’m getting are awesome. A few got married. Some more bought houses, got dogs, went on epic vacations and started new companies. All of those things sound like the makings of a pretty sweet year.

Besides posting this update which was fairly spontaneous, for the last four years, I’ve deliberately set aside a lot of time the week between Christmas and New Year’s to evaluate the past year and set my theme for the year ahead.

I realize how geeky this probably sounds, but I look forward to this every year. I always start by thinking of it in four parts – the good things, the not-so-good things, the things I want to change and the things I’m excited about. It sums up everything from personal, professional, relationships, travel, and health.

For the past 3 of those years, I’ve shared my theme for the year in a blog post. My theme in 2014 was change and resiliency. In 2015, it was vulnerability and in 2016 it was mindfulness.

When I did this, I realized this year wasn’t better than last year (Last year was fucking great btw!), but overall it was pretty good.

I’ll recap some of the best things that happened this year.

  • Getting to explore, work and hang out with both new and old friends across 6 countries
  • Speaking at my first large conference (CMX Summit East)
  • Helping organize and run two awesome conferences for my job.

For the sake of being transparent, here’s some of the biggest things that weren’t so good. These are things that I wish I would have done differently, mistakes I made and things I want to change moving forward.

  • My biggest failures this year were around dating and relationships. One of of my goals was to put myself out there more and try and meet a nice guy. While I went on some promising dates and met a couple of guys who were pretty cool, I let convenient excuses – like travel or work – or frankly my own laziness and deep-seated trust issues – get in my own way.
  • Getting stuck in my own negative self doubt and struggling to ask for help when I get stuck more often than I want to admit.
  • While I made pretty big strides in terms of fitness this year, I’m still not working out as consistently as I want to be.

This analysis helped me put my year in perspective and grounded me so that I could do the really hard work of reviewing my year in more detail and setting my theme and word for 2017.

I started to think about where I wanted to be and what I wanted to achieve by this time next year. I have 4 categories – personal, professional, travel and health – and set 2 goals in each category. Here’s a few of my goals.

  • Be a lifelong student and a better marketer and community manager. Attend at least 2 conferences or events this year.
  • Spend less time mindlessly binge-watching TV shows on Netflix and Hulu and more time both creating content and deepening new and existing relationships (including dating).
  • For the last couple of years, I’ve said I wanted to focus more energy on dating and hopefully meeting a great guy but my actions haven’t fully matched my words. 2017 will be the year that I finally change that.
  • Travel to at least 3 new countries.

I wanted something over-arching that encompasses all of the goals I set for myself. The theme I came up with was – Honey over Vinegar.

My ongoing theme for next year is being positive instead of negative, being nice and serving others more than myself – which are the necessary building blocks for everything great, meaningful and productive to flourish. You can get a lot more accomplished and deal with challenges better when you are nice (“i.e. choose the honey”) than being mean, demanding, petty or bitter (“i.e. vinegar.)

Here’s the thing I don’t want to be “Little Miss Sunshine” and always be happy and cheerful every minute of the day. That isn’t the answer. In fact, I’m terrified when I meet people who are literally always happy because those are the people who are incapable of having feelings. These people are what we call sociopaths. They are the same people who shoot up elementary schools and movie theaters.

But when you swing too far in the opposite direction and you are constantly negative and feel powerless. You are doing yourself and everyone around you a major disservice. I go back to this quote from Brene Brown in her book, “Rising Strong.”

“We are most dangerous to ourselves and to the people around us when we feel powerless. Powerlessness leads to fear and desperation.”

For example, powerlessness is what leads me (and so many others) to freak out about who are our next president is. The thing is President-Elect Trump (Man, that still doesn’t sound right?) is a narcissist, has a lot of power and surrounded himself with politicians who openly endorse the KKK and “conversion therapy.” However, the U.S. as a whole has way more power than Trump. Individually, we might not be able to make as big of an impact as we want, but if we unite, we can be fucking unstoppable. That’s how movements are born. Any history textbook can tell you that.

This was a really hard mental shift for me to make. My natural DNA is skewed to be negative, feel powerless, to find all the problems, and look for all that is wrong in the world. A lot of the people who I was around also had negative outlooks, which didn’t help. It took some really painful experiences and lessons (all of them in my 20s btw) and uncomfortable self-reflections to make me realize that having a negative outlook, complaining and even turning to sarcasm (my former weapon of choice) rarely leads to anything good. Plus, being negative all the time is exhausting and nobody in their right mind wants to be around that negativity.

Being negative holds me back and makes it harder to avoid succumbing to my greatest fear. The single, greatest fear that pushes me to get gutsy and jump out of my comfort zone every day is the fear that I am going to wake up 20, 30 or 40 years from now wondering what the hell I have been doing all these years. To take it one step further, It would be realizing that I’ve played it too safe, stayed too comfortable and made no positive lasting impact on anyone or anything.

I also realize life is so much better (not necessarily easier) when I can keep a positive outlook about how I see myself, everyone else around me and the world in general. Life is fucking hard, challenging, and downright depressing at times. But when I’m negative on top of that, it is unbearable and just leads me to feel tons of anxiety, self doubt and frustration. Things I’ve openly struggled with for more than 18 years.

Let’s be real. I am far from perfect and relapse more than I want to admit but I choose honey over vinegar, being positive over negative, action over whining and complaining any day of the week nowadays. If anyone who reads this sees me slipping back into negative town, please care enough to call me out on it. I’ll listen and be eternally grateful, I promise.

P.S. I’m not the only person who thinks 2016 was a pretty good year overall. Here’s a post with 99 reasons why it wasn’t so bad.

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Jessica Malnik

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