What do you want your obituary to say? 5 Tips That Might Point You in the Right Direction

While it may seem like a morbid thought, influenced by the recent loss of another dear friend, in fact I have been thinking in very positive terms about what I would hope my obituary might say.

Life and death are givens. The only influence we have over our life now is what is ahead of us. What may someday be written about our life before this point is not under our control. But I hope there are many chapters ahead for all of us and I believe we have the opportunity to help shape those chapters.

When I think of the inspirational people who have lived this chapter ahead of us, it is not just Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa, great as they were, who inspire me but the people who took the life they had and LIVED IT. Being a planner, I love to hear about what people are doing to plan for the life they want. Sure we can plan for a particular life and then get hit by a curve ball, but why shouldn’t we be the architects of our own future?

Over the past year, along with several other talented people, I have developed and delivered a workshop called Designing Your Third Chapter for people aged, or approaching, 50-75. This workshop has been a real pleasure because of the people who have shared their stories, their dreams for adventures ahead, and yes what they want their obituaries to say.

The woman who plans to continue her very successful career in the world of finance, but thinks that someday she would like to design shoes inspired us. Or the person looking to sell the business she founded and create a new way of being for the community she lives in. Many people seem to want to continue to work and be engaged in the business world – but maybe doing something completely different than what they now do.

As you mold the ball of wax that is your personal, family and business life, here are some thoughts that might help shape the obituary that will eventually be written:

1. LIVE TODAY – got something you want to do? What are you waiting for? If you wait until everything is 100% perfect, it may well be too late. If you wait until you retire, until you have enough money, until it stops snowing or raining…the train may have left the station and you may never catch it!

I would like my obituary to say something like: “Linda never missed an opportunity to take that trip, eat that piece of carrot cake, or hike up George Hill with a friend.”

2. CREATE THE LIFE YOU WANT – I read this great line recently: if life only teaches you one thing, let it be that taking a passionate leap is always worth it. I often write about how we all have choices – we make them and then there are consequences, good and bad. But the thing I am reminding myself is that your view of the life you want needs to be updated every now and then. Still stuck on the idea that the life you want involves a big house and garden, or to live in a particular location? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.

Possible line for my obit: “In her early years, Linda created a life of travel – living and working in several countries from Asia to Europe. Later in life, she enjoyed the peace of her Pender Island garden and the sunshine of San Miguel de Allende. And then! She shook it up a bit and……(chapter still to be written!).”

3. BEING BUSY IS NOT NECESSARILY SERVING YOU WELL – man, you can avoid a lot of things by being busy. “Would love to do that, but I am just too busy” or “I have too much on my plate – couldn’t possibly (fill in the blank)”.

Being busy is not at all the same as being productive. Some of the most successful top executives that I know are the ones who work hard, but have the ability to switch it off and focus on their family and themselves. They don’t feel the need to constantly check their devices, work until midnight every night, never get time to fit in that workout. I would argue that because they are not always busy, they are more productive. Busyness is not something to aspire to – but achievement is.

Here’s what I hope my obit would NOT say: “Linda was a hard worker.” Rather I would hope for: “Linda achieved much in her life but her priorities were always her loved ones.”

4. IF YOU DON’T LOVE YOURSELF, NO ONE ELSE WILL – it is not other people’s job to love you, it is yours. It is like the message we get on airplanes: secure your own mask before assisting others. It is hard to get ahead in this world if you don’t love yourself. Self-confidence – or the appearance thereof – is a HUGE part of achievement. Not feeling the love for yourself today? Fake it until it kicks in. Someone else giving you grief over how you are showing up in life? Too bad, let them accept how you are, or move on.

Not sure how this part of the obit might read but maybe: “Linda believed in self respect, as much as she believed in respect for others. Her self respect slipped on many occasions, but she always (usually?) found it again.”

5. SURVIVAL GOES NOT TO THE FITTEST, BUT TO THOSE WHO CAN ADAPT – Life can change in an instant. One minute you are a healthy, strong person out in the world, the next you are not. One minute you are at the top of your game, the next you are not. One minute nothing seems like it will work out, the next it all falls into place. In my experience, the trick is not just surviving the down times, but adapting to the new realities – be they good or bad.

Would that I be so lucky as to have my obit read: “Linda rolled with the punches. When life dealt her a nasty blow, she picked up and carried on. When her world was full of sunshine and apple blossoms, she went out and rode her bike.”

Reading these possible lines for my obituary, I realize I have a lot of work to do if I want them all to be true!