Today I attended a funeral of somebody I never met in my life. All I knew of this person was what was written on his epitaph: His name, dates of birth and death, and a one-line summary of his life. It got me thinking of how my own epitaph would look. What would be the final record of your life?
The summary of your life has 3 parts:
1. Your Name
Who are you? This is one of the hardest questions to answer, and one that every person asks at some point in their lives. Maybe some ask it only on their deathbeds. I have asked myself this many times.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, when our basic needs have been met, we strive for self-actualisation. This is why wealthy people give away their enormous wealth after they achieve success. They no longer seek wealth, but significance. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are good examples.
“To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
2. Year of Birth – Year of Death
I once heard someone say “Your life is in the dash.” That strange statement is actually quite profound. You see, that dash between your year of birth and year of death is very, very short. Just like life. It may not seem that way when you’re struggling just to get through the day, but it is.
“The days are long, but the years are short.” – Gretchen Rubin
You don’t have very much time to do all the things you want to do in your lifetime. Very few of us will have the good fortune of dying when we are good and ready to go, sitting in a comfortable chair reflecting on a life well-lived. So maybe we’d better get to it.
Take time this week to write down your very own Bucket List, all the things you want to do before you kick the bucket. Some people keep a dream book with pictures of the places you want to see, the things you want to own, the people you want to meet.
Next, focus on what you really want, and pick three focuses that you can work on this year. Keep looking at these three items until they’re done. It helps to write them on cue cards and place these somewhere you will look at every day, like the fridge door, car dashboard, or dresser mirror. Your subconscious mind will see these items and go to work on your behalf.
3. The one-line summary of your life
One of the exercises to discover your life purpose is to draft your own eulogy. This helps you decide what your legacy is going to be. I tried this and found it a little unsettling. The wise, compassionate person I wanted to honour in that eulogy and the person I was at that time were not the same. At least it helped point me in the direction I needed to grow.
Even more challenging than the eulogy exercise is what you would like to see on your tombstone. This description of your life is just a few words in length. How is it possible to summarise a person’s entire life in one short phrase?
“Loving husband, devoted father”
“Brought joy to all she met”
“Inspired others to live better”
If you think seriously about what your life is all about, you will have a personal creed that can guide you through all the big and small decisions in life. And if you live this creed well, then others will know exactly what to print on your tombstone when the time comes.
Here’s to your life!