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Derrick's Story > Categories > I've been featured!

A Story of W.O.E. 

Written by Storyteller: Tamar Burris   Comments: 4

It was before she passed from her battle with cancer that Derrick Hayes’ mother used to say to him, “Don’t worry how things look because everything is going to be ok.” Her wisdom stayed with him and helped change how he saw that four letter word, l-o-o-k. While others may have forgotten the phrase or dismissed it just as a dying mother trying to comfort her son, Derrick saw something different. Writing the word “look” on a piece of paper, he realized that it contains the word “ok.” His mother wasn’t lying! It actually is ok. Ever since it has been one of his favorite words, which means a lot coming from a man who has shaped an entire life around words and the hidden truths they contain. Inspired little nuggets of language keep Derrick going in the tough times and have helped him stimulate and encourage others to see the beyond printed letters into the deeper meanings in life. Where one person may see only their woes, Derrick sees only W.O.E.s—words of encouragement.


It was early 2003 and Derrick was going through an incredibly rough patch. His now ex-wife wanted to separate, tearing Derrick away from his two children and the family life he had known with them. Feeling down and despondent, he needed a real change. So, he picked up and moved from Montgomery, Alabama to Marietta, Georgia. Living on the floor of a friend’s place, Derrick had no money, no job, and no family. All he had arrived with were some clothes and a few books—a dictionary and a Bible, to be exact.  Derrick had always loved words. In fact, before this downward turn he had been an encouragement speaker, working mostly with youths and youth empowerment. But now, he was the one in need of encouragement and with his sparse belongings words were almost all that he had.


When Derrick wasn’t on the hunt for a job he needed to find something to do. Without money or a community he belonged to yet, he spent hours on his friend’s floor, reading his Bible and the dictionary he had brought with him from Alabama.


“I started looking up words and began thinking of things I’d never thought of before.”


 In all the Biblical reading he was doing, Derrick kept seeing the word woe over and over again. Suddenly, it was like the word “woe” was all around him. Derrick had “woes,” people around him had “woes,” the Bible talked about “woe” all over the place. Looking it up in the dictionary he realized that “woe” is really any form of deep distress or misery. He began thinking about how a woe is different for everybody; it could be losing a job or a loved one, or even being down and out financially. Perhaps because of his current station in life, Derrick was seized by an almost unconscious fascination with the word. He wrote it down on a piece of paper and kept thinking and thinking about the different miseries people endured. That’s when a strange new thought came to him. What if you could create something positive out of your woes? Taking the letters of the word “woe” apart, Derrick found himself looking at something entirely wonderful and different. What was once a terrible, horrible, miserable woe was now a Word Of Encouragement! 



“Derrick kept seeing the word woe over and over again. Suddenly, it was like the word “woe” was all around him. Derrick had ‘woes,’ people around him had ‘woes,’ the Bible talked about ‘woe’ all over the place. Looking it up in the dictionary he realized that ‘woe’ is really any form of deep distress or misery.”

Derrick felt his spirits rise immediately. Throughout his life one of his talents had been to be able to look at a person’s name and create a positive message from it. For example, R.I.C.K. meant Reaching Inside Creates Kindness. Now, it seemed, he was starting to look at all words in this same way. The concept of creating words of encouragement out of people’s woes brought him back to himself and gave him new hope for the future.


“I love to share with people. It got me back into sharing of myself with people. I believe that if I give, somebody else is going to give. Somebody will help you directly or indirectly. When somebody was having a hard time, I’d say let me give you a W.O.E. That act of giving an encouraging word to others made them feel so much better and it made me feel better, too. Now people email me and call all the time and say things like, ‘Man, I need a W.O.E!’”


Derrick may have physically been in the same place, living on that floor with his books and clothes, but on the inside he was a changed man. He was healing. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place when he shared the idea of W.O.E. with a special lady in his life. Kim would eventually become his wife and she really helped Derrick come out of what he was going through when he fell off track after his separation.


