motivational mondays – word choice


“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a good question for a child. We all have wants, we all have desires, and as children there is a myriad of desirable professions and occupations that run through our heads. Personally, I wanted to be a police officer, an architect, a history teacher, and play second base for the Cleveland Indians.

As a child, what was your answer to this question? Did you want to be the first astronaut to Mars? A special education teacher? An Olympic swimmer? Once you’ve remembered what your answer to that question was, answer this one:

“What will you be when you grow up?”

Does the answer change? If so, why? If your answer doesn’t change, stop reading this post.

the power of word choice

Back in June, I quit my 9-5 white-collar job to pursue a career as a full-time writer. Five months later, I’m writing literally thousands of words each day with the intent of publishing soon and it’s more thrilling than I ever believed possible. Back in May . . . hell, since the seventh grade, I would tell people “I want to be a writer.”

That word choice is no longer acceptable. Six months since May, I now tell people “I will be a writer.”

A powerful difference there.

The profundity of a single simple word should not go unnoticed or under-appreciated. Think of the best speeches you’ve ever heard. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. The simplicity of Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Speech.  One meant for 21-year-old college grads, the loftier one for a discordant nation. Both knew their audience. Both chose their words based on that audience. Both are brilliant.

lofty to mundane

Speeches are easy to refer to in regard to word choice, but what about our daily interactions? Conversations we have every single day that we brush off as inconsequential.

They’re not.

Think about something as simple as a coworker asking you how your weekend was. Do you just say, “Good, how was yours?” Think about the difference when compared to this: “It was actually a really fun weekend!” Nothing groundbreaking, but a marked improvement. The latter depicts sincerity, like you’ve lent thought to the response and aren’t a blasted robot. That something this weekend was different. People recognize sincerity in conversation. They appreciate it. And they want to know more.

Straight up, when I worked in an office my response to that weekly question was nearly always “Good, how was yours?” I wanted to be noncommittal. I’m not very comfortable talking about myself to coworkers unless I’m good friends with them. But when looking back on it, think of how much I missed out on, how many positive relationships didn’t burgeon because of my lackluster? Even if it’s someone you don’t necessarily care to buddy up with, you never know how you can help each other out or what you may have in common. The least likely people, I’ve found, can push your life in a whole new direction you never thought possible.

honne vs. tatemae

Recognizing your choice of words is a mindset, an adjustment of your mental attitude. To elucidate, let’s refer to the Japanese.

A central theme to Japanese culture is the concept of honne vs. tatemae. Honne represents our deepest desires, those things we keep hidden except from our closest family and friends, and maybe even from them. Tatemae literally translates to facade, and refers to how you act in public in accordance with society.

This cuts to the core of how people change. Japanese culture leans toward the belief that to change, to truly change, you must first alter your actions (tatemae) and then your honne will change as a result (your inner feelings, desires, motivations, etc.). Western culture tends to believe exactly the opposite, with degrees of variation based on personal beliefs.

But this concept of word choice I’m discussing caters directly to the Japanese version of social constructs. In July, instead of saying “if I get published” I started saying “when I get published.” Instead of saying “I hope I can get a couple chapters done this weekend” I say “I’m gonna get shit DONE this weekend!” It’s vocal, it’s seen and it’s heard, and it’s motivating. And the best part? Now I do it.

moving forward

One of the rules of writing and speaking is this: to depict absolute truth, render it in the shortest possible sentence.

Use this mentality to improve yourself, either as a professional, within relationships, or simply as a human being. It’s time for us to think critically about how we present ourselves through our careful choice of words. It’s a conscious effort and it’s not easy – I can tell you that from personal and observed experiences – but it is very worth it. Simply the sense of confidence it lends is astounding, both with just evaluating the words you use to describe yourself or your actions and the motivating factor of saying something akin to: “I will be a writer.”

And better yet: “I am a writer.”


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