Have You Written Your Obituary?
How Writing Your Own Obituary Can Transform Your Life.
By David Evans for Psychology Today
Ironically, one of the best tools for living a good life can be the announcement of its termination: the obituary. Especially if you write your own obituary yourself. Here’s why:
Life is propulsive. It sweeps us along in its current, and all too often we’re just reacting to things after the fact, or scurrying along trying to keep up.
And because our own personal death is so incomprehensible, it is therefore impossible and can’t ever happen. It’s part of that mysterious asymptotic future that forever recedes from view.
But the future does arrive. Sometimes very abruptly. We do die. And writing our obituary now can help us prepare for it.
Several years ago, Bronnie Ware, a hospice nurse in Australia, began asking her end-of-life patients if they had any regrets about the way they had lived their lives. Were there any things they wished they had done, but hadn’t?
It turned out they almost all did. And the same regrets kept turning up again and again in all her patients. So she wrote a book about it, titled, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.”
Here is a list of the top five things her patients regretted:
•“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life where I was true to myself, and not just lived up to other people’s expectations.”
•“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
•“I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
•“I wish I’d stayed in better touch with my friends.”
•“I wish I’d let myself be happier.”
These regrets are very interesting, because a similar theme runs through them all. That theme is that these regrets weren’t so much things people actively decided to do, but were things they allowed themselves to drift into.
These people weren’t living intentionally.
This is one of the great advantages of writing our own obituary now, while we’re still in mid- life, or even late life. It gives us an opportunity to live our lives more intentionally. We have time to re-direct our course, and veer away from the shoals of future regret.
Think of your obituary as an aspirational guide for the rest of your life. Here are some things to ask yourself, or to consider, as you write it:
• Know who you are. It might seem obvious that each of us would know who we are, but it isn’t.
We’re all surrounded by people who have a stake in having us fulfill their life plans, but not our own.
The classic case is the father who wanted to be a doctor, but for some reason never could. So, he is now determined that his son will go to medical school and become a doctor, even though the son has his heart set on becoming an artist.
So, find out who you really are. It’s imprinted on your psycho-spiritual DNA. Ask your heart. The answer will amaze you, but on the other hand, you knew it all along.
Finding out who you really are can be a great homecoming.
•What do you want to do with your life? What is your unique contribution? Your individual contribution is an outgrowth of your identity. It is the living out of your individual identity, and is the contribution only you can make.
When you’re truly doing it, you will recognize it. Don’t accept counterfeits.
•Don’t confuse contribution with achievement. Our society is obsessed with achievement and with winners. But your achievement is an outcome of your activity. It’s something you have no control over. The only thing you have any control over is your effort and your commitment. That may result in achievement, but it may not.
John Wooden was a legendary UCLA basketball coach for many years, who won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years, including 88 straight games. He was named Coach of the Century by ESPN.
What was the secret of his leadership?
In a series of interviews with a number of his players, one player after another said that Coach Wooden never exhorted them to go out on the court and win. But what he did insist on, over and over, was that they go out and do their best.
Winning wasn’t in their control; doing their best was.
Don’t confuse the two.
• Constantly monitor your thoughts and actions.
Every one of your thoughts and actions is moving your life in some direction. Even inaction is moving you along somewhere. Is it the direction you truly want your life to go? Keep constant watch and redirect yourself whenever you need to.
So, write your obituary. A good obituary can be a great tool for living intentionally. It can give you clarity, direction, understanding and a great sense of purpose.
A good obituary can save your life.