A Life in a Single Word

If you had to express the way you want to live your life in a single word, what would your word be? Some people might scoff at a silly game like this, but I think it has some value because it forces you to do some self reflection. Make an honest effort to do this properly, and you might find the task more difficult than you expect. You can’t just pick random words, or feel-good words. Each word requires a justification that involves honestly describing yourself, your goals, and why that word describes you or is important to you. If those ideas aren’t already clear in your mind, then the task is difficult. Once you’ve completed the task, you might find you have a better understanding of yourself.

Why Are You Still Here?

I took several days to determine my word. I’ll describe how I did this exercise and how I got something useful out of it. I began by asking myself a few questions:

  1. What motivates you to keep living?

  2. What do you enjoy doing with your life?

  3. Why do your goals, hopes, dreams, and disappointments matter to you?

  4. How does it all fit together?

Attempting to answer these questions starts to generate words that represent concepts that you value. I started by answering these questions in full sentences, and gradually reduced the descriptions into single terms.

Play, Explore, Learn

I’m happiest and most easily engaged in an activity when I’m not taking things too seriously. I enjoy exploring the world, observing the beauty in it, and learning how it works. Understanding the world is very satisfying for me.

Write, Teach, Discover

As in the case of my blog, I like to organize my thoughts by writing them down. Concise writing appeals to me because extremely verbose writing often lacks clarity. Sometimes I write with the explicit purpose of teaching others something I found valuable, but I will often write as a personal exercise to help myself remember things, or to make connections and discover new things.

Design, Impress

Practical reasons aside,I chose a career in technology because it impresses me. I like to impress others by demonstrating what is possible. Solving real tangible problems is very satisfying because I appreciate the value of putting abstract knowledge to practical use. Using ideas magnifies their value.

Inspire, Surprise

I seek friends who inspire me.My friends are intellectual and playful, which I find a very attractive combination of qualities. They enjoy challenges, and we teach each other by sharing experiences. Although we have a common spirit, I appreciate when they oppose me and make me think differently.If they never disagreed with me, I would think there is something wrong with them. When I feel they aren’t being assertive enough during an interesting discussion, I will often begin to argue something unreasonable simply to provoke opposition. A few of my friends have very different personalities and life goals. I think there would be potential for a decent amount of conflict if they were all gathered in the same room. I enjoy surprising my friends with different facets of my personality as they get to know me.

Life Theme

After a few days, I had ten words. I used a word map to help think of the relations between different words. I tried to find a common theme that encapsulates all of the ideas in a single concept. It seems like defying expectations is really motivating for me, so I chose the word “defy”.


Life in a Table

When I showed a friend of mine my life word map, she introduced me to a similar exercise using a table of people, words, and things. The table is filled out as follows:

  1. Who are the four most important people in your life right now?

  2. What are four things you desire?

  3. What are four goals you’d like to accomplish in your lifetime?

  4. List another four things and/or goals

  5. Cross off the least important entry in the table and repeat until you are left with just one entry. This is the most important person, thing, or goal in your life right now.

My friend told me she gets a different result every time she does the exercise. Desires and goals change over time, as do your values, the people around you. Even deciding what is most important to you will be influenced by your mood or state of mind when completing the table.

We each filled out a table in the very late evening. My table is shown below, and my last remaining entry was “do something worthwhile.” Of course, the result requires some interpretation. Would doing something worthwhile be possible without people, skill, or sleep? No, but perhaps doing something worthwhile with my life doesn’t require a specific person or thing, and maybe I’d be willing to forgo some of these things to achieve something worthwhile.










Karate Black Belt


Self Mastery



Enough Sleep

Things or Goals

Financial Independence

Have Fun

Do Something Worthwhile

Defy Expectations


About Zeno

Zeno is an engineering graduate, currently working as software developer in Canada. The alias was adopted in honour of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoic philosophy in ancient Greece.
This entry was posted in All, Happiness / Passion and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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