Piecing together the story of your life

Ten Lines

James Buckhouse
4 min readFeb 20, 2023


How to design the story of your life with ten sentences.

Use this guide to help figure out who you are, what you love, and what life you hope to create.

Step by step

Take out a piece of paper or a blank doc and make a list that is ten lines long. Don’t fill in anything yet, just ten blank lines. What we’re about to do is similar to the structure of the common application for college, but we are no longer applying for school, instead we are applying ourselves towards our goals.

Now write your ten lines.

On each line, start by writing something you want to be true. A line might be about your career, relationships, or your artistic endeavors. Write about the friend, partner, spouse, or parent you want to become. Write about the artist, designer or writer you want to be. Write ten lines where each line is a statement that you want to be true.

Try out different lines. Experiment. Imagine a life that forks in different directions. How does each forking path feel? You have ten lines, so you don’t have to narrow yourself down to a single word (actor, lawyer, etc.) or a single truth. With 10 lines, there is plenty of room to experiment and try out different aspects of the person you want to become.

After you’ve written all ten lines. Take a look. Reflect. Then go back and edit each one. Make each statement more specific and more meaningful. For instance, don’t just write “Make it in Hollywood” instead edit it to “Write a tv pilot that shows what it means to be alive today.” As you edit, look for ways to amplify, augment or extend each one. Write something beyond your current abilities.

A caution about prizes

You might be tempted to write lines with a prize or honor attached, but these are not quite right; you want to strive towards unreasonable ambitions, but your ten lines should focus on what you are doing, not what some else might bestow upon you. You can never fully control the actions of others, but you can make decisions about your own choices and how you chose to react to others—even if you are in terrible situations.

Move your own goalposts.

After you’ve finished editing your ten lines, take a moment, notice your improvement, exhale slowly, then go back and re-write them a third time. This suggestion might upset some of you, but please stick with me... the unreasonable nature of this part of the technique is what will get you what you want. Pushing on to go further and farther even after you thought you were done is exactly where it gets interesting. Challenge yourself with this unreasonable task. I believe in you! You can do it!

For this iteration, push each line to the point where most reasonable people won’t actually attain the stated desire. Have guts to write something unreasonable, embarrassingly ambitious, and fraught with doom-clouds of potential failure. Feel yourself still wanting it and worrying that you won’t get it. Write it down. Notice how much greater this version of the goal is than your original. The three-phased editing technique pulls you towards a substantially greater goal, because each step along the path helps you extend the plane of the adjacent possible. You need multiple steps to be able see what is beyond your initially imagining.

Here’s an example that shows an initial idea (Make it in Hollywood) through two additional iterations.

Iteration 1 (initial thought or concept)
Make it in Hollywood.

Iteration 2 (more specific and meaningful)
Write a tv pilot that shows what it means to be alive today.

Iteration 3 (unreasonable, embarrassingly ambitious)
Write a screenplay that transforms the lives of the audience and creates far-reaching cultural reverberations for this generation and the next and the next. A screenplay with moments and messages that stay with people for years and their brains can’t help but turn over moments from the story in their thoughts and return to it over and over to the point that they think of that story as somehow being“a part of them” — not just a favorite film, but an actual part of who they are. Strive to become a part of who other people are.

Once you’ve got your ten lines, now you’ve must do something about it. The act of writing (and re-writing twice) your ten lines will help you figure out what you want to be true, but we only do this so that we can then start to make decisions that move us towards our goals.

If you want it to be true that you are a successful writer, designer, or artist, then what steps do you need to take today to eventually make that statement become true? If you want to be a fantastic parent, partner, or friend, then what decisions are you making to help ensure this happens? If you want the climate crisis to improve, what choices are you making in your life and how are you influencing the choices of others? What work are you putting in now and how are you constructing your plan for progress?

For each of your ten lines, figure out your current status, the gap between where you are and where you want to go, what progress you’ve made so far, what next steps you want to take, and what signals might help guide you.

By first figuring out what you want to be true, you can then figure out what you need to do to become the person you want to be.



James Buckhouse

Design Partner at Sequoia, Founder of Sequoia Design Lab. Past: Twitter, Dreamworks. Guest lecturer at Stanford GSB/d.school & Harvard GSD jamesbuckhouse.com