What Will They Say at Your Funeral?

(And Why Should You Care?)

Grave Headstone

Roger Reid | Season of the Lion

I see this question asked over and over again in blog posts and magazine articles. It’s become a popular exercise in perspective. Here’s the premise: We know the end of our lives is inescapable, so let’s take a critical look at the way we’re living, and if our current actions aren’t going to encourage others to say positive things about us at our funeral, then hopefully, there’s still time to change our ways.

In larger terms, they’re talking about our legacy.  What we leave behind.

Ironically, what I will leave behind will be important to everyone but me. Because at the time, I’ll be lying in a velvet-lined box, my senses off-line, my brain and body stilled by a Creator who took final possession of what was rightly his from the beginning.

Certainly the message is well-intended: Life is short, so make it count by making a difference in other people’s lives.

But it makes the assumption that others will understand our motives, that our actions will always be correctly interpreted, our intentions publicly evident. And more important, it doesn’t allow recognition for all the anonymous acts that so many of us do throughout the day that often makes a difference for others, but are seldom significant enough to make the six-o’clock news.

So while the idea of changing your life to insure a glowing eulogy may be appropriate for some, the majority of high-achieving, goal-oriented individuals view the metaphor as a distraction, a detour that takes their eyes off the ultimate target—because even the most positive, well-meaning advice can be based on meeting the expectations of others.

Changing your life to measure up to the values imposed by others —especially those left behind after you’re dead—is just another way to live life on someone’s else’s terms, to toe the mark they’ve established, to meet their ideals and priorities.

The truth? If you’re living life at your peak potential, not everyone is going to agree with your priorities. In many cases, they won’t understand your actions—or lack of them—with the same perspective, the same long term view that make them important to you. And unfortunately, those quickest to offer criticism can often include your family and friends—those whose love isn’t supposedly conditionalized on mutual beliefs, values, and behavior.

And before I continue, I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting altruistic attitudes and actions are unimportant. I’m saying those things are more likely to happen when our personal goals and ambitions are given first priority. We usually end up far more successful, more accomplished—and more capable of helping others—when we follow the interests that motivate us, that inspire us, that bring satisfaction and meaning to our lives.

In short, find out what makes you happy and do that. Concentrate on the things that move you, influence you, and inspire you to make the extra effort, to work the longer hours, to be more successful—then take care of those who need your help.

You first, then others.

It’s a universal premise that’s centuries old. It’s why airlines tell you to put your oxygen mask first before helping your seat-mates. It’s why many of those with a single-minded-focus on building a financial fortune later practice philanthropy as an on-going part of their life and end up helping others on a grand scale.

Yes, being there for others is an important priority in life. And when your contribution is the result of accomplishing your personal aspirations and ambitions, you’ll likely benefit as much as the recipient—which is far more likely to make the process self-perpetuating.

What about your eulogy? Don’t worry about it. Someone will say something nice. Someone will send a card. Someone will remember something you did or said that touched them.

And then, in time—in a surprisingly short time—you’ll be forgotten.

It’s your life. Don’t let others make you feel guilty for living it your way.

And then, she started living the life she’d always imagined.”  Kobi Yamada.