Six-Word memoir

Your career, summed up in six words

August 4, 2011: 10:53 AM ET

An online contest asks people to describe their work in just six words, with intriguing -- and sometimes insightful -- results.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE --Talk about getting straight to the point. Most of us could write a book when asked what we do for a living and how we feel about it. But if you were to boil it all down to six words, what would you say?

That's the topic of a contest cosponsored by Smith magazine and consulting giant Mercer. The submissions judged to be the cleverest will appear in a book called Six Words About the Work Life, due out in early 2012.

A few top winners will also receive prizes like iPads and PlayBooks. But, says the magazine's founder Larry Smith, "most people just like to share their story."

Some of the entries so far:

• "Thankless, but everyone needs an assistant."
• "Middle school counselor. Teenage angst specialist."
• "Between windows, alt-tabbing the hours."
• "Who doesn't love the payroll lady?"
• "I am librarian, hear me whisper."
• "Helping patients die comfortably comforts me."
• "Work as bartender and marriage counselor."
• "Dry erase board. Graphs. Upward slopes."
• "Amateur chocolatier…making life little sweeter."
• "Writer, former engineer: I speak geek."
• "You want it done by when?"

A few contestants describe their, or their bosses', management techniques:

• "Led in whispers, from a distance."
• "Asked for ideas and used them."
• "Integrity mixed with dose of tact!"
• "Kicked my a** because he cared!"

The contest runs until August 27, and winners will be notified "on or around September 1," Smith says.

Noting that his magazine's Six-Word Memoir projects on various topics over the past five years have drawn more than half a million responses from the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada, Smith predicts that "distilling one's work life down to its essence will prove to be addictive."

Or maybe just kind of fun.

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