Life, Death and Legacies

Death-Bed Regrets

I bet you have all heard the story about the guy on his death-bed who regretted how much he worked and how little time he spent with his family, or doing what he loved, or making a difference in the world.  This is a lot like the story of the ant and the grasshopper–a reminder not to waste our life away on what is not important. It is really hard, though, when you’re up to your eyeballs in everyday life–work, taking the kids to school, putting food on the table, mowing the grass– to know what will be important enough to you when you die to regret not doing.

Today’s The Day

The thing is, today may be the day you will face what you wish you had done less or more.  Today CAN be the day you face what you wish you were doing more of.  Any day, week, year can be your last.  I don’t say that to freak you out–I really think at some level you know this–but rather to get your attention to spend the time now to figure out what you want you life to be about.

My husband died 21 days after being diagnosed with cancer.  He didn’t have time to think about wishes from his death-bed–in fact, he was 100% focused on figuring out how to fight the disease and he wasn’t being reflective at all.  A little more than a month before he died (before he knew he was sick), however, he wrote the following in our Christmas letter:

As you can see, he knew what was important to him.  He was focused on what was important to him.  Even though he died when he was merely forty-two, he brought this kind of thinking to the life he lived.  The people in his life felt enriched and loved by him.    I learned this lesson from him, that today could be our last and we need to focus on what is important, what will be our legacy, NOW.  We need to live a life we’re proud of today, tomorrow and every day.

Write Your Obituary

One of the best ways to think about this is to write your obituary.  Decide an appropriate death date. Make it 50 or 100 years or so from now. Then, decide what you’ve accomplished. This involves two main steps:

  • First off, decide who you want to be (or  have been, if we’re talking  obituary time).
  • Second, decide what you have accomplished.  When you take an   “accomplishment” view of your life, listing the things you really want to   accomplish, it clarifies where you want to go. Try to make your   “accomplishments” as concrete and possible as you can. Try to  define yourself in terms of what you are  likely to be able to accomplish,  with a little or a lot of stretching.

Now, look at your obituary.  What was important enough to you to be mentioned in your obituary?  When you think about your life now, are you on a path to accomplish what you want to?  Are you on a path to concentrate on what you think is important?  Do you need to make changes to your life, to your priorities, to your behaviors to make the life you want to happen?

Think about it.

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Filed under Career Goals, Executive Development, Personal Change, Success

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