You’re dead. Your human experience is over. I’m going to give you the opportunity to talk to the person who meant the most to you. But the only question you’re allowed to ask is, “What will I be remembered for?”
What do you think you’ll hear?
That you were honest? Loyal? That you always had something positive to say? That you brought comfort to any situation? That you made people laugh? That you made every- one around you smile and feel alive?
Or might that person struggle to tell you how you’re being remembered?
Did you put your job above most things? Or, worse, did you put work above everything? Did money matter more than the things that money can’t buy? Did you take time for people when they needed you? Or did you only make time when it was convenient for you?
The first thing being a funeral director taught me was that death has no clock; it waits for no one. Death can be as close as the next minute. When it’s your time, it’s your time. But you get to determine how you live before that time comes.
I am willing to bet that, when you hear the name Nobel, you instantly think of the Nobel Peace Prize. But perhaps you aren’t aware that this association exists because Alfred Nobel had the unusual opportunity to read his own obituary, and he did not like what had been written.
Alfred Nobel invented dynamite. He made a fortune by stabilizing tNt so it would be safer to work with and to transport. Essentially, Alfred Nobel armed the world with bombs.
When his brother Ludvig Nobel died, a French newspaper mistakenly printed a scathing obituary for Alfred. The piece reported on the passing of the “merchant of death” who grew rich by inventing new ways to “mutilate and kill.” It is believed that when Alfred read this, he became obsessed with the way he would be remembered after his death.
And so, Alfred Nobel rewrote his last will and testament, arranging that his fortune would be used to recognize and award peace. He wanted to be remembered for his philanthropy, not as someone whose life’s work took the lives of so many.
Had he not read those harsh words, the world would have a very different memory of him.
Although historians have never found this obituary, and even if this story of Alfred Nobel is a modern myth, it teaches a powerful lesson about how we should live.
Often, when we talk about learning lessons, we don’t necessarily imply that the lesson learned will result in actual changes in behavior. But when we read stories like Alfred Nobel’s, whether they are historically accurate or not, they offer us something to apply in our lives.
Lessons lived are much different from lessons learned. A lesson lived means understanding what you’ve been taught, adopting it, and executing it with action. Lessons learned mean nothing unless they’re applied.
You have to live the lessons you learn.
In one of my workshops, I conduct an exercise that involves people writing their own obituaries. This is a powerful practice because it forces you to consider the end and to think about what’s important and how you want to be remembered.
What if you thought now about the things and the people in your life, taking note of everything that you value. If you were to fast-forward to the end, which of the things would become irrelevant?
What’s left when you strip away the things that don’t really matter?
What’s left is people. Not things. Not possessions. Not bank accounts. At least not for most of us.
Think about the people in your life and what you mean to them. What is it about you that they love? What values and qualities do you possess that they hold dear?
People’s opinions of us are a manifestation of our behavior. If you have likable characteristics, you will be well liked. If you don’t conduct yourself nicely, you’re not going to be very well thought of.
Since outside opinions of us correlate to our behavior, we have to decide: who do we show up as in this world?
Who do you show up as?
The way you behave today will be the way you are remembered tomorrow.
This is an excerpt taken from Everyday Legacy: Lessons for Living With Purpose, Right Now by Codi Shewan. For more information, visit everydaylegacy.com.