Why everyone needs a six-word story

Being humane makes you a hero.

It is a privilege to serve.

Be the voice, for those without!

Six words. One Story. These are examples from the My Six-Word Story Project, an innovative activity that supports the psycho-social well-being and emotional resilience of our healthcare professionals. My Six-Word Story has the power to reconnect us to our purpose and connect us as a community.

“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.”
– Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Traditionally, personal resilience has often been defined as how we bounce back from difficult situations. Jurie Rossouw, CEO of Driven, shares a modern definition: resilience is about advancing despite adversity.

Advancing is a shift from bouncing back or to the status quo towards continual growth and achievement of your goals or your purpose. Despite and not “because of” or “through” infers one can proactively learn from others and develop resiliency before confronting a crisis. Adversity includes both big life-altering events such as the current pandemic and also small everyday personal challenges such as morning traffic while traveling to work (small distractions which you may not have control over, that can add up and prevent you from advancing towards your goals).

This modern definition illustrates resilience is a personal journey that can be enhanced and improved throughout your life. Resilience activities, such as My Six-Word Story, are ways we can develop resiliency through deliberate practice combined with self-awareness. Resilience is a muscle, and such activities are the training which makes us stronger and mentally tough.

“When you know your why, you can endure any how.”
– Viktor E. Frankl

Your “why” or purpose is what makes you, you. It’s the reason why you do the things you do. Richard Leider, the author of The Power of Purpose, provides a simple equation in finding your purpose: gifts (what you love to do) + passion (something for which you feel a deep curiosity and interest) + values (your beliefs and what you consider to be most important) = purpose.

We all have likely encountered obstacles on our journey to becoming healthcare professionals. Remembering our “why,” our purpose for beginning this path is how we were able to persevere and remain resilient. As we are challenged with the current pandemic, it is important to reflect on our “why.”

“There is no greater power on this earth than story.”
– Libby Bray

Storytelling is a powerful way to connect with ourselves, our patients, and our fellow healthcare professionals. In recent years, the six-word story, a six-word sentence that is written to tell a story, has become increasingly popular. The most famous example of a six-word story is by novelist Ernest Hemingway who, according to legend, wrote: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” In just six words, a heartbreaking narrative is told, which evokes emotion and leaves us yearning to learn more.

In November 2006, Larry Smith, founder of SMITH Magazine, created the Six-Word Memoir Project by asking its readers to describe their lives in exactly six words. Since then, the six-word concept has become a global phenomenon with over a million stories shared on sixwordmemoirs.com. I was introduced to six-word memoirs from Jeff Black, a national keynote speaker, during his talk on the physician presence, which he delivered this past Doctor’s Day.

My six-word story: power to reconnect and connect

As a physician working in a pediatric emergency department in New York City, I saw firsthand the emotional toll the pandemic had on my fellow nurses and physicians. In an effort to support my team’s resiliency and well-being and also knowing the power of the six-word prompts, I designed a fun, meaningful activity, My Six-Word Story. Staff members were invited to submit six-word stories on their inspiration in choosing a career in medicine.

There was great support and enthusiasm from the staff as the activity did not require a significant amount of time, allowed staff to be creative with using only six words, and provided a shift in focus away from the pandemic towards positive thoughts. The six-word stories submitted were inspirational, and the staff was surprised with what I did with their stories.

Each story was amplified visually with illustrations I added to them. These poster stories were placed on a bulletin board (now known as the Story Board by the staff) and compiled into a book for all to enjoy. Additionally, I made prints of each story for the staff to hang up on their refrigerator, desk, or wall so they can always remember their “why.”

Reading everyone’s six-word stories sparked conversation amongst our team and interest in learning the back-stories behind them. Hearing the personal stories of our fellow colleagues revealed our common interests, mutual beliefs, and shared values.

Staff six-word stories

Child of system, now system leader.

Making it better: little by little.

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

The change I want to see.

Following giant footsteps, making my own.

Be strong, Be beautiful, Be you.

Staff comments on my Six-Word Story Project

“Being able to put decades of hard work and dedication into the simplest six words was a freeing experience.”

“Reminded me why I chose nursing as a profession.”

“I feel like seeing everyone’s story was a window into their lives.”

“Inspired by their stories.”

“We have all felt a lot of emotions during this time, and I think sadness was an overarching theme; however, this piece signified a feeling of conquering/overcoming together.”

“It provides us constant motivation visually and verbally.”

Six words. One story. What’s yours?

I invite you to write your own six-word story on your “why,” replicate or adapt My Six-Word Story and help support the well-being of your fellow colleagues. Reconnect with your “why” at the start of each day by reciting your six-word story. Connect with your colleagues and the human experience by sharing your six-word stories with each other.

Remember, you matter. Your story matters.

Alexie Puran is a pediatric emergency physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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