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Can You Sum Up Your Life’s Message With Just One Word?

October 25, 2009


Have you noticed the trend of one-word book titles hitting the market lately? A couple of popular one-word books that you may be familiar with are “Outliers” and “Blink,” both authored by hip business-social observer Malcolm Gladwell. There’s also “Free” by Wired magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Chris Andersen, where he tries to convince us that future business profit models will be based on giving things away rather than charging for them. Or have you read “Sway,” by Ori and Ron Brafman? It’s about the subliminal powers at work in our impressionable brains which cause us to make irrational decisions. Have you heard of “Nudge” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein? I hadn’t, but last time I looked, it was number 7 on the NY Times paperback business bestsellers – another book about the choices we make on health, happiness and money. Then there’s the recent “Payback” by Margaret Atwood, and “Unstuck” by innovation and leadership consultant, Keith Yamashita.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. These authors have achieved the enviable goal of distilling their entire content into one catchy, hugely marketable, definitive word that sums up precisely what they are all about. You not only “get it” when you hear the hook of the title, but it’s easy to talk about, and pass the word on to others.

So it got me thinking about all this time and effort and passion I spend on my Shrinking the Camel Blog, trying to pin down the integration of my faith and my career. What am I trying to say? If I were to write a book that distilled the entire mission and mad ramblings of this Blog into one word, could I do it?  What would that one word be?

I thought about this for several days, forcing myself to choose. Finally I came up with the One Word for my phantom book.


Can you picture it? I think it would have nice ring, especially when being discussed over the airwaves. “Hello, I’m Terry Gross, and this is Fresh Air, from National Public Radio! Today we are talking to Bradley J. Moore about his new book, which talks about the counterintuitive link between business and spiritual life, called ‘Tool.’ Welcome Mr. Moore.”

“Hello, Terry. It’s my pleasure.”   (They always say that, when Terry welcomes them)

I know, “Tool” may sound kind of lame and you may not like it very much, but this title is actually rich with many layers of meanings. Here is my thinking behind it: 

  1. I like the snarky, self-deferential tone of the slang. You knew that would be the first thing I went for, right? And the slang is probably the first association that anyone under 25 years of age will think of when they see this word. I asked my teenage daughters what they thought “Tool” meant, and they said, “It’s someone who thinks they’re really cool, but they’re not.” Perfect! The slang meaning for the word. “Tool” could also be something like “nerd,” “dope,” “loser,” or “idiot” (among other things). So it gives off a bit of that tongue-in-cheek, self-deferential slant which is consistent with my writing, adding just a hint of irreverence. We can’t take ourselves too seriously, now, can we? 
  2. We are ultimately vessels to be used by God. Here comes the paradoxical spiritual element: “Tool” infers that I am surrendered to God for doing His work, rather than focusing on myself, my ego and my own achievements. This is a very difficult concept for most of us Type-A, hard-driving control-freaks to grasp, but I know that it is possible, and probably best that we just accept this. Thus it is front-and-center in the title. 
  3. We acknowledge our unique gifts and talents are directly from God and they are something that can be useful to others. Most tools are used for very specific types of productive work. I am wired with a very specific set of God-given skills, abilities, personality, etc. that can be put to good use for others.  
  4. There is a strong business/management connotation. When I worked for  consulting firms, we were always referring to our “tools” or “toolbox” as the set of methodologies, templates and procedures that we could apply to our clients to help them become more effective in business. Same is true of tools for connecting spiritual and business life, and I think it would make for a good business-oriented read.

 So there ya go. I am totally God’s Corporate Tool.

What about you? Could you distill your entire identity and purpose into one word?

Did you enjoy the dream sequence in my previous post involving famous literary agents approaching me about my brilliant work?

Don’t you hate it when Blogs ask these obviously leading questions at the end of the post?

22 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2009 4:54 pm

    The first time I heard my son use “Word” in response to something I said, I had to ask him just what that was supposed to mean. He explained. I didn’t much care for the short-hand but I “got” it. He and his friends still respond, using “Word”.

    After reading your post, I can now see all host of “layers of meaning” in that one “Word”.

    I’ll just be tooling along now. . . .

  2. October 25, 2009 5:37 pm

    At the TED Conference in Oxford in June, Alain de Botton said that there are two kinds of books in the self-help section of any bookstore: (1) you can do anything! and (2) you can’t do anything so build your self esteem! (exclamation points included). In one-wordisms, that would come down to (1) Success! or (2) Obsess!

    If I had to choose one word to sum up what I’m all about, I would take a deep breath and then say, “Poet.” It explains a lot more than the simple meaning, as in, poet in the corporate world? Say what? We don’t have a management category for that!

    Story of my life.

  3. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    October 25, 2009 7:30 pm

    Maureen: Word. I’m down wit dat.

    Glynn – I love it. Awesome. It looks good on ya, man.

  4. Tory K permalink
    October 25, 2009 8:34 pm

    How about “servant?”

    It’s humble.
    We minister to our brethren.
    It’s a “my spirit willing to hear His call” kind of word.
    We serve our clients, and even great CEO’s serve at the pleasure of the board. (with some nice golden parachutes at times.)

  5. October 25, 2009 11:17 pm

    Hi Bradley,

    LOL…I am beginning to think that you are kind of funny. Coming from me that is a big compliment – you should feel flattered.

    Your use of self-deprecation is humorous, antagonistic, and quite biting – good for you. At the same time, get a life.

    I can think of many ‘one word’ titles that could sum up myself and a lot of things in life. I would never give them away, of course, because that wouldn’t be very wise now would it?

