Writing your Own Eulogy

A visualization technique that asks people to write their own eulogy. It’s a technique that Daniel Harkavy, CEO and executive coach at Building Champions and co-author of Living Forward, has been teaching executives for over 20 years.

Harkavy’s tip is to write your eulogy first as if your funeral was today and everything you’ve accomplished so far was all you ever would. “Picture your memorial service as if it were being held right now. Your casket is sitting center stage, and as you look down the center aisle you see the first three rows, usually reserved for those with whom we were closest. Who’s sitting there for you?” he asks. “Most likely your family and dearest friends. Now keep looking down the aisle, and now you’re looking at rows 10 through 20. Who’s sitting there? Probably acquaintances, clients, customers. What did you give to the people in these rows?”

Harkavy says when he walks clients through this exercise during his speaking engagements, they usually all say the same thing: “We gave them our best!” He then asks them what they gave to the people sitting in rows one through three–and their answers usually amount to “We gave them our leftovers.” In other words, their work-life balance is out of whack.

“When you go to write your eulogy, you need to be brutally honest. Don’t pull any punches. You want to really feel this,” Harkavy says. “What would those closest to you say about who you were, how you lived, and what you had to give them, and why would they say that?”

Michael Grothaus writing in Fast Company

Getting Clarity

We are too often motivated by a craving to put an end to the inevitable surprises in our lives. This is especially true of the biggest "negative" of all. Might we benefit from contemplating mortality more regularly than we do? As Steve Jobs famously declared, "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way that I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose."

Oliver Burkeman

She lost everything

Those flames are shooting out of what was once my kitchen
Exactly one week after I moved out of my Atlanta apartment and drove to another state with all my belongings, the woman who took over my lease called me. She had lost all her everything in a massive fire that morning. The apartment was in an old house--which burned to the ground.

I didn't really believe her. I thought she was exaggerating. Until I spoke to my former landlord and saw a video posted online by one of the Atlanta TV stations. Flames could be seen shooting out of my kitchen window. There were shots of dazed tenants standing in the street watching firefighters snuff the smoldering remains. 

The fire started directly below where I used to sleep. Would I have been awake at six in the morning when it started? The woman who took my spot just happened to be awake at that early hour and got out before the blaze took everything she had—except for what she had in her hands.

If I had stayed another week in Atlanta, what would I have picked up as I rushed out of the house? And if I had been there and not woke up when smoke filled the apartment—was I ready for the end of my life?

Stephen Goforth

She lost everything

Those flames are shooting out of what was once my kitchen
Exactly one week after I moved out of my Atlanta apartment and drove to another state with all my belongings, the woman who took over my lease called me. She had lost all her everything in a massive fire that morning. The apartment was in an old house--which burned to the ground.

I didn't really believe her. I thought she was exaggerating. Until I spoke to my former landlord and saw a video posted online by one of the Atlanta TV stations. Flames could be seen shooting out of my kitchen window. There were shots of dazed tenants standing in the street watching firefighters snuff the smoldering remains. 

The fire started directly below where I used to sleep. Would I have been awake at six in the morning when it started? The woman who took my spot just happened to be awake at that early hour and got out before the blaze took everything she had—except for what she had in her hands.

If I had stayed another week in Atlanta, what would I have picked up as I rushed out of the house? And if I had been there and not woke up when smoke filled the apartment—was I ready for the end of my life?

Stephen Goforth

Love and Death

In the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a reporter who, confronted with living the same day over and over again, matures from an arrogant, self-serving professional climber to someone capable of loving and appreciating others and his world. Murray convincingly portrays the transformation from someone whose self-importance is difficult to abide into a person imbued with kindness.

But there is another story line at work in the film, one we can see if we examine Murray’s character not in the early arrogant stage, nor in the post-epiphany stage, where the calendar is once again set in motion, but in the film’s middle, where he is knowingly stuck in the repetition of days. In this part of the narrative, Murray’s character has come to terms with his situation. He alone knows what is going to happen, over and over again. He has no expectations for anything different. In this period, his period of reconciliation, he becomes a model citizen of Punxsutawney. He radiates warmth and kindness, but also a certain distance.

The early and final moments of “Groundhog Day” offer something that is missing during this period of peace: passion. Granted, Phil Connors’s early ambitious passion for advancement is a far less attractive thing than the later passion of his love for Rita (played by Andie MacDowell). But there is passion in both cases. It seems that the eternal return of the same may bring peace and reconciliation, but at least in this case not intensity.

And here is where a lesson about love may lie. One would not want to deny that Connors comes to love Rita during the period of the eternal Groundhog Day. But his love lacks the passion, the abandon, of the love he feels when he is released into a real future with her. There is something different in those final moments of the film. A future has opened for their relationship, and with it new avenues for the intensity of his feelings for her. Without a future for growth and development, romantic love can extend only so far. Its distinction from, say, a friendship with benefits begins to become effaced.

There is, of course, in all romantic love the initial infatuation, which rarely lasts. But if the love is to remain romantic, that infatuation must evolve into a longer-term intensity, even if a quiet one, that nourishes and is nourished by the common engagements and projects undertaken over time.

The future is open. Unlike the future in “Groundhog Day,” it is not already decided. We do not have our next days framed for us by the day just passed. We can make something different of our relationships. There is always more to do and more to create of ourselves with the ones with whom we are in love.

This is not true, however, and romantic love itself shows us why. Love is between two particular people in their particularity. We cannot love just anyone, even others with much the same qualities. If we did, then when we met someone like the beloved but who possessed a little more of a quality to which we were drawn, we would, in the phrase philosophers of love use, “trade up.” But we don’t trade up, or at least most of us don’t. This is because we love that particular person in his or her specificity. And what we create together, our common projects and shared emotions, are grounded in those specificities. Romantic love is not capable of everything. It is capable only of what the unfolding of a future between two specific people can meaningfully allow.

Todd May writing in the New York Times

Love and Death

Love is a reminder of our own mortality. When a friend or member of our family dies, we are vividly impressed by the fact that life is evanescent and irretrievable. But there is also a deeper sense of its meaningful possibilities and an impetus to risk ourselves in taking the leap. Some -perhaps most - human beings never know deep love until they experience, at someone's death, the preciousness of friendship, devotion, loyalty. Abraham Maslow is profoundly right when he wonders whether we could love passionately if we knew we'd never die

Rollo May, Love and Will

Top five regrets of the dying

What would your biggest regret be if this was your last day of life? An Australian nurse who counsels the dying recorded the most common regrets she heard from people at the end of theirs lives. As the Guardian points out, there was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. Bronnie Ware put them in a book called The Top Five regrets of the Dying.

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.