“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” —Henry David Thoreau
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say the name “Nobel”? If you are like me, it is the Nobel Peace Prize, won by such notables as Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King. Flashback to the 1880s: if I had asked the people of the world the same question, the answer would have been entirely different. TRUE STORY: Alfred Nobel had the unique experience of reading his own obituary in the newspaper, and it changed the rest of his life and his legacy. It sounds like a great premise for a movie, right? Farfetched, but intriguing. And in this case, true. Nobel, who was a scientist from Sweden, had earned a vast fortune for inventing, among other explosives, dynamite, earning the nickname “The Merchant of Death” for his efforts. He was traveling in France in 1888 when his brother, Ludvig, died. When the French newspapers heard that Nobel died, they assumed it was Alfred and headlined his obituary with “The Merchant of Death is Dead”. It went on to say “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” When he read his own obituary, Nobel experienced a wake-up call regarding the path he had chosen and the legacy he would rather leave to the world upon his actual death. Apparently, the message was received. In short order, he devoted the bulk of his fortune to the creation of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, and Literature. The rest is history. I bet when I asked you what comes to your mind when I say “Nobel”, you did not say “dynamite”.
I have lately been pondering the idea of my own obituary, or at least of my eulogy and the things people who know me would say if I died tomorrow. These eulogy thoughts have stemmed from my recent obsession with identifying my core values and life purpose. After naming my core values—personal growth, self-knowledge, spirituality, family, service, purpose, teaching, and authenticity—I tried to nail down my Life Purpose Statement: “I am a catalyst of Growth, Self-Awareness, and Authenticity.” With those in place, it seemed the natural next step to put them to the test by asking if I was really living in line with my core values and life purpose. Part of that asking involved a sort of inventory of my life. I went through the main areas on the “Wheel of Life”–Career, Family & Friends, Finances, Romance/Intimacy, Health & Self-Care, Social & Fun, Personal & Spiritual Development, and Physical Environment—and wondered how well I was incorporating my core values and life purpose in each.
The answers were revealing and helpful, of course, but nowhere near as helpful as when I began to question the potential content of my eulogy. I wanted to compare what I think people would say if I died tomorrow with what I would want them to say. I also considered what people who knew me best would say versus those who only knew me a little. I wasn’t really concerned about whether I was going to be found to be well-liked or not, but rather about whether or not I made a positive impact. These are some of the things I thought and hoped people would say:
- “He was an awesome Dad.”
- “He was always trying to be better, to keep growing.”
- “He reminded me of my magnificence.”
- “He was the happiest person I ever met.”
- “He was intensely curious, always wanting to learn more about everything.”
- “He wanted people to be their best, and to be happy.”
- “He challenged you when he thought you were sliding or settling.”
- “He was honest, but he delivered his honesty with love.”
- “He was always positive, always optimistic.”
- “He dared me to disregard opinions and be exactly my Truth.”
- “He wasn’t afraid to try new things or make mistakes.”
- “He inspired me to play a bigger game in life and kept me on it.”
- “He shared his love relentlessly.”
- “He knew exactly who he was and owned that completely.”
- “He desperately wanted to make the world a better place to live.”
- “His family meant everything to him.”
- “Even as he tried to improve everything, he was so grateful for his life.”
As I write these things, it strikes me that maybe this isn’t what other people would say about me. Maybe it is only what I would say about me. I realize that I probably don’t do a good enough job of communicating who I really am to most people. Even though I want to get out and change the world and change lives one by one, I am an introvert, and sometimes I shy away from sharing my passion for life and for helping people. I tend to lock myself down, to hide my light. Because of this, I know a lot of people who know me would probably say that they had no idea that I had all of these thoughts in me and no idea of who I wanted to be to the world.
For all of my talk of authenticity in my purpose, I surely do my share of hiding myself. I am not faking anything or saying that I am things that I am not. I am just not showing up all the way for most people. It is like the old “Lies of Commission vs. Lies of Omission” issue. I have definitely been clear in my head and heart about who I am and what I am passionate about. In private, I have acted it out. I have made the big decisions and life moves in complete personal integrity, fully aware of my motives, strengths, and weaknesses. I go through my day full of passion for my dreams and projects, such as writing these letters to you every week. But in public, I have generally clammed up. I have not, in my everyday interactions, named and claimed the messages that I am driven to share with the world. In that way, I have fallen out of integrity and authenticity. I have been acting in some situations unlike the person that I know I am inside.
I can see from this that if I am to leave the legacy that speaks truthfully to who I am at my core, I must put myself out there more. I must learn to manage my introversion and recognize that if I truly do think my message is important for the people of the world to receive, it is worth me being a little uncomfortable in order to deliver it. I need to make myself less of the “Oh, I didn’t know that about him” and more of the “Yes, I knew that from the first time I met him” kind of guy. Basically, I need to stop hiding my light. I need to not just know who I am, but also to show who I am. Putting myself and my purpose out into the Universe will draw the right people and circumstances to me, and our lives will change because of it. In that way, I can leave a different legacy and be the author my own obituary and eulogy. I can re-write my story. A better story.
How about you? What is the legacy you want to leave? Get out your journal and think about the impression you have left on your little corner of the world. Whose lives have you impacted most? How much of that impact is positive? What would those people say about you? How different is that than what you would like them to say? Is there something you could do in your remaining time on the planet that could bridge that gap, that could cause them to put new words to your eulogy? How would you change your ways to change your obituary? Would it help you to read your obituary or hear your eulogy now, in the way it helped Alfred Nobel? Consider the things you regret most from your life, or the people you may have impacted negatively. How many of these are wrongs that cannot be made right? If there is still an opportunity to make something right–or even just better–are you willing to do what it takes? In the end, does it really matter to you what other people are going to say or feel about you, or does it only matter how you feel you did? Or perhaps how your God judges you? Which matters most? If you could write a eulogy or obituary about your own life and legacy as it stands now, what would it say? What if I guaranteed you twenty more years here to make a new one with the way you live those years—how would that change it? Leave me a reply and let me know, How would you re-write your story?
Live the way you want to be remembered,