5/2/17 Looking inward to make impact outward. 

This was my first six-word story. It described what I was thinking as I sat captivated by Professor Jennifer Aaker during admitted students’ weekend at The Stanford Graduate School of Business. She was sharing with us her thesis on the power of great storytelling. Surrounded by 400 of my future closest friends and classmates, she challenged us to write a six-word story for each day over the next two years so that we’d have an archive of our time. At the end of each day thereafter, I wrote my story:

  • 9/26/17 Discomfort with change, coming right up!
  • 10/31/17 Halloween but no costumes. Study and strategy. 
  • 11/1/17 Getting old! Growing mustache. Help wanted.

After a few months of school, I reviewed everything I’d written. There was no fun. Just minutiae. 

This version of myself was very different from the sparkly master storyteller of my childhood. Growing up, I had always enjoyed movies and playing different characters. I’d be a world-renowned chef by day and address the nation as Queen Elizabeth II by night. I decided I would unleash this ‘creativity’ unto the world through movie-making. I would do the grind as an assistant in the entertainment industry and learn everything there was to know about movies. When it came time to pick a job, I made the mistake of going opinion shopping. Everyone from family, friends and advisors expressed concern over the idea that I would take an underpaid and, what some would call “grueling,” position as an assistant. Many opinions later, I decided to postpone my dreams and accept a position…in Google ad sales. It was a great job, but it was a far cry from movie-making. I eventually made my way to Disney marketing where I was living my dream “responsibly” on the corporate side of entertainment. 

Reflecting on my six-word stories in business school made it clear that I had created a derivative version of the life I wanted, not the real thing. I let countless other people take creative license, marking up the pages of my story, editing away the things that once drove me. Soon the butterflies that got me up every morning, excited to see what the day had in store, disappeared. I lost control of my narrative. 

I imagine my stories prior to school might have read:

  • Age 25 Brain dead. Worried about tomorrow’s presentation.
  • Age 26 My boss looked at me funny.
  • Age 27 Lisa Vanderpump is feuding with Kyle!

For someone who loved stories, I was leading a pretty boring life. If I picked up this book, I would not read it. Over time, I began to recognize patterns that helped me pinpoint what made me happy and what didn’t. Armed with this knowledge, I could make a choice: what kind of life did I want to lead? Though I couldn’t architect the story of my entire life, I could write the story of my day. I started to make a change:

I had adventures…

  • 1/2/18 Played with penguins on Boulders Beach.

I bonded with friends…

  • 5/12/18 Emotional hangover. So much deep talk. 

Really bonded…

  • 11/3/18 8 friends bonding. Surprise, Nudist yurts!

I started to rediscover my sparkle:

  • 8/23/18 Know your superpower. Mine: creativity, connection. 

I find this exercise useful, especially now in the face of so much fear and uncertainty. As I sit in quarantine, I feel sad, frustrated and angry. A few of my stories:

  • 3/10/20 Frustrated family not taking COVID seriously. 
  • 3/15/20 NYT’s The Daily. Depressing, yet addicting.
  • 3/23/20 Legit mad at everyone I know.

Clearly, I’m adjusting well. I’ve decided to challenge myself to think about how I want to end my days. There is so much we can learn from a negative experience like this one. If I look back on this time, what would I want to remember? Instead of ‘policing’ or judging everyone over whom I have no control, I try to perspective-take to build empathy for people struggling with a reality different from my own. A few weeks ago, I judged a friend for wanting to go on a socially distanced date until I suddenly felt the impending fear of being single forever and wanted to go on one of my own. I judged another for minimizing the entire COVID-19 situation, only to realize that it was probably a coping mechanism. Now I try to pause before I judge and channel my energy toward something positive. I’m fortunate to have my work, great relationships, and a Bay Area community that needs everyone to do their part.

  • 3/25/20 Jumped on COVID project at work.
  • 3/30/20 Instacart training for parents and friends.
  • 4/1/20 Volunteering to support seniors through tech.
  • 4/10/20 Back-to-back zoom dates. Wut?!

My advice to you, pick up your pen and write. Whether it’s a six-word story or a journal entry, find a way to reflect on whether you are enjoying the experience of your life. You don’t always notice day-to-day feelings, but looking back on a chapter can help you recognize your patterns. Pay attention to what you write down and decide whether you’re satisfied. When you’re caught up in the ‘nothings’ and considering whether to take the risk or invest the energy, challenge yourself to do it for the story.