A lot can happen in a year. Heck, a lot can happen in a DECADE. Up until a couple weeks ago, I hadn’t really stopped to think about how December 31, 2019 was not just the end of another year, but the end of a decade. So, when I did slow down to really wrap my mind around it, thinking back on the last ten years of my life allowed me to better process my vision for the next ten. I’ve gotten to focus on my goals and desires for 2020 and beyond over the last few days. And I happily discovered my word for the new year more quickly and confidently than I’ve ever done before. But, to top it all off, I am actually excited to move forward and pursue the meaning of that word: THRIVE.

When 2009 ended, I was in the middle of my junior year in college. I had long hair. I lived in a cute old house off-campus with two of my sorority sisters and best friends. I was gearing up to take my first trip to Europe in a study abroad program in the summer. I was in a committed relationship with my long-time boyfriend. I worked as a music intern at my church. My life basically revolved around Lambuth University, and the people and activities that were part of it. I had just turned 21. And honestly, I had a really hazy idea of what I wanted my life to look like after graduation and when I “grew up”.

I knew certain things, like, I wanted a job that involved music. I wanted marriage. I wanted to travel. But that was about it. (I also never lingered on the idea of not really knowing what I wanted to do, though, and that is not the point of this blog post. I’m not a firm believer in having to always know exactly what you want to do with your life. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing if you don’t!) And in some small way, I think what I really wanted was for everything and everyone in my life to stay pretty much the same. To simply grow with the years but never actually experience the pain of growth that comes with change.

Like the tough seasons of drought that would come. The pain of pruning away dead branches, and the sobering realization that fruit may never grow. I didn’t care for change all that much. Not the kind that I needed to experience.

Over the next four years, I would experience some incredible highs. In 2010 I spent 5 life-changing weeks in the United Kingdom. I lived in London and Edinburgh, Scotland. I traveled to Wales, Liverpool, Dublin, Paris, parts of Germany, and saw the Cliffs of Dover. I did it all with one of my best friends and learned so much about myself and the beautiful places we visited. In 2011, I gave my senior piano and voice recital. I graduated from college with a bachelor of arts degree. It was one of the proudest days of my life. I picked up a camera after graduation and began a new hobby, which quickly grew into more. I shot my first engagement session and then wedding, and it was amazing.

I also experienced some unbelievable lows. My beloved alma mater closed its doors in 2011, ending an era with my graduating class. Lambuth University ceased to exist as we knew it, and it was heartbreaking. In 2012, my Paw Paw, the patriarch of our family, passed away unexpectedly. I had never known greater grief. And in 2013, I walked out of a seven-year relationship with the man I thought I would spend my life with. Those tough seasons of change I was talking about earlier? These were some of them. Brutal seasons of transformation, questions, and doubt.

But in 2014, I applied for a job as a chorus teacher at the same middle school I attended as a kid. And, by the grace of God, I got it. I NEVER wanted to be a teacher. I avoided it, in fact. But life is funny and God has a sense of humor. That summer, I went back to Lakeshore for the first time since high school. I volunteered with two separate summer camps that worked with junior and senior high kids and it was so life-giving. This is where I met Josh, the man that would become my husband. September of that year held an incredible mission trip for me, and I traveled to Nicaragua with a small group from my church.  Josh and I began dating and I completed my teaching license. We took some super fun trips together, created new traditions, and discovered we weren’t meant to live without each other. In March of 2016, we got engaged, and were married the following May at the same place we met.

Fast forward to now, and I can’t believe the way my life has changed. I also couldn’t be more thankful for it. And while I could have done without some of the lowest moments, everything that happened shaped me into who I am, and prepared me for the future. God’s plan was so obviously better than mine. He didn’t design me for a life that settles, but for a life that thrives. And if I’ve learned anything over the last decade, it’s that the act of thriving isn’t possible without all of the work that comes before it.

I’ve been using the Cultivate What Matters PowerSheets Planner to help me decipher and determine my goals for 2020. One of the things I love about the prep work in this planner is that it required me to think about and list out my “big picture” goals first. These are the things I want to see when I’m 80, 90 or 100 years old. The things I want to look back on and remember, the legacy I want to build. And when you put your goals into that perspective, it allows you to think of them differently, with more intention.

Looking at the “big picture” from the last decade is so different from what I expected ten years ago. Did I thrive in the last ten years? Of course. Did I suffer? You better believe it. And I don’t expect that the next ten years won’t bring any suffering or tough seasons. In fact, I know they will. BUT my perspective is different this time, and so are my goals. What I wrote in my planner is this:


“My word of the year for 2020 is THRIVE. I chose this word because in everything I do this year, I want to do it well. I want to flourish and prosper and feel the joy that comes with it. I want to make progress and realize goals despite AND because of my circumstances, strengths and weaknesses.”

I love the last definition for thrive– “to progress toward or realize goals despite or because of circumstances.” I also love its synonyms: arrive, flourish, prosper, succeed.

This is my greatest hope and desire for 2020, to THRIVE despite of my circumstances. To make progress because of them. To flourish. To prosper. To grow vigorously and succeed. To really be able to do this in every season I encounter, even the hard ones. And in the really good ones, to live joyfully in my spirit and encourage others to do the same.

I’ve got some big goals for myself, my family, and my career for 2020 and beyond. I’m excited to get to work. I’m looking forward to what this year and this decade will bring. I know God has some amazing plans in store. My prayer and desire is that regardless of my circumstances, decisions, or reality, I am able to remain like the tree referenced in Jeremiah 17:8.


“They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not rear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”


To thrive in every season, to experience joy in all things, to bear fruit despite drought or heat.  This is my word for 2020. This is also my prayer for you, that you may thrive in your own season.

This is it, y’all! We’re here! We have made it to a new decade and we have every opportunity in the world to make it amazing. Take a deep breath and go for it, whatever it is that your heart is desiring to do. I’m here cheering you on!


Millie Hayes is a portrait and wedding photographer based in Jackson, Tennessee. She is also a middle school vocal music teacher and is married to Josh Hayes. She loves to shoot real film, travel, eat ice cream and laugh a lot.