• Anne

In a word (or three)...


word art featuring adjectives kind, witty, honorable, loyal, caring, reliable, compassionate, realistic, focused, inspirational, caring, honest, authentic, determined, trustworthy, generous, funny, respectful
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When my boys were in high school, they each had more than 550 students in their respective graduating classes. Multiply that by four class grades in the building each year. Divide by eight guidance counselors. And you'll understand why I never dreamed of being a guidance counselor.


When it came time for my boys to go through the college application process, and they needed letters of recommendation from their guidance counselor, well…you can imagine she needed a little help. A perpetual problem at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. They address it by having all seniors fill out a questionnaire to highlight accomplishments, extracurricular activities, goals,  likes and dislikes, and the like.


The first question on the list is the age old classic: “what three adjectives would you use to describe yourself.”


My boys—like their classmates—rightly expected that the words they provided would make their way into their recommendation letters. They knew they needed to pick just the right words.


There are a lot of go-to adjectives that’ll make you look good on paper. When my older son went through the process, I suggested he take some time and really think about it. Don’t just jump in with the same old stale adjectives that the bulk of the class would likely be using. Try to stand out. While I reminded him that the words needed to be true to who he is, I suggested a thesaurus might be a good tool to help him be a bit more creative. 


I’ve made a lot of suggestions over the years. With varying levels of response and success. Not knowing where this one would fall on that scale, I stepped out of it and he completed the form on his own. And of course, submitted it before I could weigh in. After the fact, I asked him what adjectives he chose. Here’s the list he gave them:

  • Charismatic

  • Industrious

  • Adaptable

Nailed it! Seriously. He oozes charisma. 


I’ve thought of that exercise a lot over the course of this year, especially when I was first wading through the early stages of starting my business. I’ve read a lot of articles about developing your core values, your mission, your vision, your brand. Many take the same approach as the guidance department at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. Start simply. Identify three adjectives that describe your brand.


Did I follow my own advice? Well, sort of. Here’s how I went about this exercise.


First, I listed the adjectives I thought others would use to describe me. Yes, I did drag out my thesaurus.


Next, I listed the ways I would describe myself to others—what I tell people about myself.


Then I listed adjectives that describe the people I admire most.


Finally, I reviewed the three lists to find commonalities. 


Here are the adjectives I found on all three lists:

  • Gracious

  • Conscientious

  • Compassionate

  • Reliable

  • Honorable

  • Witty 

Setting aside the fact that my personal motto is “keep that sense of humor, it’s critical,” if I had to narrow it down to only three, I think I’d go with:

  • Compassionate

  • Honorable

  • Conscientious 

I know—not as creative as my son’s list. But then, I lack his charisma. 


So, what are your top three adjectives? How would you describe yourself? How well does that description convey to your business?

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