The usual way: What do you want people to say at your funeral?
If you read any major book on leadership, you will find the author encourage you to ask yourself: “What do you want people to say at your funeral?”
The idea is to imagine yourself attending your own funeral. See yourself in a coffin at a viewing ceremony in a church or other appropriate setting. Imagine that you are one of the guests at your own funeral. When people take the stage to talk about your life, what would you want to hear them say about how you lived?
After developing a vivid mental picture of what you would like your funeral to be like, your goal should set out to design the kind of life you want to hear talked about at your funeral.
That’s a very effective way to live with the end in mind. When anyone does this, it will help him direct his life in a way that prioritizes the things he values.
The lesson that these authors want to teach is absolutely correct and priceless to effective personal leadership.
However, I think it’s better to approach the same principle differently — at least in how it’s presented and perceived. And I think how one presents it is important.
A new way: How will you measure your life?
A better question would be, “How would you account for your life?”Another way to put this question is: “How would you measure your life?”
In life, we are not able to control what people say about us. In fact, while it’s nice to have people say good things about you, to be effective, we must have our lives directed by something more stable than what people say about us. The voice of people usually doesn’t ring true.
The truth is that if you have attended a funeral, everybody says nice things about a dead person. Most people don’t have the guts to criticize a corpse. So we are all guaranteed to hear nice things said about us if we attended our own funerals. And we all know at a subconscious level that only good things will be said at our funeral regardless of how we live. That’s of course if we at least live average lives and not become terrorists like Bin Laden. The bar for us to hear good things said about us is set so low you actually have to do something stupid not to cross it.
The practice of imagining ourselves attending our own funerals is predicated on the following things:
1) The assumption that people will tell the truth–which they never do at funerals.
2) People will have a solid grasp of all of our good work. Yet we know that’s not true. Even if some people tried to honestly say good things, many good things are best done in secret. As such, no one will know to talk about them. Trying to have people know our good work so they can talk about them is turning us into showy and ostentatious people.
3) That if we want to hear good things said about us at our funeral, we actually have to live great lives–and we know that we don’t have to live great lives to have good things said about us. Almost all of us will have good things said about us. At the funeral, it’s almost like people are in a contest to see who can amplify the most, every modicum of good work done by the deceased. Many outright fabricate stories of good deeds so they can have something good to say at a funeral.
So while the goal is good, I don’t think the exercise is a good one.
But here is what I believe is true.
Life is an amazing gift. It is a treasure given to each of us. We are stewards of this great treasure. At the end, we will have to give an accounting of how we spent our lives.
When we die, we will be able to see our lives as they truly are. We will have perspective. We will see that life is precious and an amazing opportunity to leave an eternal impact. We will not be comparing ourselves with others or concerned about what others have to say about us. It will not be “what will others say about me when my life is over“, instead, it will be, “What will I say of my life when it is over.” It will not be “how do others measure your life?”, but “how do you measure your life?”
We will all face a moment of perfect perspective, a time of great illumination, where all darkness and everything that clouds and conceals is removed and we have persfect self-judgement and account for everything we’ve thought, said, and done, either good or bad.
Will you be proud of how you used your life? Will you have regrets on your death bed as this moment nears?
Will you be able to say you used your life to do the most good? That you fulfilled your purpose in life? That you took advantage of every opportunity to live happily and bring joy to the lives of others?
That’s what matters.
And the beautiful thing is that when we do that, it takes care of what people will say at our funerals–if at all that were of any value to us.