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Write Your Obituary

Note: I had written the first draft of this almost a year ago. Shortly after this, I informed my manager that I would be giving my notice right after my three-year anniversary.

A former colleague introduced me to an interesting thought exercise that his team had performed.

All companies come to an end; it is inevitable. Valar morghulis; all men must die. This too shall pass.

To figure out what you want your team and mission to be, write the obituary of your company. What did that company accomplish? What was it known for? Do not limit this exercise to the company’s products and services. Decide what you want the quality, reputation, and the legacy of the company.

The idea of this exercise has stuck with me. It has caused me to reflect on my own goals, what I have done, and what I want to do.

This afternoon I got word that a high school buddy of mine had died. When I knew him, everyone in town knew him and liked him. Pete was a gentle giant, an athlete, and just a cool guy. He and my sister used to go into Philadelphia to see all the cool bands you had not heard of, many of whom went on to great fame. I enjoyed having beers with him at parties. He was just the best guy. His death hit me hard.

My friend Dwight always says that you get remembered for one thing. Think about actors from Star Trek, Star Wars, James Bond, and so on. That is the top line in their obituary.

For most people, it is often the last terrible thing they do. Warren Buffett said, “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” No matter what Congressman Joe Wilson accomplishes the rest of his life, he will be remembered for shouting “You lie” at the President Obama during the State of the Union. Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Les Moonves, and many others will be remembered for how they abused their power to assault women. Elizabeth Holmes will be remembered for defrauding millions of dollars.

If you were to die today, what would your obituary be? Would you be happy with it? (Aside from being dead.) If you had one more year, how different could it be? What about five years? Ten years? What will you have accomplished? What will your reputation be? What can you do today to make your life well-lived?

Postscript: It has been over six months since I quit my last day job. Even in the age of Coronavirus, I feel much closer to self-actualization than when I wrote the first draft of this piece. As a friend used to say, “If the life you live isn’t the one you dreamed of, it’s up to you to do something about it.”

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

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