If you had to boil your life down to six words, could you do it? Six words isn’t much and our lives are so full – full of responsibilities, loved ones, acquaintances, accomplishments, experiences, memories, scars, victories and defeats. How do you take all of that and come up with half a dozen words to make up the story of your life?
That was an assignment I was given recently. As regular readers of this column might know, I have spent the last eight months going through the Multicultural Leadership Program. During this time we have learned about leadership traits and styles, a variety of skills, and a lot about our community. What I wasn’t expecting when I applied to the program last spring was that we’d learn a lot about ourselves too. We took part in many exercises to discover everything from our personality types to our strengths. But the exercise I found to be the most profound was to write our own six-word memoir.
The idea of the six-word memoir came to prominence about 10 years ago when the online magazine Smith asked readers to write their story of their lives in one short six-word sentence. The result was the book Not Quite What I Was Planning – a collection of contributions from people both famous and not. Several of the well-known participants include singer Aimee Mann who wrote “Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs,” and comedian Stephen Colbert who contributed “Well, I thought it was funny.”
As I sat down the tackle the assignment, I found myself first thinking about what my memoir shouldn’t be. I didn’t want it to be so one-dimensional as to refer to only one area of my life. I have a lot of interests so unlike the Mann and Colbert, there didn’t really seem to be any specific skill or interest that defined me. I also didn’t want it to be just a string of words that represented things that are important to me. I wanted my memoir to be something I could look to throughout my life and use it as a self-check to see if I was living the life I wanted to. (No pressure!) That brings me to the third thing I didn’t want for my memoir – I didn’t want it to have an expiration. Throughout my life, I’ve had many interests. I spent years taking photography classes, a while back I fell in with a group that taught me how to knit, and I was even enamored with writing Haiku for a while. While I still enjoy all these things, none of them really are representative of how I spend much of my time today.
So now I knew what I didn’t want my memoir to be. But that still left me pretty far from having an idea of what I wanted. One of the best ones that I had ever heard was from my friend Caryn. Caryn and her husband own a local bike shop and live the harried lives of small business owners. There are days when the stress can take over her life, but when she’s on her bike all is well with the world. Her memoir is “I’m only balanced on my bike.” It’s perfect. Biking is the balance in her crazy life and you have to have a decent sense of balance to ride a bike well. Caryn was obviously killing the six-word memoir game. My friend Terri also came up with the perfect one for herself. She works a corporate job but most people know her from the many volunteer activities she does throughout the week. She works to live but she lives to give back. Her memoir is “My life’s work pays it forward.”
As I was thinking about my life, the same theme seemed to come up over and over again. And it was actually the reason I was having a problem nailing down just one idea to reference. I kept thinking about all the things I like to try, people I meet and places I go. My interests are many and varied. I try to pack as much into my life as possible, sometimes to my detriment. For as long as I can remember I have been acutely aware that my time in this life is limited and so I want to make as much of my time as possible. I can get almost as excited about the small things in life like having dinner with a friend at a new restaurant or discovering a great book, as I can about traveling abroad or jumping off a cliff. When you look at every new experience as exciting, life is never dull.
I put all of this together and then I had my memoir:
“Seeking out my next great adventure.”
Here’s my challenge to you. Think about your life – what it is and what you hope for it to be – and start thinking about what your six-word memoir is. It can be serious, silly, thought-provoking or simply descriptive. It’s your memoir. I’d love to hear them. What are your 6 words?