Several years ago, I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR as usual while I got ready for work. I was still in my blue fleece robe, nursing my second cup of coffee and putting on make-up, when I heard a story about a six-word memoir project.

Huh?  I thought,  That’s nuts.  How can anyone write a memoir in six words?

I had started writing a conventional memoir years before, and I knew six words wasn’t even the tip of the pencil point.

I applied a couple more swipes of mascara, then stopped, my hand paused mid-air.  Listening.  My mind drifted away from the radio voices. I looked up at the ceiling as I do when I need to think. Memories and words flashed in my mind and then faded, like fireflies.

Nope.  No way could I sum up my life in six words, I thought, tuning back in to NPR and the mirror.

But as I finished my makeup and my coffee, I couldn’t let go of the idea. Getting dressed, taming my hair, slipping on shoes, I mulled it over. The fireflies were too distracting, new ones popping up just when I thought they were quiet.

And then suddenly, I had it. Before I even clasped my watch or spritzed on perfume, the fireflies spelled out the answer. I was surprised how quickly they came together.

Looking in the mirror for my final inspection before I walked out the door, I nodded approvingly at the wisdom of these six words:

Sought perfection.  Achieved authenticity.  Much better.

The funny thing is, I probably don’t even have to explain it to you, and you kinda get it.

But in case my six-word memoir needs some explanation, let me try to explain succinctly, in keeping with the theme of brevity:

For much of my life, I felt I could not be really happy until everything was perfect – my weight, my hair, my marriage, my organized kitchen cupboards, my…  OK, you get my drift. I won’t try to explain why or when this crusade began. And I’m not sure I know the answer anyway.

What matters is that when I gave up the fruitless quest to be perfect, I achieved something even better. By embracing my imperfections and flaws, I became the most me.

It hasn’t been easy. My flaws include some characteristics that I detest. I am mortified and deeply humbled by them. But in owning the worst of me, I become authentically who I am meant to be. And true growth lies in that space.

I’m a work in progress. Perfection still woos me, drawing me back to the mirror one last time to smooth my hair, keeping me quiet when I’m not sure of an answer, beating me up about a mistake. But its grip is loosening more every day. What a relief.

Authenticity is so much easier than perfection, and yet it’s my greatest achievement.

What about you? Do you have a six-word life story in you? Will you share it here?

This project originated with Smith Magazine, an online story-telling community. You can read more about it here:


  • An emerging writer in upstate, NY, Karen DeBonis tells her story on her website, in publications like the NY Times, (a Tiny Love Story), in her “Become Emboldened” projects, and elsewhere. "Portrait of a People-Pleaser and the Son Who Paid the Price", Karen’s transformational memoir about a woman’s quest for authenticity and the courage to speak her truth, is currently available for representation.

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