Kiley Dorton

Your life story, bite-sized

Published on by Kiley Dorton

Taking the four-word company story approach to your personal life plan can shed light on where you need to go next, how you need to approach a life-pivot, and why you’re really doing it all in the first place.

I recently read @buckhouse’s excellent piece ”Tell a four-word story” and fell in love with the concept. Four words to condense and contain your entire company purpose, product, and intent. It’s beautifully simple when done well, but not as easy as it sounds.

Thinking about this while flying home, I started typing in my iPhone notes.

If I were going to condense my entire life down to just four words, what would they be?

Life story: Provider • Builder • Family-man • Teacher

Hm. I just stared at the words. Would I be content with these four? Is anything about my current trajectory taking me in the direction of my four-word life story? I decided to test the theory. I kept typing.

5-year story: My startup, small team, big challenge, healthiest ever

Ok, so that’s not exactly four words. But it was a start. And it felt really, really good. I kept going, arbitrarily choosing time segments for the stories.

1 year story: Save money, eat right, ship product

Cool. I can see that happening.

15 year story: Daughter in high school, present father & husband, TED Talk, travel

Hm. How in the world could I do something important enough to warrant being asked to be a TED speaker? Back up five years and find an idea worth spreading.

10 year story: Nest egg saved, TED-level-problem-solving, speak new language

Sure, I can dedicate five years to tackling a problem worthy of the TED stage. Sounds fun, actually.

In about 20 minutes, the whole life story just sort of appeared. Seemed so simple. Yet it was actually pretty heavy stuff. Here’s the final list:

Life story: Provider • Builder • Family-man • Teacher

45 year story Teach high school, volunteer, travel, write stories

30 year story Grandpa, boat, hike, compose film scores

20 year story Mentor my kids, college instructor, triathlons, happiest @ home ever

15 year story Kids in high school, present father & husband, TED Talk, travel

10 year story Nest egg saved, TED-level-problem-solving, speak new language, sing

5 year story My startup, small team, big challenge, healthiest ever

3 year story 6-mo pay saved, regular excercise, start new adventure

1 year story Ship product, save money, eat right

6 month story Build product, settle household budget, better health choices

3 month story Build team, settle product UX, wireframe UI

1 month story Define product vision, drink water

I saved the list. Thought about it. Shared it with my mentor. Shared it with my wife. Now we’re going to make one for our family, a shared life story. It seems so simple, but it’s honestly more of a concrete plan than I’ve ever had in my life. It feels purposeful to know that what I’m doing each day is in some way leading to things I really, really care about.

Try it. It takes about 10 minutes and goes great with coffee. Then share it with a loved one. Share it with your significant other. And share it with someone who is on the other side of 50 from you. You’ll be surprised just how enlightening and inspring a four-word life story can be.

Originally published on