    I will give you a hint, however. Some of the magic of great titles for books may be related to one of my blog posts.

    Thank you for not responding to one of my beautifully crafted comments on one of your previous posts. By the way, don’t pull the whole ‘delayed response increases anticipation’ marketing ploy with me pippi longstockings. I won’t tolerate such subordination.

  6. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    October 26, 2009 5:23 am

    Tory – Yup, servant is a good one. ALthough it’s taken me a long time to get comfortable with that word. But you are right – we all gotta serve somebody. Especially at work, it’s not about what we are getting out of it.

    Matthew – Well, how’s this for a quick response? Less than 12 hours!! I’ll get on your blog and try to get some clues for your one-word idea. Better be good, bro!

  7. October 26, 2009 3:02 pm

    If I go for honest rather than politically correct or catchy, my word would have to be ‘biblical.’

    I’m a little thing (5′ 1″ if I stretch) who makes up for it by doing everything on a biblical scale without really trying. I’m dramatic, intense, mystifying; sometimes poetic, occasionally edgy, usually wordy.

    I can’t help but see all of life life through the lens of Scripture, because I see Scripture has already focused upon all of life.

    And if there’s only one thing I know and write, love and breathe, it’s the Bible and its Author.

  8. donkimrey permalink
    October 26, 2009 3:14 pm

    Re: Your latest blog. Personally, I’m at a loss for word. ~dk

  9. October 26, 2009 5:52 pm


    (I will let you try to figure out what this one word refers to. 🙂

  10. October 26, 2009 6:14 pm

    I didn’t see the word ‘tool’ coming… I have to admit that.

    You know I LOVE the whole ‘one word’ thing for obvious reasons.
    I have trouble summing myself up with only one… but the first one that comes to mind is ‘inadequate’. Since that sounds depressing, the second runner up would be ‘mender’. I like to fix everyone and everything!

    I enjoyed your dream sequence (I have similar dreams myself)… I’ll bet yours could be a reality with writing like this!

  11. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    October 27, 2009 5:13 am

    Anne – “Biblical” is good – yes I can see how it captures many different aspects of a powerful life! Love it!

    Bridget – “Mender” is a great one. I haven’t heard that word in a long time. Yes, it’s a little more upbeat and inspiring than “indadequate”! But I think your word should be the opposite, to make a point: “Adequate” That would be a good book title!

    LL and Don – This is like “Go Fish” – it’s okay to Pass on this round, but I’ll come back to you later!

  12. October 27, 2009 7:08 am

    Off topic: your question on Seedlings… did it go viral? Are you referring to my blog post, my blog, or my book? Or all three?

  13. October 27, 2009 4:23 pm

    Oh, or maybe you meant HIS book? Yeah, it seems to be doing very, very well.

  14. October 28, 2009 12:01 pm

    Tool is very clever. I feel like mine should be simply “Zombie” but that doesn’t really address the assignment here.

    You’re asking us to choose 1) an identity, and 2) an object that can serve as a metaphor or metonym for that identity.

    That’s quite an assignment.

    I’m thinking Lead– which should be pronounced “led” so already I’m going to run into trouble.

  15. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    October 28, 2009 4:11 pm

    Marcus – You are so funny when we get you going, man!

    Lead? That definitely has multiple layers. Keep going with it.

  16. October 28, 2009 8:27 pm

    Tool works.

    I agree with Marcus, this is a soul searching assignment.

  17. Indexmama permalink
    November 1, 2009 11:16 am


    [“the kids” use this one a lot these days, as shorthand for “I agree” or “I’ve had the same experience/thought/opinion/whatever.”]

    pun intended. 😉
    –see you online

  18. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    November 1, 2009 1:16 pm

    Indexmama – Thanks for the visit. I have two teens, and they are constantly using “same.” THis assignment is probably easier for the kids, because they shorten and abbreviate anything anyways. That’s their natural form of communication.

  19. November 16, 2009 3:27 pm

    I have no idea at the moment, Brad, but it’s a fun thought.

    Glynn, thanks for the TED cf.

  20. Tosin permalink
    December 11, 2009 8:11 am

    Hi Bradley.
    Stumbled on ur blog today and i had to read a lot of past posts. I must confess, they are great and inspiring.

    Summing up my life assignment in single word will make it ‘GRACE’, though i have often use the word ‘treasure’.
    Grace has been the summation of my life. it’s like enjoying what you dont deserve and something covering up for your inadequacies. Whenever i improve at work, i call it grace because there is nothing really special about me, but also there is something special about me that is more than the physical. Same applies to spiritual life.

    • December 12, 2009 8:02 pm

      Wow, you have hit a big one with me, too. The part about covering up for my inadequacies – yes, I need that too! Grace is a perfect word for both of us.

  21. January 10, 2010 6:00 pm

    I love words, so thinking of one word is fun, but hard. I’d have to say mine is – Hope.

    Yes, its used all the time, maybe even overused in the past few years, but it’s what has brought me this far and what keeps me going.

    Some examples of hope in my life …
    Loved ones said:
    Hope she survives.

    I said:
    Yes, I survived – now hope I can walk.

    Later I said:
    Yes, I can walk, but I need hope that life is worth living with limitations/pain!

    Intense search for answers helped me find hope again. Realistic hope like Rick Warren talks about, “Optimism says “It’s not so bad!” Hope admits “Yes, it’s bad. Really bad. But I still believe & trust in God!”

    Now I hope I can write a book that gives others hope when life is tough.

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