Five Adjectives

Light and dark.

Good and bad.

Love and hate.

I am all of these things.

I am incomplete, complex, unfolding, still becoming. 

I am prone to setbacks.

Sometimes. Well, more than sometimes. I’m in need of a Yoda-like call out from the moral mist of Dagobah. A reminder that I can be more. More than our click-bait-divide-us-at-all-costs current cultural context wants me to be.

So, I started collecting adjectives.

But, not your average kind of adjectives.

I collect adjectives with an ask.

For example, take “supportive”. 

It’s a nice adjective. 

Hell, “nice” is a “nice” adjective. 

Yet, neither of them stirs my soul.

However, “nourishing”.

Now, that’s an adjective with an ask!

A deep ask.

Just articulating nourishing’s three syllables sends my mind racing to a verdant place. My hands are in dark, crumbly, rich, loamy soil. Turning it over. Planting trees. Contemplating their ideal exposure to water, sunlight, and wind. Imagining nutrients flowing from their roots up and through their bark. Tending to them. Checking in on them. Just saying hello. Talking to them. Carrying jugs of water to them in times of drought. Visiting them after a storm. Selectively pruning any damaged branches. Thoughtfully choosing stakes of wood that are just the right height. Wrapping my arms under and through their branches. Leaning into them. Looping a rope around them. And, tenderly telling them “Its okay” while pulling them back into an upright position.   

“Nourishing” is an adjective with spurs.

It asks me to act.

Challenges my moral imagination.

And, on occasion, it asks me to pause.

Do nothing.



Listen and learn.

I want a daily reminder to live a life that is nourishing to those around me. But, not just nourishing. 

There are other things I aspire to be.

So, here’s what I did.

I chose five adjectives from my this-is-how-I-want-to-live-my-life list of adjectives. These are traits that I want to become part of my soul’s muscular memory

I cut out a business card size rectangle from some card stock paper. 

I listed off my five adjectives in order of their aspirational value to me and placed an empty box next to each one. And, I started carrying it around with me in my front left pocket.

Now, every time I reach for my keys, its sharp, angular edges poke my finger tips.

The card prods me.

Reminds me of the task ahead.

And, when I sit down to get to work, I set it on the table top alongside my laptop.

No gloss.

No color.

Black and white. 


Straight forward.

Its existential boxes stare at me.

They are empty but full of expectation.

They do not shy away from asking hard things of me.

They do not give me a break.

They do not blink.

They do not believe in extenuating circumstances or excuses.

They ask.

Point blank.

“Are you living the life you aspire to live?”


Two additions (08/05/2020):

First, I’ve created a “Five Adjectives” activity around this post. Here it is:

Feel free to do it yourself, with others and/or your students. (And, if you do, I would love to hear your feedback.)

And, second, the original card I created is a bit beat up and in need of replacing. So, I decided that I’d start a new tradition of reconsidering my five adjectives and making a new card (maybe with new adjectives) each August before classes start.

I welcome you to join me. Choose five adjectives, send them to me (with your address) using my  CONTACT form, and I’ll make you a card and send it back to you to keep in your pocket.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn