Yes. I wrote my own eulogy. And it taught me a lot about the values I would bring to being in business.
I’m sure you’re wondering what possessed me. Well I confess… it wasn’t actually my idea. I didn’t wake up one day, look out the window and say: “Today’s a mighty fine day to jot down a word or two to give a handy leg-up to a future distressed relative or friend when I shuffle off the mortal coil.”
It came about on a leadership development program I attended as part of the senior management team in a previous role. Across several days, we were led through many aspects of our personal and collective leadership by our facilitator, Tom Donaghy. At one point, we were all asked to find a comfortable spot and close our eyes. We were led through a visualisation… we were on a beach… we saw a gate and followed a path… we saw a building, then people we knew. We were at our own funeral. What eulogy would we write about ourselves?
It’s a question I’d never expected to answer.
But I wrote and wrote, filling both sides of four sheets of parchment. So what did I write? The revelation was in what I didn’t write.
1. I am not what I do.
I love marketing. It gives me the chance to continually learn, apply myself, and find solutions to tackle tricky situations that might overwhelm others. I have loved every job I’ve been privileged to steward. And I’m genuinely grateful for every opportunity I’ve been given to grow and learn. But to my complete surprise, no role, no organisation, no qualification got a specific mention. Not one. It’s not a slight on any of these worthy things. But rather a truth I’d never thought about. While I love what I do, I am not WHAT I do.
2. Impact matters more than activity.
The previous point leads naturally to this one. My eulogy it wasn’t full of specifics. It didn’t mention where I was born, how old I was when I lost my first tooth or won a prize for singing, or where I went to school. Rather, it was pages and pages of stories about the people I’d met, the places I’d seen and the experiences that made me feel alive.
3. Substance over form.
I had no idea I was going to write my eulogy that day. But the words tumbled out like I imagine the containers in my Tupperware cupboard would do if I ever gained enough courage to open it. When I look at what I wrote now, I don’t notice that it isn’t a perfectly crafted piece of writing. Instead, I notice the honesty and substance of what I had to say. I really believe we’re all capable of so much more when we have the courage to let what’s inside, come out without being too worried about how it comes out.
I learned a lot about myself that day and can see the values expressed in my eulogy, underpinning the kind of business and life I live now: a focus on relationships, meaningful work, acting with integrity and the merits of honest feedback.
I highly recommend writing your own eulogy. It really isn’t as morbid as it sounds. For me it was very liberating. Who knows what important new perspectives it might bring you?