“I met Kim at a dance when she was visiting Atlanta. We hit it off immediately, but we had a long distance relationship. She was the one I shared my day and stories with. Even when you are an encouragement speaker sometimes you need a little encouragement. That was what Kim was for me. One of the things that kept us together was giving each other W.O.E.s. While talking on the phone at the end of our day, we’d say something like ‘I need my W.O.E. for the night.’ It was usually a scripture or a funny story for the day. As our conversations developed, I started getting a clear idea of what W.O.E.s were.”


As things started turning around on the inside, the old Derrick resurfaced on the outside as well. He once again began landing speaking engagements. Only, this time Derrick had a new way to present his information and he at first was not sure about how his W.O.E. concept would fly. But, he was willing to take a chance on something that had helped him so much. One of his earliest jobs after discovering W.O.E. was as a speaker for Goodwill Industries when they held an employee revisory council in the Atlanta area. The people who had hired him had no idea what Derrick was planning. Luckily, it turned out exactly has he had hoped!


“All I had with me was this worksheet with 18 words on the page. We went through each one, word by word, doing exercises on them. Instead of having a ton of worksheets to sift through or a whole bunch of notes they had to take, there were just these simple key words, things like ‘industry.’ Inside the word industry is the word dust. When I work with this word I tell corporate audiences, ‘no matter what you go through in life, you are going to have to dust yourself off and try again.’” Going through key words like this helped the audience stay engaged and left them feeling encouraged and excited in their work. Overall, the risky change in speaking style was a hit and helped Derrick see that it is possible to speak in a way that is meaningful AND simple. “The council was a great experience! People came up to me afterwards, asking me about my fees and wanting me to come speak to their audiences. It really changed my style. I took a risk, but I showed people something easy and something they can get out of it.”


Derrick’s W.O.E. concept was like a breath of fresh air for people who were used to the same old tired presentations at the functions and meetings they attended. Nailing down his new style, he began starting each public speaking event by taking key words and circulating them around the room for his audiences. As the idea of W.O.E. increased in popularity Derrick took his message to Facebook, where he now has a W.O.E. group. Each Wednesday group members receive a new word of encouragement and group is constantly growing in popularity.


Slowly but surely, people all over the world are finding ways to use W.O.E.s in their everyday lives.  “Everywhere I go I use a W.O.E. and people can relate. People love the concept!” Branching off of the W.O.E. idea is Derrick’s other signature idea: Derricknyms (, something he’d long been able to create but hadn’t ever had a name for.


“Derricknyms are acronyms with a personal touch. To create a Derricknym, a name is turned into a positive message. For example, D.E.R.R.I.C.K. means Develop Educational Rewards by Reading and Investing in Continuous Knowledge.”


Derrick shares Derricknyms with friends, family members, and people wanting a unique gift for themselves or their coworkers or loved ones. Sometimes, people even give Derricknyms back to Derrick!


Derrick is now off and running with his W.O.E.s. Next up professionally is a speaking engagement in Chicago. As he sees it, his main goal in life is to provide encouragement for people and his gift is to be able to do that through something that already exists—words. Words are all around us, but how you read them depends on you. And that is where Derrick Hayes comes in!


Derrick Hayes recently wrote a book entitled “One Word is All It Takes.” Visit to learn more about Words of Encouragement.



Thank you Derrick, for sharing your Story with us.


Our Stories and pictures are the sole copyright of their Authors and may not be reprinted or used without their permission.
© 2009 by Tamar Burris and Story of My Life®



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Member Since
Aug 2007
Agnes Williams said:
posted on Nov 17, 2009

is me. I hear this phrase all too often (not in those words but in the tone of people). I cannot wait until people in general feel more optimistic.

Member Since
Jul 2008
Coco Handschnell said:
posted on Nov 18, 2009

You sound like you found your woeful niche :)

Member Since
Feb 2009
Michelle Borden said:
posted on Dec 20, 2009


Member Since
Jun 2012
Kenneth Dunning said:
posted on Jun 27, 2012

I really liked your story and was wondering it you would like to share it on our website also: