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Living Your Eulogy

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Another year is coming to an end. As is probably the case for many of you, the turning of the calendar signals for me a time to pause and reflect over the year gone by as well as look ahead to the year to come.

While I haven’t always been as intentional as I’d like, the importance of living on purpose was ingrained early and often for me. It all started in my twenties when a colleague introduced me to a little book called Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. While all the habits rang true, I was particularly taken with Habit #2, “Begin with the End in Mind”.

The basic idea

Imagine you are attending your own funeral. I know it’s something no one wants to think about, but stay with me. Now, picture who you’d want to be there and what you would want them to say. This exercise always crystalizes for me what is essential: the non-negotiable things I want to invest in over the long haul.

The non-negotiables

The non-negotiables are different for me than they might be for you. But I would imagine what they’re not, for any of us, is wishing we had worried more, spent more time distracted by seemingly urgent but ultimately unimportant things, or chasing after greater personal accolades or better toys.

When we seek to keep the end of our lives in mind, I imagine most of us discover what truly matters to us.

Here are a few of the things that I’ve discovered matter most to me.

Doing meaningful work that energizes me.

According to businessinsider.com, the average person spends over 1/3 or 90,000 hours in their lifetime at work. So, if we’re talking about how we want to be remembered, a huge chunk of that equation comes from the time we spend in cubicles, home offices, checkout counters, and everything in between. With work filling up so much of our potential legacy, how do we make it count?

I think we can all agree, the answer involves finding meaningful work that energizes us. Work that I can wake up most mornings excited to do, confident that I’m making a significant difference in the world and in the lives of other people.

How do we find this kind of work? While discovering what brings us meaning is no simple task, there are tools that can help. One tool we use at ADVISA is the Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment™ (BA). The BA reveals the underlying drives and needs someone brings to work — what energizes them and what can take that energy away. This data has given me key insights into what motivates me in my job and how to keep that inspiration going. While it may not answer whether you should be in veterinary medicine or software development, the BA can uncover keys to collaboration, motivation, confidence, and success.

Investing well in the people who matter most.

Ok, so we’ve talked about the importance of work, but if we honestly think about what will matter most at the end of our lives, it’s not the work itself but the people we and that work have impacted. Maya Angelou captured the essence of our effect on others saying,

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

How do I leave people grateful for having interacted with me? How do I get to the end of my life having had the influence I want on others? One option: a mindset shift.

Instead of operating with the Golden Rule as our lens (“Treat others as you want to be treated”), we can seek to abide by the Platinum Rule: “Treat others as they want to be treated”. The shift is subtle but significant. Instead of approaching someone in a way that speaks my language (often involving collaboration, verbal processing, and a steady, familiar process), I try to approach them in a way that speaks their language (possibly more independent, assertive, and comfortable in the grey than mine).

Once again, the BA can provide critical intel here — helping me know how I can communicate in the most effective, encouraging and motivating way. I then leave a conversation having made a powerful connection and, consequently, taking steps forward on the path to leaving my desired legacy.

Striving for balance in a way that helps me bring my best self to my work and my relationships.

I’m pursuing meaningful work. I’m intentionally engaging with others. But if I’m not also pursuing healthy balance in my life, I’ll destroy any real chance at either.

When I first began doing work in leadership development, I helped facilitate a weekly touchpoint for new staff and interns in our organization. After several years, I began to see a pattern emerging. These young adults would start out their roles giving 110%, making appointments at all hours (we worked with college students, so they loved a good late-night meeting), being constantly “available” to emails, texts, and phone calls, neglecting exercise and healthy eating, and pushing their mental, emotional, and physical selves to the brink. Then, predictably, about halfway through their first year, they would hit the proverbial wall — struggling to get out of bed in the morning, unable to complete simple assignments, and disillusioned by the work they had once found exhilarating only a few months before.

The nature of that specific work, emotionally and psychologically taxing as it was, caused this burnout to happen sooner than it might have in other jobs. But burnout is inevitable for all who succumb to the lure of “giving their all” all of the time. A better path? As a mentor of mine wisely said, instead of giving 110% for a short season, aim instead to give 80% for a lifetime.

Think about your own unique “max” and take a few steps back. Create room for rest, play, think time, MARGIN. As much research suggests, the types of activities that fill this purposeful blank space on our calendars make all the difference in accomplishing our goals and leaving an intentional legacy.

One practical way to create this margin is to take control of your calendar. Stephen Covey used the image of an empty glass container with a pile of rocks and another container of sand sitting next to it. His challenge? To get the rocks and sand to fit in the empty container.

The sand represented all the urgent activities that fill our days — emails, meetings, deadlines… you get the idea. The big rocks represented the most important things: relationships with significant others, recreational activities that bring us joy, vision-planning and creative think-time at work. If the sand gets poured into the container first, the big rocks won’t fit. But if the big rocks (i.e. the things we value most) get put into the container first, then the sand will fit by filling in the cracks and spaces left open.

The application is clear. If we prioritize the important things, the things we want to be remembered for, then the busyness of life will take its proper place in the cracks of time left over. But if we let them, the everyday busyness will crowd out purposeful living toward end-of-life goals.

I don’t know about you, but I want to fight each day to carve out that intentional time to live for the things that truly matter to me. As we wrap up this year and begin a new one, I challenge you to take stock of the big rocks in your life and live in light of your eulogy.


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Want to read more about work-life balance? Check out this recent article by ADVISA’s President, Heather Haas.

And, if you’re interested in learning more about The Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment, or assessments in general, be sure to read Leadership Consultant Mandy Haskett’s Indianapolis Business Journal column on pre-hire assessments.