When in Doubt, Write Your Own Eulogy

by Alexander Heyne · 6 comments

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”

-Norman Cousins

People in Pursuit of Purpose

If you ever get a chance to sit down with me for a coffee, you’ll quickly realize that I love finding out what makes people tick. I love finding out what makes you happy.  I love finding out what makes you talk a little bit quicker, what makes your eyes widen with excitement, and what memories you cherish the most.

The following exercise is designed to elicit a similar response, as if you were interviewing another person about their life.

The only problem with finding out what makes people tick is that traditional exercises like writing and sketching don’t work.  There is a serious lack of emotion inherent in writing a list.  Eulogizing someone, on the other hand, can be a powerful wake up call.

The reason behind the inefficiency of other exercises is because those exercises don’t work the way the memory does, which is via previous associations and connections.That’s the reason things like rote memorization don’t work very well, or the reason why you forget a stranger’s name from five minutes earlier.  

An Exercise With Lifetime Usage

Write your own eulogy.  If you don’t know what a eulogy is, it’s basically a speech comprised of those nice little nostalgic thoughts and experiences you share at someone’s funeral talking about her important life, work, incredible character, vision, or extraordinary efforts as a mother.

What the Hell?

Don’t worry, I freaked out about it too a little bit when I first got the assignment in a communications class.  However, writing it (and presenting it) turned out to be one of the more rewarding experiences in my four years at university.

A eulogy can function much like a business plan.  We’ll talk about that later, but there are several very good reasons to write your own eulogy:

  1. It will help you immediately answer the question: how will people remember me?
  2. It will help you clarify the things you want to get done in your life — dreams, goals, aspirations, adventures, your purpose, etc.
  3. It will help you crystallize what sort of character you want to be remembered for, what kind of job you had and how you did it, and what kind of friends you had and what kind of friend you were.  The legacy you left behind.
  4. It will provide you with a business model for your life that you can constantly compare your current situation to, and compare your current progress.  Then you can make adjustments in order to get closer to the goal.
  5. The Bottom Line:  go back to #1.  How will people remember me?

The How-To

You basically have two options here.  The first is the best.

  1. Literally sit down for an afternoon and write out your own eulogy.  Write a speech that you can present to people, however, it will serve as a personal memento.  Your life’s business plan.  The more energy you invest the more worthwhile it’ll be.
  2. Just create a list of things related to the speech. Answer the crucial questions provided below.
    1. Write it in the third-person.  This is the you you are going to create.

Death is Just the Beginning

The most important questions to answer here are:

  • What was he/she passionate about in life?  Was there a singular cause he/she fought for, or something that was an obvious obsession?
  • What was one lesson he/she constantly shared with people, his kids, his friends and strangers?
  • What was one good memory that illustrated an important lesson?
  • What would you emphasize about this person’s life?  Her relationship with others?  Her role as mother/father/grandfather, etc.?  Her work?  Her charity work?
  • What qualities set her apart, what were her personality flaws?  Strong points?
  • And ultimately, what are people going to miss about her?  How will they remember her?

Another Answer to the “Why”

The main usage here is that, for most people, almost immediately they’ll get an eerily accurate sense of their life that wasn’t previously there.  You may say, “Man, I’ve been a real bastard to the people around me.  I’ve cheated my way through business, have given other people very little of my time, and have just worked my entire way through life.”

Or, you’ll say something along the lines of, “Right now I’m pretty content.  I work, but I also have free time.  I have hobbies and activities that are genuinely interesting and aren’t just timekillers, and I’m in a place in my life where I wake up and care about what I do.  I genuinely enjoy life.”

Either way, for some reason this exercise has  a way of immediately giving an underlying accurate feeling of your current state in life.

Face Your Mortality

This seems to be a famous adage throughout history: “Face your mortality.”  Nothing is certain but death and taxes, right?

That’s why I want you to (ideally) set aside an afternoon and really spend time thinking about this.  The day will come when you die, and people are going to remember you for something (even if it’s for doing nothing).  Spend time putting yourself in the position of a person giving a speech about another person.  If you can’t think of anything worthwhile, or interesting, or even notable to say – be worried.

“One day your life will flash before your eyes.  Make sure it’s worth watching.”

-Anonymous

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