Articles have headlines, brands have tag lines, Twitter limits you to 280 characters – so why is it so hard to sum up your life in one sentence?
Does it feel too much like a tombstone or dating profile? Too morbid, cheesy, trite, or limiting?
I guess it is a little of all of them actually. We think of ourselves as multi-dimensional beings with personal and professional lives, hobbies, interests, friends, and family. How can you capture all that in just one sentence?
One Sentence for One Defining Moment
Not to be morbid, but I always thought that when someone wins an Olympic medal, Oscar, Tony, or Grammy, that they now know the first line of their obituary for sure.
Grammy-award winning Jazz singer/Olympic Gold Medal Sprinter…died at the age of…so on and so forth. It has got to be weird knowing at that moment that no matter what else you accomplish in life, this will be the headline, your defining moment.
For the rest of us, the path is not as clear. You could be remembered most as a mother, friend, teacher, or shopkeeper, for example. Maybe you are that person who knew everyone in the store by name, or who made every kid feel special. Chances are, you won’t be summed up by your title at work or your major in college.
One way to think about it is to consider who will miss you most if you were gone. Is it your kids? Your spouse? Your tennis group? Maybe your pets?
Whether you are a dog lover, jazz enthusiast, loving grandmother, a Cowboys fan, or avid golfer, there is probably one overriding thing that people think of first when your name pops up. If you don’t know, just ask a few friends and family and I bet some themes will emerge.
Notable people and the sentences that sum up their lives
You may have heard the story of Alfred Nobel. He was a wealthy and successful man, recognized for manufacturing explosives that killed people more effectively than anything else. One day, there was an accident in his plant and it blew up. Everyone thought he had been killed. So the next day, the newspaper headline was that of the dead man who made dynamite that killed so many.
Alfred had not been at the facility that day, though. Imagine his shock at how he would have been remembered when he opened his morning paper. He decided immediately to change his life. Thus, the Nobel Prize that we all know today was created. The one sentence of his life changed just like that.
Remember Angelina Jolie in the 90’s? She was a wild child, wore a vial of her husband’s blood on a necklace, and even kissed her brother on the red carpet. Her sentence has changed, too, after the death of her mother. Today, she is a UN ambassador, supports more than a dozen advocacies around the world, and is a strong voice for women in Hollywood.
That one sentence for your life can change – just like Oprah’s and Madonna’s.
How can you create a sentence for a life you are proud of?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What are you known for, or want to be remembered for?
- Is it authentic to you? Is it consistent with your core values?
- What can you do to reinforce it in every touch point?
- How do you keep it fresh and relevant as the market changes?
- How do you measure success over time?
It is much easier to write a lot compared to just one sentence. Creating one line that your story can be summed up with is a lot of pressure. My husband and I joke that when we are buried, we would have “He ate well” on his tombstone. Mine would read “She did, too” because we are real foodies and have shared many great meals all over the world together.
But one sentence for my life? I guess it would be… Paige is a happy wife, loyal friend, proud aunt and godmother who loves sports, movies, anything related to France and Italy, hanging out on her porch reading or knitting, and spending time with her husband. That’s pretty much how I’d be summed up!