TED Conversations

Rachel Lehmann-Haupt

Senior Editor, TED Books, TED Books


This conversation is closed.

Can you define your life in just six words?

This is the challenge Larry Smith presented to his online community, SMITH MAGAZINE, in 2006. His quest was inspired by the legend that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a novel in just six words. His heart-breaking result: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Giving the form a personal twist, Smith reimagined the six-word novel idea as the Six-Word Memoir, challenging contributors to create a half-dozen words of self-reflection. The constraint, it turned out, fueled rather than inhibited creativity: "Sometimes lonely in a crowded bed." Inspired by the form's popularity in schools, Smith recently called for submissions for illustrated Six-Word Memoirs, in which he asked students, whether in grade school or grad school, to create a piece of artwork that enhanced their memoirs. The voices in Things Don't Have to Be Complicated are younger than typical, but no less profound:

"Big Dream, Big Heart, Big Mouth"
"I'm a Muslim. not a terrorist."
"Life is better with headphones on."

At its core, the Six-Word Memoir offers a simple way for anyone of any age to try to answer the question that defines us all: Who am I?

Here's an excerpt of the book in the Washington Post:

You can buy it on:

Kindle: http://tinyurl.com/b35x88g

iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/things-dont-have-to-be-complicated/id588129395?ls=1

Nook: http://tinyurl.com/cy8pdae

Author Larry Smith will be joining us for a one hour Q&A January 15th, at Noon Pacific / 3pm Eastern. Mark your calendars!

  • Jan 11 2013: Be like a tree, just be.
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    Jan 11 2013: So far, so good. What's next?
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    Jan 11 2013: Despite hardships, living by noble virtues.
  • Jan 11 2013: Turn Right Here; No Wait, Left
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    Jan 15 2013: Be the Hero of your story
  • Jan 11 2013: Surrounded with opportunity, striving with optimism.
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    Jan 11 2013: Head in stars, feet on Earth
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    Jan 11 2013: Unwritten stories speak volumes over time.
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      Jan 15 2013: This reminds me of " Mute thing that speaks wisest words" by Neil MacGregor :-)
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    Jan 11 2013: looking to the future, with hope
  • Jan 11 2013: i feel slightly to young to leave a memoir yet. so today it might be:
    curiosly optimistic about this fast-changing world
  • Jan 15 2013: There is something, somehow positive about this exercise... I was struck by how a gravestone gives the details of the day we are born, and the day we die... but the rest of our live is relegated to a hyphen... 6 words at least fits on our stone and tells everyone something more personal about us.
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    Jan 15 2013: Gratitude is the best attitude, always
  • Jan 15 2013: Lots of comments on how life cannot be simplified into 6 words - whilst this is true and life is too big to sum up in 6 words - one commenter stated "How very American" - I can only surmise that this may be a reference to how fast life is becoming - fast food, fast love, fast friends (social networking), fast definition of life etc. - and whilst the intent of the question may have been to get a fast summary of life - there is something (even if unintentional) very good about this question. What I like about it, is that it drives us to simplify our life into 6 items - and that is very valuable. Because our lives are becoming too complex and noisy. We cram too much into our lives and we forget about the basics that make our lives worthwhile. Paraphrasing from the movie Dead Poet's Society - "Medicine, law, business, engineering - these are all noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love - these are what we sustain life for" This question is important in its capacity to drive us to think about simplifying our lives - to drive out the chatter and the noise and get back to what we sustain our lives for - why we exist. Is it to make more money than we need or can take with us, or to gain power that cannot save us from our last breath? Or is it to simplify our lives and learn once again to embrace that which we truly live for - and that is evidenced in the words of the contributors here - words like, "Goodness", "Laugh", "Learn", "Love", "Passion", "Inspire", "Give" - we can only remember to do these things when we simplify and go back to the basics of life.
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    Jan 15 2013: Think Good. Speak Good. Do Good.
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      Jan 15 2013: Yours is a good piece of advice. It makes one live quieter and feeling Good. I like it.
  • Jan 14 2013: Not now. I'll do it later. :'(
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    Jan 12 2013: Life is a state of mind
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    Jan 11 2013: Love hugely, serve tirelessly, absorb, reflect.
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    Jan 11 2013: Looking for the fervor called living
  • Jan 11 2013: Born and dreaming myself awake since.
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    Jan 11 2013: What a wonderful life I have!
  • Jan 15 2013: Jokes apart,who am I really
  • Jan 15 2013: I'm using the six words to define each day, by the way. It's an efficient way to journal!
    • Jan 15 2013: Lots of people on SMITH, and ever moreso on SMITHteens.com really treat six-word memoirs as their daily journal. Some have done thousands of them. And it's pretty cool to then look back at where you mind/life was (in six words) when you scroll through your earlier mini-memoirs.
      • Jan 15 2013: It's a crazy mix of minutiae and spiritual development!
  • Jan 15 2013: With no beginning, there's no ending.
  • Jan 15 2013: Don't settle for less, continually improve.
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    Jan 15 2013: What? When? Where? Who? How? Why?
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    Jan 15 2013: i believe in humanity, Pursuing dreams
  • Jan 15 2013: Keep moving forward, Don't give up!!!
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    Jan 15 2013: Make a diffence where you can.
  • Jan 15 2013: I am only one of many.

    This is what I keep realizing over and over again in my life. Although we all have our unique tastes and talents, in the end, we are all human beings with the same basic needs and the same hunger for love and truth.
    (Very good question by the way!)
  • Jan 15 2013: Always looking for my next opportunity.