6 words that could change your life

Photo credit Ben Salter on Flikr
Photo credit Ben Salter on Flickr

OK that headline may have been a bit misleading. I can’t guarantee they’ll change your life, but they will help you define it.

According to legend Ernest Hemingway was asked to write a story using only six words. Whether this story is true or not I don’t know, but his supposed response has made its way into my Reading class every year.

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

What is great about this is how pregnant with meaning those six words are. You can’t help but try to answer for yourself why the shoes went unused. It makes for a great lesson on plot development.

In November 2006, SMITH Magazine revisited this idea, but with a twist. They asked their readers to submit their own Six-Word Memoirs. This started a trend that led to The New Yorker, NPR and eventually a book series.

In a way this reminds me of the classic jobseeker’s technique of creating an elevator speech. The elevator speech is designed to communicate who you are and what you do in less than 30 seconds. It is a great exercise because it forces you to really zero in on what you do and tell your own story.

Today, I am introducing a new twist on this theme. Today we are going to look in the mirror and see if what gets reflected is an accurate picture of who we want to be.

Instead of nailing down what you do, let’s see if we can really get a handle on who we are. Can you sum up who you are in just six words?

On the surface six words sounds pretty easy right? Not so fast. If you take 20 minutes or so and brainstorm a list of all the things that you consider to be important parts of your life you’ll see that narrowing it down to six can be challenging. Additionally, to get the most out of this exercise you should create your list in order of importance.

By way of example this is the process I used to create my own list. First, I sat down with a blank screen and just listed things that meant something to me for about 15 minutes. I ended up with a list that was almost 20 words long. Then I tried grouping things together into broad categories: family, work, religion, interests. Then I tried to decide on what was absolutely essential in each category.

Proceeding in this manner I eventually created my six word list:

Husband

Father

Seeker

Teacher

Writer

Reader

It took me a while to narrow down my life into this list, but I think it accurately describes who I am and what I value.

So why am I suggesting this activity? While this shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for the elevator speech (shooting 6 words at someone during a job fair really would not be too productive), it can be useful in narrowing down what is important to you.

It is more about the process than the actual list. I think it makes sense every once in a while to take stock of what’s important to me, to metaphorically look into the hall of mirrors and see if I like what gets reflected back.

2 thoughts on “6 words that could change your life

  1. Back in the 1980s a British newspaper columnist took up this idea and asked a well known author (I think it was Harold Robbins) to write a book in 3 words. The reason the columnist gave for only asking for 3 words was, he said, because the author was currently receiving around 100 pounds per word, and 300 pounds was all his paper would offer. After much deliberation the author came back with GOD IS DEAD.

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