Live your life so that you will be well remembered

Editorial & Opinion, Wednesday, June 16, 2008

We’re all headed for the same place. The difference is the way we get there, and how quickly we get there. We could be dead tomorrow or around for another hundred years. Who knows.

Some of us take the high road and some take the low road, some take it all in stride, some whine every step of the way. Some meander, oblivious to (or distracted by) every detail; some sprint by in a frenetic blur. There are planners and savers and movers and shakers. At times I’ve grabbed life with reckless abandon and squeezed out every ounce of pleasure, and other times I’ve watched it unfold around me with some disregard.

Overall it seems that we all act so differently that I wonder if we all think we’re going to the same place. There are those who seem to believe that they are exempt from the rules of engagement and careen through life like a bull in a china shop, negatively impacting those around them without concern.

Most of us, however, are concerned about how we spend our time.

Today I started thinking about what my planning horizon is, since I obviously am not acting like tomorrow is my last day, nor am I contemplating a life into the triple digits.

I suppose that somewhere in the 80s appeals to me, so that I have time to get to know my children as adults, see them reach the greatness I think awaits them, and do what I want when I want, instead of what I feel I have to do.

But my estimate could change in an instant.

Last month I had bad back pain and I was reminded that if my body wasn’t keeping up with my ambitions, then I would probably want to check out much earlier than that.

Should I ever be faced with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, and my perfectly functional brain becomes a prisoner of a body turning to stone, I’d be looking into Zurich-based Dignitas. If my mind stopped functioning properly, I’d be none the wiser and would be unconcerned, but I would only hope that I wouldn’t burden my family too long.

Because of my estimated 80-year time horizon, I plan my life accordingly, buying quality products to last me decades, and maximizing my RRSP contributions. The planner in me always has several lists on the go — grocery lists, household chore lists, and to do at work lists — but I wonder what I could be doing in life if I didn’t spend so much time planning for it.

My planning is not limited to lists. I also stop to think about why I am here and try to plan the life still in front of me.

I read one of Stephen Covey’s books in my teens, and I took away the concept of leading your life according to what you’d want people to say about you at your funeral. Surprisingly, most of us would probably want to hear close to the same thing.

It might go something like this: She was remarkable. She added to the room by her presence and always had something interesting to say. Everything she did, she did well (or sure tried). A good friend, mother, wife, daughter, teacher, colleague; you could always count on her. Her word was worth something. She made the world around her a better place — the stone that she dropped in the lake will continue to cause a wide ripple effect. She made a difference, an impact. She was excellent, skilled, passionate, fun, inspiring, deep, articulate, beautiful, authentic, and wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries. She will be thought about, loved, and dearly missed. This is how I’d like to be remembered.

Even if your self-made eulogy isn’t identical to mine, it probably doesn’t read: He was mediocre and forgettable, always thinking about what he didn’t have, not cherishing what he did have. Or: she’ll be remembered for being two-faced, and her ability to find the negative in everything and maliciously spread gossip. Or: he was unethical and devious, and got ahead by intimidation and lies.

Granted we aren’t all long-range planners, but, if we are all going to the same place, and assuming we want to have a nice eulogy to cap off our equally nice lives, what is the problem?

I’m not suggesting that we should be perfect all of the time, or deny that we have profound lows, but shouldn’t we all be kinder to one another? More forgiving? More interested? More willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt?

What do you want said about you when your time has come? Writing those sentences now might just change your life for the better going forward.

We lead a minute, finite existence. Let’s enjoy it as much as possible. Let’s be worth remembering.

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