Make Your Obituary Shape Your Life

Make your obituary shape your life

The title of this piece may look strange. Indeed no one will normally think of his or her death, when they are still active in life, let alone thinking of writing an obituary.

Imagine you are dead, imagine what all people would then talk of you, think of you, or how they would perceive you – the image people would have about you, or more specifically, imagine how your obituary – or your epitaph would read. If you do not do this when you are alive, when you start your life, your career, there is no way to know whether anyone would like to think of you at all. More likely, people who know you might just say, oh poor fellow he is dead and that is it. The whole purpose of this exercise is to live the life as it should be lived, and leave a ‘mark’ or ‘imprint’ of yours,
so that you are remembered for your qualities and thus create an impact.

I’n an article I’n HBR, Bill Taylor illustrates this – how your company’s obituary can shape it’s future. He goes on to say ‘it serves as a worthwhile purpose – imagining leaders to see themselves, the way their colleagues see them, to evaluate their long-term impact from the perspective of people who feel that impact’.

It is exactly the same for individuals. If you really care for your life’s purpose, start early I’n your life to cultivate some key values you cherish, some key actions to guide you, some key results you would like to attain and want people to remember you for some of these; this is indeed a way to make a beginning, early enough I’n your life.

Cultivate a few good qualities: These can be being nice to people, listening to them,
valuing their views, and so on. How we treat someone defines how we treat every one, including ourselves.

Cultivate a few good habits: Waking up early, going to bed early, planning your day, planning your time, honesty in your dealings.

Cultivate a few good actions: People are more creative when they feel passionate about their work. Whatever you do, do it with a passion. Robin Sharma says, ‘Make small daily progress; the way we do small things determines the way that we do everything. If we execute one minor task well, we will also excel at our larger efforts’.

Draw up a vision: Have a dream of where you want to be at a certain point of time in terms of your career, in terms of your life and focus all your activities on that dream. Dreams have the power to turn them into realty.

Unlearning: Simultaneously with acquiring more knowledge, skills and positive attitudes and attributes, it is important to shed your negative qualities, at least gradually, to make space for fresh thoughts to enter and fill up that space. Deciding what not do is as important as deciding what to do.

According to Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs, when asked ‘what he thought was his most important creation, rather than mentioning about the products like iPad, Macintosh etc., he said, ‘It was Apple, the company. Making an enduring company was both far harder and more important than making a great product’. Thus Steve Jobs will be remembered for Apple, the company that he made, and similarly the very mention of Apple, the company, will make us remember Steve Jobs. Similar is the case with people like Mr. Narayana Murthy, whose name is synonymous with Infosys.

Make people remember you by what you have done, what you have achieved, what qualities you stood for. If it’s Hiltion, I know exactly what I’ll get and they won’t let me down’ – an example of ‘value creation’ being remembered.

To quote Robin Sharma, ‘the purpose of life is to love. How well you live comes down to how much you love. The heart is wiser than the head; honor it, trust it, follow it…….to lead your best life, do your best work.’

If you follow some of the above, your epitaph could certainly be different from what Thomas Gray wrote, lamenting about the village farmers, or as some believe, about his own life, thus:

‘Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and Fame unknown’


About cvsubramaniam

Former Director, Department of Electronics & Informatiin Technology, Government of India.. Authored Book on Human Resource Management. Published 80 plus articles on HR, Management, S&T, general topics.
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